Game Design, Product Engagement, And Life

I’ve been taking with my college alumni about gamification topics recently. He has been in the mobile game industry for years and he is well-known for his thoughtful points of view among his colleagues.

The other day we just chit-chatted about some topics like the best timing to upsell in a user journey, balancing social vs entertainment in a mobile game, etc. I was inspired and suddenly got a question pass by my brain: “I understand game design has many mechanics/theories to satisfy user’s esteem needs, what are some most popular ways to leverage self-esteem/vanity to increase engagement and retention?”

The classic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
The classic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

He talked about a couple of examples, like rewarding in different stages, earning titles, but my biggest takeaway was that users sharing their achievements to social media brings the most value to the game.

“People, especailly teenagers, love sharing game accomplishment to social media, they view it as social capital, and the social capital earns self-esteem and recognition.” he said.

So I broke it down in two steps: Firstly, in order to get people to share, you need to give them something worth sharing. Let’s look at accomplishment and achievement mechanics, they are definitely something worth showing off and encourage people to come back. But not everybody has the talent and ability to win all the time, especially in zero-sum games, most players are losers of all the time if we only reward the final winner, nobody will enjoy playing this game ever. If we only provide one race track for them to achieve the goal with one single success criteria, everybody then needs to compete with each other, losers will all leave and no one will come back eventually.

What shall we do?

In one sentence — create more race tracks and more success criteria for users.

Each race track represents a unique achievement so every player can compete with their own strengths in their own race tracks. For example, the game PUGB (a.k.a PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) is a zero-sum game, but everyone can earn specific titles as rewards regardless they make it to final or not. If a player aims really well, he/she will earn Sharpshooter title. If a player is really bad at shooting but enjoy collecting different outfits, he/she will earn Collector title. If a player survives without killing any players, he/she will earn Free Chicken Dinner title. So “losers” can also gain self-esteem and recognition like a winner.

PUBG earned a new title
PUBG earned a new title

In my college alumni’s case, besides providing more sub race tracks, they also provide neighborhood ranking, city ranking, instead of global ranking in the game, so more people are able to achieve a good performance among their local area, people feel satisfied and they love it to death, they shared a lot in social media and talked about their good performance. I tried to put my feet in their shoes. If I only compete playing basketball with local people rather than with NBA players, I’d feel more satisfied for sure and willing to play harder to level up.

For the non-game products, we’ve been hearing people adopt gamification to improve the experience. In terms of encouraging low-profile users, low attention users, or low engagement users to earn self-esteem and stay in the product longer, this could be a good direction to dig deeper.

Isn’t it also sound like a life value? In some countries/cultures where people only celebrate a few success criteria, people compete and fight in a few race tracks. For example, only the teenagers who can get into top schools are winners, only the adults who can afford a big house are winners, only the seniors who have a big family are winners. In this case, most people feel the pressure from over-competition, and lack of motivation due to not being able to accomplish the criteria, but it doesn't mean they are valueless.

I believe only a culture that celebrates and appreciates various success criteria and has various race tracks is a healthy culture, people would live mentally healthier, and be motivated to do their jobs better.