Affection Held Hostage – how my love for my wife got me duped in China

Chinese Scam

My Affection Held Hostage

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

In early 2014, I was invited to the global conglomerate *Huawei* in Shenzhen, China to do a few workshops on gamification. During this trip, I had an assigned tour guide that took me to the beautiful Tea Stream Valley for a full day trip. (You can see much of this trip, including my camel ride and a jaw-dropping lion dance performance, in my video series – The Beginner’s Guide to Gamification). Between all that excitement, the educational part of my trip came towards the end.

As I was leaving Tea Stream Valley, I saw people soliciting for pencil drawn portraits. My tour guide was using the restroom, so I decided to check them out and if they were any good – that’s the power of Core Drive 7: Curiosity. They saw me approach and asked if I wanted a portrait which I politely turned down.

I was about to leave, when I saw another artist drawing a portrait based on an iPhone photo for another customer. I asked (in Mandarin of course), “Oh, so if I give you a mobile photo, you can draw it too?” He responded, “Of course! Do you want one?”

I decided that this would be a great way for me to bring something back for my wife to show that I was thinking about her during my long trip away from home. Instead of just buying something expensive on the shelf at an airport, a hand-drawn portrait of her would be more personal and more endearing. It would show her that I actually spent time to have something unique and custom-made for her.

I asked the artist, “So how much for one?” He told me it was about the equivalent of $50 USD. I thought, “Wow, that’s extremely expensive, even by U.S. standards.” Instead of negotiating with him, which I generally dislike doing because it requires too much emotional energy, I decided to use the walk-away tactic in Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.

“Sorry, that’s way too expensive for me.” As I started walking away, he rushed to say, “What if I could do it for $35?” I felt happy that my scarcity tactic was working, but $35 was still too expensive so I said, “Naw, like I said, it’s way too much.” Of course, I wasn’t bluffing. I truly did not intend to buy anything at that point.

He then said, “Okay…I can do it for $25. Since the day’s about to end, I’ll just do you a favor and wrap up with this one.” At this point, even though it still wasn’t very cheap (for comparison, a 90-minute massage in Shenzhen was only $25), I thought I haggled well by cutting his original asking price down by 50% – feeling a sense of Core Drive 2. He also just used a Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness tactic of “I like you, so I’ll do you a favor,” so I thought I might as well agree to do it. I’m on a fun trip anyway.

After working for twenty minutes, he was almost done with the portrait. It was alright. It wasn’t great but you could tell that it looked like my wife.(That was my main goal – I didn’t want her thinking that I was having another woman drawn!)

As he was wrapping up, he asked, “Would you like to add a transparent protective layer to the drawing? It will protect the pencil lead from being smudged.” I said, “Sure, sounds good!” He gave me a concerned look and said, “It’s going to cost more though.” Slightly surprised, I asked, “How much more?” He told me nonchalantly that for the protective layer, it was going to cost me $15 extra.

I then realized his sneaky tactic and felt fairly annoyed. I responded in an emotionally disturbed tone, “Then forget about it. I’m not going to pay $15 just for that layer.”

Then, with a very concerned and considerate facial expression, he explained, “But if you don’t add the protective layer, the pencil lead will definitely smudge in your luggage bag and ruin the whole drawing. Look how easily the pencil lead falls off.” He then proceeded to use his thumb to rub a corner of the portrait, and indeed a layer of graphite came off onto his thumb. “It would be such a shame if this nice drawing got destroyed!”

What would you do in this situation? Continue reading Affection Held Hostage – how my love for my wife got me duped in China

When to use Extrinsic Rewards to Motivate People

Extrinsic Rewards

The Advantages of Extrinsic Motivation Design

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Obviously designing for Extrinsic Motivation is not all negative. Besides enhancing a person’s focus on completing monotonous routine tasks, it also generates initial interest and desire for the activity.

Often, without there being extrinsic motivation during the Discovery Phase (before people first try out the experience), people do not find a compelling reason to engage with the experience in the first place. Promoting, “You will get a $100 gift card if you sign-up,” usually sounds more appealing than “You will utilize your creativity and be in a fun state of unpredictability with your friends!” (Though both actually utilize Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.)

When people consider themselves “too busy,” they won’t justify spending time to try out your experience. But when you offer them an extrinsic reward to try out the experience, they will at least test it out, assuming of course that the reward is not an insult to the value of the user’s time investment.

Rewarding users $2 for trying a new search engine for an entire month is pretty weak, while paying people $3 to spend weeks going to stores, taking pictures, and sharing them with their friends is also a path to failure. It is better to not give them a reward at all!

And of course, as we have seen earlier, if people continuously justify doing something for high extrinsic rewards, their intrinsic motivation dwindles as the Overjustification Effect settles in.

Therefore, as Michael Wu of Lithium points out, it is better to attract people into an experience using Extrinsic Rewards (gift cards, money, merchandise, discounts), then transition their interest through Intrinsic Rewards (recognition, status, access), and finally use Intrinsic Motivation to ensure their long term engagement. Through this process, users will start to enjoy the activity so much that they will focus on relishing the experience itself without thinking about what can be gained from the experience.

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#8): Loss & Avoidance


(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

The 8th Core Drive of Octalysis Gamification

For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 17, Loss & Avoidance

Loss and Avoidance is the eighth and final core drive in my Octalysis Framework. It motivates through the fear of losing something or having undesirable events transpire.

A concept within many popular games is to stay alive in order to advance to the next round. Depending on the game’s design, dying or injuring your character means that you’re now forced to start over or lose something significant – be it coins, money, the number of lives you have, or other setbacks that make it more difficult to reach the Win-State.

This aversion towards loss is obviously not limited to games. There are many situations in the real world where we act based on fear of losing something that represents our investment of time, effort, money, or other resources. To preserve our ego and sense of self, Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance sometimes manifests itself through our refusal to give up and admit that everything we have done up to this point has been rendered useless.

Even new opportunities that are perceived as fading away can exhibit a form of Loss & Avoidance. If people do not act immediately on this temporary opportunity, they feel like they are losing the chance to act forever.

A common example can be seen in the coupons that arrive regularly in the mail. Let’s say you receive a coupon that gives you a 10% discount to a popular chain store that you have no interest in visiting, and the coupon is labeled to expire on February 12th.

Your brain may be absolutely certain that, if you let the coupon expire, the very next month you will receive the exact same coupon that expires on March 12th. But you might get an annoying feeling that you are somehow losing something if you don’t use the coupon before the expiration date. Rationally it shouldn’t matter, but you are compelled to think about the offer a little more. As a result, you become a bit more likely to go to the store for a discount that you may not truly care about.

Cropping your Losses in Farmville

Many social games effectively employ Core Drive 8: Loss and Avoidance to motivate players towards taking the Desired Actions. In the now familiar example of Farmville, if we look at the early part of their onboarding stage, we can see that avoidance design was already integrated into the system, inducing users to “log in” multiple times each day.

The first few minutes of Farmville seems very positive as the player spends time creating their avatar and starts working on their farm with an initial pool of free *Farm Cash*. However, Farmville soon demands that each player maintain their crops and livestock through routine farming chores – mostly in the form of coming back and clicking on the crops and livestock to harvest their products.

If you don’t return to reap your harvest within a given number of hours, as determined by the crops’ profiles (you can choose which crop to plant, which plays into Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback), you will lose your invested hard work and be shown demoralizing images of crops withering and dying. This mildly depressing incident upsets the user, compelling them to log back in frequently to keep their crops alive. The player becomes proactively involved in avoiding this negative outcome.

Gamification Farmville Dead Crops

When players lose their crops, it not only costs them Farm Cash to replace but also their time, as they have to replant and maintain new crops again. Each time you see the discouraging images of dead crops, you are hit with the triple whammy of having lost your time, effort, and resources.

Many years ago I was astonished at how effective this design could be, as my technology abhorrent mother suddenly became obsessed with playing Farmville. Back then, my mother was the type of person who thinks that technology is a source of evil that is polluting society and crippling authentic relationships; she still barely checks her email.

But in 2009, due to her close friend’s enthusiastic recommendation – a nice example of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, my mother signed up on Facebook and started to play Farmville. The beginning of the Onboarding phase was smooth and fun, as she used the game to relax her mind and connect with her friends.

However, after a few months of playing, my mother would sometimes wake up at 5:00am in the morning simply to harvest her crops and prevent them from withering. It became so bad that when my mother needed to travel out of town, she would call up my cousin and ask if he could log into her Facebook account and help manage her farm. She needed to make sure her crops didn’t die. (Though she also used to ask me, being a son that was lacking in “{chinesefont}孝{latinfont}” as discussed in Chapter 5, I eventually deferred the responsibility so I could focus on my “other” important work).

At the time, this blew my mind. I initially thought the reason for most people to play games was because they had too many responsibilities in the real world and needed to immerse themselves into a fantasy world to escape those responsibilities. However, here you have a brand new set of virtual responsibilities that add on even more stress and anxiety to daily life. It didn’t make any sense.

Of course, today I understand the nature and power of Black Hat Motivation. For a period of time, Farmville was able to successfully increase its Daily Active Users Metrics and lower short-term turnover with this type of Loss & Avoidance design. That is, until users hit a “Black Hat Rebound,” where they eventually burn out and find the courage to pursue freedom outside of Farmville.

Flipping other Core Drives Off

Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance complements many of the other Core Drives for an interesting reason: often it manifests as the reversal of the other Core Drives. You don’t want something bigger than yourself to fall apart (Core Drive 1), hence you act; or you don’t want to look like a loser in front of your friends (Core Drive 5), hence you make a purchase.

Some may argue that this doesn’t constitute a separate Core Drive. As an example, critics might point out that people are driven back to Farmville because they want to feel a sense of accomplishment or ownership and that the loss of either feeling is simply the removal of these drives. However, from a design standpoint, it is important to consider Loss & Avoidance as its own Core Drive.

This is because gaining something and preventing a loss is incredibly different from the standpoint of motivation. Studies have shown over and over that we are much more likely to change our behavior to avoid a loss than to make a gain. It forces us to act differently and plays by different mental rules. In fact, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman indicates that on average, we are twice as loss-averse compared to seeking a gain. This means that we have a tendency to only take on a risk if we believed the potential gain would be double the potential loss if the risk were realized.

Through using the Octalysis Framework, this differentiation improves behavioral design by specifically identifying opportunities to integrate proactive loss-avoidance mechanics that generate a more subtle set of motivational dynamics.

A Caveat: Avoiding the Avoidance

Continue reading The 8 Core Drives of Gamification (#8): Loss & Avoidance

How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification

Left Brain vs Right Brain Gamification

How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Since this book is entitled Actionable Gamification, we want to make sure you have a set of steps and tools to help you develop your own projects. The ultimate question that this chapter seeks to answer is: “How do I make my users more motivated intrinsically?”

Well, we’ve noted earlier that Intrinsic Motivation is often derived from Right Brain Core Drives, which relate to Core Drive 3, 5, and 7. Therefore, the actionable way to add Intrinsic Motivation into an experience is to think about how to implement those Core Drives into the experience.

Intrinsic Motivation Tip 1: Making the experience more Social

One of the common Right Brain Core Drives that the business world has been using in recent years is Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. Many companies are seeking ways to make things more social by incorporating social media, and constantly spamming their users to spam their friends.

Of course, there are better and worse ways to make your experience more social. The first principle to note is that users are intrinsically interested in inviting their friends to an experience only if they are first sold on its value. Often this happens during the First Major Win-State, which is a term referring to the moment when the user first says, “Wow! This is awesome!”

Many companies make the gigantic mistake of asking users to invite all their Facebook friends at the beginning of the Onboarding Stage, which happens right after the user signs up. The users don’t even know whether they will like the experience themselves, let alone risk their friendships by spamming others. In fact, this prompting interface actually delays the First Major Win-State, which could be detrimental to the entire experience.

The experience designer needs to identify exactly where that First Major Win-State is, and count exactly how many minutes it takes for the users to get there – because every second before that you will be seeing dropout. Once the user hits the first major Win-State, that’s the best time to ask them to invite their friends or rate the product. (We will reiterate these important points on First Major Win-States in our chapter discussing the Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey.)

Besides finding the right time to prompt friend-invites, it is important to determine the right type of message. I’ve seen many companies require their users to share a default text such as, “I just used Company A, the leader in B space, to solve all my problems! Sign-up right now for a 30% discount!” This is a message that is obviously not genuine, and will lead to users feeling like they are being baited to share crappy promotional messages.

Rather, it is better to have something less informative, but more believable, such as, “I’ve been reading Yu-kai’s book on gamification. It’s worth checking out! #OctalysisBook.” A default tweet like this (which still allows the user to modify it anyway they wish), produces a social message that their friends will more likely recognize as a true endorsement.

With that all said, none of the above is actually making the experience itself more social. It is much better to foster collaborative play within the Desired Action, where users can help each other out, socialize, and grow together.

When you design for Intrinsic Motivation, you want to create environments that foster socializing, even with areas that are non-critical to the Desired Actions (such as the Water Cooler game technique). Also, consider adding in more Group Quests where users can work together, utilize their unique strengths, and accomplish tasks together. This often makes an experience more intrinsically motivating and enjoyable.

Intrinsic Motivation Tip 2: Add more Unpredictability into the Experience

Continue reading How to Create Intrinsic Motivation via Octalysis Gamification

How Extrinsic Rewards turn off our Social Brain

Going Dutch Rewards

How Extrinsic Rewards turn off our Social Brain

(Below is a snippet of Gamification Book: Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. If you like this blog post, you will LOVE the book.)

Giving people financial rewards through Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession doesn’t simply reduce our intellectual curiosity (Core Drive 7) and our creative problem-solving skills (Core Drive 3), it also shifts the focus away from our social brain (Core Drive 5) to our economical brain. Depending on the actual goals of the gamification designer, this could become detrimental to the intended outcome.

In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely makes it clear that these aren’t just two different ways of thinking; they are completely different behavioral modes that make us act differently in everything we do. Ariely defines these differences as Social Norms versus Market Norms to show the significant contrast between these paradigms.

For example, Ariely demonstrated that people were often very willing to perform mundane tasks, leave candy for others, perform free legal work, teach martial arts, solve difficult puzzles, move large pieces of furniture, and work on open source projects, all without any material reward. This was because their brains were following a social norm mode, “I will do them a favor as we appreciate each other. We take care of each other when we can.”

But once we offer money for the service, the brain immediately shifts into a market mode norm. If we offer as little as 1¢ for the service, people will feel insulted with the amount of money and not only refuse to perform the activity, but question the social relationship itself. The social ties weaken and break, with everything boiling down to: “Are you paying me my worth to do this for you?”

Suppose you were willing to do me a favor for free because you genuinely take pleasure in helping me improve my situation. But then I asked you, “Can you do this for me? I can pay you $5.” You are not likely to think that you are getting the pleasure of helping me out as initially intended, and making an extra $5 bonus on top of it. Our brains are either using the Social Norms, or the Market Norms. Once I offer to pay you, you begin to think, “My time is worth much more than $5. This is insulting.”

Extrinsic Motivation reduces Human Empathy

Ariely adds another hypothetical scenario to drive this point home: what would happen if you offer to pay your mother-in-law a few hundred dollars for hosting a great Thanksgiving meal and a wonderful evening? Immediately, you transition the situation from Social Norms to Market Norms, and it is not difficult to predict that she would respond quite poorly to this generous offer.

After conducting a few experiments, Ariely found that when the price of delicious Lindt chocolate truffles shifts from 10¢ to 5¢ to 1¢, demand from university students increased by 240 percent and then by 400 percent, which fits well into traditional economic models.

However, when the price went from 1¢ to free, instead of a massive increase in demand, as basic economic theory would predict, the number of truffles taken (without cost) by each student was immediately reduced to one. In the end this led to an overall decrease in demand by 50 percent.

When the price was shifted from 1¢ to free, our brains shifted from the Market Norm of “This is a great deal! I must get more!” to the Social Norm of, “I don’t want to be a jerk and take too many. What if it runs out and other people don’t get to have any?”

In the Octalysis Framework, this is a perfect example of Left Brain Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession shifting to Right Brain Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. When you incentivize people with money, they lose some of their social altruism and generosity, which means that they are not selflessly collaborating and sharing useful information with one another as much as they would otherwise. They become more like rational economic calculators and tend to work more only when the pay justifies it. (Assuming of course, that there aren’t much stronger Right Brain Core Drive forces within the environment.)

Fooling our Brains with Gifts instead of Cash

An interesting caveat is that when you offer gifts instead of cash, experiments reveal that the rules of Social Norms still apply. Your mother-in-law would unlikely become offended if you brought a nice wine as a gift for the Thanksgiving Dinner. This is because “Gifting” (or Social Treasures) is still mostly in the realm of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, so the interaction is still intrinsic in nature.

However, the moment you mention the dollar amount of the gift, the Social Norm shifts to a Market Norm once again. In another experiment by Dan Ariely, simply mentioning something along the lines of, “Can you help with something? I’ll give you this 50¢ chocolate bar,” caused applicants to immediately switched to their Market Norm mode and interpreted the statement as an insult.

But when the experimenter simply said, “Can you help with something? I’ll give you this chocolate bar,” many people were eager to help because they were still operating within the Social Norm.

Exploring this further, let’s look at a dating scenario. When you buy gifts for your date, once you make statements such as, “I would be happy to buy you this $80 steak!” or even “I’ve spent quite a bit of money on our dates now. Perhaps we should take this to the next level?” the situation shifts dramatically. The person might become offended, because you have transitioned the Social Norm to a Market Norm. You likely won’t accomplish the goals you intend, since the potential partner will likely prefer to treat your relationship as a “social” one instead of a “market exchange” one. Here again, when applying a Left Brain Core Drive technique, the Right Brain Core Drive becomes diminished.

Of course, our brains are quite easy to fool. A clever device that bypasses this gifting inconvenience is known as the gift card. Though in reality it functions like cash, since the value is stored on a card and can only be used at a certain place, people treat it as a gift. Sometimes they even include the receipt so that the recipients can even return the gift card for cash! However, since it is still a gift, not a real payment, people accept it without shifting to Market Norms – unless you say, “Here is a gift card that is worth $50. I would like you to have it.”

The Chinese and some Asian cultures also disguise their cash gifts with “red envelopes.” Though it is still just pure cash, the envelope represents good luck, and therefore it is received as a Social Treasure. But once the person takes the cash out from the envelope and gives it to another, the exchange becomes a Market Norm, and is therefore insulting again. After all, people don’t like to be treated as beggars.

Better put a red envelope around it or invest in a gift card.