4 Experience Phases in Gamification (#1): The Discovery Phase

Discovery Gamification

(Below is a manuscript snippet of my book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).

Breaking Down User Experience Further

Many companies design their product or services as one big experience. That kind of makes sense – after all it is one product.

However, when it comes to user engagement, I believe that’s a big mistake. When it comes to motivation, the reason why you are using a product on day one is often very different from the reason why you are using the product on day 100 – the goal you are trying to fulfill are different, and even the features you see are different!

Most people become involved with a game or a product, not as a single encapsulated event, but through a series of stages where they grow to understand it better. The user experience will develop gradually as familiarity with features and structure is gained. At the same time, an individual’s perception may change as they develop a different perspective through each stage.

Another way of looking at this is to view it as a user’s journey through evolving phases of product perception or experience. With each phase the product appears to be different – in essence, a unique, different product. We can best describe the process in terms of four distinct phases, represented by the 4 Experience Phases of Gamification – the core principles within Level 2 Octalysis.

The 4 Experience Phases of Gamification are Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame.

The Discovery Phase is essential, for it is the reason WHY people even want to start, or at least investigate a product or service. It is the ATTITUDE towards a product during the initial awareness stage.

The Discovery Phase starts off when people hear about the product and ends when people signup to use it.

Differences to other Literature

As the first experience phase in Octalysis Gamification, Discovery may seem to differ from other gamification and game design literature out there. With Human-Focused Design (Octalysis) the first phase of a user’s journey is to become aware of the journey.

In Kevin Werbach’s framework, the initial phase of a system is “Identity,” which is the initiation of an identity within the game. This could involve the creation of an account, signing on for a service, and choosing your profile type – basically the “Who You Are.” From there he moves on to the second phase, Onboarding (In Amy Jo Kim’s three phase system, the player experience starts off with Onboarding).

My view is that “Identity” would actually qualify as part of Onboarding, as when you “Onboard” someone, you have them figure out what the game is and where they stand in the game. However, in my view point, a real experience towards a product or service starts well before you buy the product or sign up for the service (or create your identity).

Your experience towards a product or service starts when you first hear about it, hence the Discovery Phase.

The Core of Marketing Gamification

The Discovery Phase is obviously intertwined with marketing, but it’s not about eyeballs, clicks, or even signups! It’s about the MOTIVATION behind all those actions.

Just because you see a banner ad doesn’t mean you actually want to find out about a product. And just because you click on an ad doesn’t mean you really care about the website behind it. Even if the site somehow entices you to sign up for it, that doesn’t mean you have the right motivation to become a serious active user.

This is where Octalysis comes into play again.

With the Octalysis Framework, we can analyze the motivation towards the Discovery of your service. Lets see how.

Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity

Most of the time, people will Discover your product because of Core Drive #7: Unpredictability & Curiosity – they have heard about it somewhere and became curious. Perhaps they have read about it on TechCrunch or heard about it from a friend.

However, even if they sign up for your service after reading TechCrunch, that motivation may not be very strong (low Core Drive #6 score) and will likely result in uncommitted users for your site.

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness

Today, many sites are optimizing for Core Drive #5: Social Influence & Relatedness. They’re trying to get everyone to share on Twitter, Facebook, email friend invites, etc. … etc.

You know the drill because you have either been asked about sharing with your friends, or you have received numerous requests from your friends to try out new products.

The “Invite All Your Friends Now!” Fallacy

However, many sites don’t do this correctly or effectively. More often than not, sites will ask people to invite their friends to join shortly after signing up, which is a colossal mistake. The user doesn’t even know what your service is about, let alone whether she will like it or not.

Encouraging her to share with her friends at this point is just simply annoying. (People who are willing to share at this stage are probably already irritating their friends to the point that their referral holds no social influence anyway).

Generally the best time to get people to invite and share with their friends is right after they have achieved their first major Win-State. That’s like beating the first Boss-Fight. People feel awesome, which means they like and enjoy the experience, and are more likely to express this with their friends.

Relatedness and Believability

Another issue with Social Invites is the concept of Relatedness and Believability. Companies like to get users to tweet out texts such as, “Gamification Campaign not working out? Buy the #1 Gamification Guru @yukaichou’s book and get a 20% discount immediately!”

This is obviously marketing text, written obviously by the company (in this case, Yu-kai Chou). People will have difficulty relating to this and will likely discount the message, ignore it altogether, or even have a negative feelings towards the company. In other words, people do not believe that you actually mean what you have tweeted.

A more effective approach, with much better Relatedness, might be if a person writes, “Just checked out @yukaichou’s book and really blown away by the depth of his framework. Highly recommended!”

In this way, it’s actually more convincing that the user is wholeheartedly endorsing the company and not just pasting sale-sy text there. You always want to let users modify the message, but the predefined text should still optimize on relatedness.

Of course, there are many other Game Techniques to utilize during the Discovery Phase with Social Influence & Relatedness, such as Social Treasures (Game Technique #63) and Group Quests (Game Technique #22), but that will be covered in future content (hint: did I mention a book somewhere?)

Though Curiosity (Core Drive #7) and Social Influence (Core Drive #5) are the two main reasons why people try out new products, companies can innovate on marketing by exploring how to apply more Core Drives into the Discovery Phase.

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling

Some people Discover a service because of Core Drive #1: Epic Meaning & Calling, which means they want to try out the service because it’s for something bigger than themselves.

For instance, people may want to try out Kiva.org and its efforts to use social finance to improve the lives of others because this is something that can bring them into a mission that is much bigger than themselves that really helps the world.

In a similar way, people may be attracted to FreeRice.com and their online gaming and educational platform, because it offers a way to help fight world hunger.

Epic Meaning & Calling in Marketing

Some companies really try to install the motif of Epic Meaning & Calling into their marketing and branding campaigns.

When you see commercials for Coca Cola, it’s never just about drinking black sugar water, but about something much bigger! The commercials are always about some magical world where penguins, polar bears, or magical plants are working hard to prepare your Coke. “Happiness” and “Freedom” are regular themes that they try to imbue into every customer – drinking Coca Cola is not about “quenching your thirst” but about something much more inspiring.

Epic Meaning & Calling is also why some people want to pursue careers at Google. “Do no evil” and “Organize the World’s Information” are big, altruistic visions that attract engineers who want to do more than just getting paychecks developing code. (It may also be why many did not want to work for the perceived “Evil Empire” – Microsoft. They’re really not that evil, but I must say Skype is killing me after they got acquired by Microsoft, and I have been switching to Google Hangout a lot).

Game Technique (#26): Elitsm

Epic Meaning & Calling can also be accomplished through the implementation of Elitism (Game Technique: #26). For instance, if a site wants to promote a competition between Japanese and Koreans (or Christians vs Atheists, Cats vs Dogs…wait…), members of each side will want to “discover” and participate in the experience because of their pride in being part of that group, even if it has nothing to do with their personal gains.

An Apple for each Snob

Another example of Elitism is seen in the iconic electronics company Apple.

I have friends who tell me, “Hey Yu-kai! I’m saving up for the next iPhone.” And I would tell them, “You don’t even know what’s in the next iPhone! It might even suck for all you know!” And they would reply, “I don’t care. I’m buying the next iPhone.”

In this case, this person first identifies himself as an “Apple Person,” which means he should buy the next Apple product, regardless of the specs or what it is. You see the same tendency when you hear people throw out snickering comments like, “Oh, you have this problem because you have a PC. I use a Mac so I never have those.” I must say I myself am often guilty of the same Apple Snobbery.

Of course, if Apple makes a big mistake and damages the perception that it is a “bigger vision worth believing in,” it loses the Epic Meaning and people may not want to buy their products, even if their specs are the best in the market. (And yes, Apple has had a few missteps in the past, which brand-wise have taken time to repair).

Core Drive #8: Loss & Avoidance

When it comes to many B2B Enterprise Products, the drive behind the discovery of the product is Core Drive #8: Loss & Avoidance – People try out a product because their boss has directed them to do so, and they don’t want to lose their jobs.

As the prime Black Hat Gamification Core Drive, this is extremely strong in bottom-lining the usage of your product. However,  if that is all there is, the engagement level would understandably be low. That is why products like Sharepoint have added layers of gamification on top of its service platform.

You would also use a product if you don’t want to fall behind the times (Game Technique #84: FOMO), or fear becoming “the loser” in your group (Game Technique #82: Scarlet Letter). You may also use a product because you don’t want to see any change happen (Game Technique #85: Status Quo Sloth).

Finally, there’s the Evanescence Opportunity (Game Technique #86), where an opportunity is fading away if you don’t take advantage of it now. Things like expiring coupon codes are great examples of this – even though you suspect that you will receive the next coupon a month later, you feel like you might lose the opportunity to take advantage of this deal. Hence, you use the coupon and try out the product – though you may not care about it to begin with.

Core Drive #6: Scarcity & Impatience

The Discovery Phase can also be strongly utilized within Core Drive #6: Scarcity & Impatience. Many people want to try something just because it’s exclusive or because they uniquely qualify for it.

Just like the beginning of Facebook: When it was first launched, it was just for Harvard students. Then it was opened up to a few Ivy Schools, and eventually all colleges. When it opened up to UCLA where I went, everyone wanted to join.

Products like Gmail, Tempo, and MailBox also reinforced Scarcity by limiting initial signups. Everyone wants to get an invite or be on the wait list because of the scarcity.

Core Drive #3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Sometimes Core Drive #3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback can also motivate people to discover an experience. Many companies such as Google have listed interesting brainteasers or scavenger hunts publicly, where people have to solve complex problems to find out what is behind the mission. The result (reward) is a first-round interview with the company.

In this example, people were discovering the opportunity to work at Google because they wanted to use their creativity to solve problems and saw immediate feedback.

Core Drive #4: Ownership & Possession

Core Drive #4: Ownership & Possession can often cause people to Discover an experience. Sometimes when you visit a site, you keep seeing points or coins being accumulated on the side of the screen (such as the little widget point system I use on my site).

In the beginning, you don’t really care about them. However, after they continue to accumulate, reaching higher totals, you start developing a sense of ownership. You then click on the widget to find out what the whole thing is about. There you go – Discovery based on Ownership & Possession (and of course some Core Drive 7).

Another example is the “Collection Set” (Game Technique #16) mentality. Let’s say you have tried a number of similar products in the same series, and now a new one comes out (perhaps a sequel or something similar). You automatically want to try it out because you already feel ownership over that series.

Core Drive #2: Development & Accomplishment

Finally, there are examples of Discovering a product because of Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment – basically discovering something because you feel like you have EARNED it, or because you are accomplished.

The premise of the startup company Kiip (founded 2010, eventually securing $15.4 M in funding) is entirely based on the Development & Accomplishment Core Drive in the Discovery Phase. Through the Kiip reward network, the company helps to promote its client brands to mobile game and app users through rewards.

Kiip’s thesis is that people will value promotions more if they feel like they were earned through achievement.

Kiip works by giving people rewards and discounts at “moments of success/joy.” Whenever people play a game and beat this dragon boss, a message will show up, saying, “Congratulations! You just beat this dragon boss! Here’s a 10% discount to Yu-kai Chou’s new book!” Because people feel like the discount is connected to their hard work and achievement, they have a higher chance of valuing it and redeeming the discount. Perfect timing to reward an individual’s success.

Conclusion on the Experience Phase 1: Discovery

As a quick conclusion, the user’s first experience with a product is through Discovery – becoming aware of it and gaining a minimum level of familiarity. Familiarity to the point where they can even decide if it is worth more of their time and attention.

22 thoughts on “4 Experience Phases in Gamification (#1): The Discovery Phase”

  1. Loss & avoidance is real for me this week. My cell crapped out as I was for the 1st time trying to send its data to the Cloud. Do I start from scratch & consider all the various plan providers or stick with the one my $ & sim card are tied to?

  2. Discovery and Engagement. I didn’t think until now about Loss and Anoidance as a usefull CD to attract people to a product but in fact you are right.
    Nice post, as always Yu kai

  3. Yu-kai Chou Thijs_M My bad then! I probably made a mistake in my list I’m making of all game techniques. 

    Sorry for that ! 

    Kind Regards,

    Thijs

  4. Thijs_M Oops, Poison Picker / Choice Perception” would be Game Technique #89. Might have a typo somewhere. I LOVE it when my readers pay enough attention to catch my mistakes 🙂

    Now I just got to find which post had the typo haha….

  5. In earlier posts you describes “Poison Picker / Choice Perception” as Game Technique #86. In this post Game Technique #86 is “Evanescence Opportunity”. Could you clarify this? 🙂

  6. Their really not that evil, but I must say Skype is killing me after they got acquired by Microsoft, and I have been switching to Google Hangout a lot).
    They’re*

  7. Great post, as always. I am learning designer and often find that your posts and the knowledge you share has a place in the design of learning systems (whether gamified or not). I especially like the idea of motivation being different from day 1 to day 15 of learning/training. But as instructional designers, we usually tend to only look at motivational strategies to start the course and perhaps why the audience would complete the course. Along the way, during the course, our motivation changes and good design must acknowledge this transition.

  8. donboody69 Haha, not together online for the public 😉 It’s a small scavenger-hunt game that will be tied into contents in my upcoming book ;-D

  9. New to the Gamification concept. I’m in HR and really tired of begging people just to be on time for work. Learning alot from your videos and the follower’s comments.

  10. “In this case, this person first identifies himself as an “Apple Person,” which means he should buy the next Apple product, regardless of the specs or what it is” This piece as well as couple of others, comes from research on psychology.
    People indeed need that sense of belonging, they have to feel that they are a part of the community. Apple succeeded in that. Android is going the same way. I’m an ANDROID person! and I’m PROUD of that! 😉

  11. IlyaBogunov Thanks for being critical and answering interesting questions. 
    Few things:
    1. Yes, Loss & Avoidance is part of the prime of Black Hat Gamification as I explained in my Octalysis post, which means that it’s great at bottom-lining activity, but it does not feel good and you will see dropout in the long run.
    2. Yes, gamification as a term is pretty new. I worked in gamification since 2003 before the term was coined. But basically, we’re learning from games on how to make things FUN. That That has been around for a long time. In my other post “What is Gamification”, I talk about how gamification is just “Human-Focused Design” as opposed to function-focused design.
    3. Most games are shorter than work (3-8 months) because of an EndGame design that is not as compelling (will cover this in my 4th experience phase). But games like Starcraft or even Diablo II made users play/grind for over 10 years while still being addicted to them. Understanding how they design the endgame to do that is what I think about a lot too…and 10 years is probably longer than most people at their jobs…

  12. About “http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-study/8-core-drives-gamification-1-epic-meaning-calling/ & Calling”, actually Zappo`s CEO(read “Delivering Happiness”, last part about enjoyable work) found this to be quite motivational for real work(not games) even before the “Gamification” trend began, “http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-study/8-core-drives-gamification-4-ownership-possession/ & Possession” and “Development & http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-study/8-core-drives-gamification-2-development-accomplishment/” also was kinda mentioned)
    But for example something like “Loss & avoidance” wouldn`t create healthy work enviroment, and in the long run is not a good idea at all. Games are notable shorter than our work experience, and effect will be less. But nevertheless in the long run wouldn`t this core drive suck the enjoyment out of the game ?

  13. HiSocial Haha, yes, it might. This of course is an exaggerated example to communicate a point (and yes, there are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it). The use case they like to talk about is if someone is using a running app, and once they run around the block 3 times and hit their goals, they unlock the Kiip awards of getting a free water bottle at the store nearby!

  14. Hi Yukai,
    You mention this example “You just beat this dragon boss! Here’s a 10% discount to Yu-kai Chou’s new book!”, but don’t  you thing this would annoy some users?

You must engage in the conversation!!