When to use Black Hat Gamification Design

Black Hat Gamification

When to use Black Hat Gamification 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.)

On the other hand, when people are doing sales or running eCommerce sites, they often don’t care about long-term engagement and motivation (though they probably should). All they want is for the customer to come in, buy something as quickly as possible, and then leave.

As a result, they often involve Black Hat Gamification techniques: “What’s going to be the surprise launch tomorrow? The chance to get this deal will expire in four hours. If you don’t buy, you will end up being worse off than others!”

In an earlier chapter we looked at how Woot.com became an extremely successful eCommerce site based on two Core Drives: Scarcity & Impatience, as well as Unpredictability & Curiosity. Because Black Hat gamification creates urgency, when you need someone to take immediate action or a transaction, Black Hat techniques often become the most effective solutions.

This dynamic also holds true for sales and fundraising. One of my clients, Morf Media, provides a gamified training platform designed to make SEC compliance training more engaging and fun for employees of financial institutions.

By nature, financial institutions are risk-averse (Core Drive 8), and they are not inclined to work with new technology companies. You can give them a great deal of White Hat motivation, and they will be interested, intrigued, even excited, but they will likely take forever to make a move because there is no sense of urgency to take on any perceived risk.

The key here is to convince the company that, none of their employees like doing SEC compliance training (hardly a difficult sell), and *every single day* their employees’ aren’t compliant increases their risk. Lawsuits are literally laid out ahead like land mines. In that sense, it is riskier to *not* work with Morf Media than it is to work with them. We’ve turned that Black Hat Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance around. (Note: we will likely explore the strategy and process of turning Anti Core Drives around in a future book).

Black Hat Motivation within Fundraising

In the realm of fundraising, I regularly get approached by startup entrepreneurs who are looking for some support to help them navigate fundraising from angel investors as well as venture capitalists (I also get approached by many investors, but on an entirely different set of motivational challenges – mostly White Hat.).

The thing about investors is that they are generally motivated by the forces of greed and fear. The force of greed – the intense desire to make a billion dollars (Core Drives 2 and 4); the force of fear – the apprehension of losing all their money (Core Drive 8).

At the beginning, the entrepreneur may promote many great attributes about the company, appealing to the investor’s sense of Core Drive 1, 2, 4 and even 5 if there is a good social proof. (Here you see the value of remembering the numbers for each Core Drive. Don’t worry if you don’t remember these numbers now, but just take note that they are mostly on the White Hat side of things.) The investor starts to show a lot of excitement, and the entrepreneur feels like the deal is sealed.

However, as the investor gets closer and closer to writing a check, the fear of losing all their money begins to preoccupy them, which is driven by Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance. They start to ask for more metrics, traction, and further social proof. Often, six months go by, and still no funding is committed.

From my personal experience, investors generally only close deals quickly when they are *convinced* that they will lose the deal if they don’t commit. If an entrepreneur *convincingly* tells the investor that a lot of people are already in on the deal, and if the investor does not act this week the round will be full, only then will they finally react. Black Hat creates urgency and closes deals.

How I was forced to take $450,000 more than I wanted to

When I was trying to raise $600,000 for my gamification startup straight out of college, I found the experience to be extremely difficult and sobering. We were a very young team, and this “gamification” thing seemed like a half-baked crazy idea.

After struggling for awhile to raise a modest amount of money to keep our small team afloat, we were finally able to secure $650,000 from three investors. At that point, I wrote an email to all our potential investors, who for over a year continually “wanted to see more” and “weren’t sure about this gamification thing.” I simply told them, “We are going to close the round, but thank you for your continuous (and non-existent) support!”

At this point, many of these investors who didn’t want to commit for an entire year suddenly responded with passion, enthusiasm, and even anger. “Yu-kai. I thought we agreed that I could invest this much money in your company. Why are you telling me that you are closing the round without me?” I was thinking, “Well, you kind of had an entire year to do that…” but they oddly made it seem like I was burning bridges if I didn’t take their money.

As a result, we tried to cap the round at $800,000 instead of $600,000, and we couldn’t do it. We tried to cap it at $900,000 and couldn’t. We tried to cap it at $1,000,000 and we still couldn’t. Finally, I capped the round at $1,050,000, while rejecting some investor money, just to show that we were serious about the cap. (I’ve also heard this same experience retold many times by other entrepreneurs.)

This illustrates the irrational power of Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience as well as Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance (while also serving as a fine example of the limits of White Hat motivation). All these “potential investors” clearly liked what I was doing. They were encouraged whenever I gave them good news. They saw that it could potentially make the world a better place. But they didn’t acted until they saw that the deal was being taken away from them. With White Hat motivation alone, people will always be intending, but never actually doing.

For the curious, eventually my startup launched RewardMe, a product that gamified the offline commerce experience. RewardMe was performing eleven times better than the numbers our closest competitors published. Towards the end of my time there, we even closed a $1.5 million sales deal with a national chain.

Startups are risky, and the unfortunate thing is, just having a stunning product doesn’t mean a company will be successful. A few years after RewardMe’s launch, we hit a combination of personnel, funding, and legal issues. I stepped down as the CEO, and eventually the company folded. If only I had my Octalysis knowledge back then, many things would likely be different, which is why I am hoping my readers learn these elements on motivation before they run into issues in their own companies.

Fortunately, by stepping down as the CEO of RewardMe, it freed up a lot of my time to further study gamification, human-focused design, and develop the Octalysis Framework.

Today, even though my Octalysis Group organization is becoming busier and busier, I’m a lot happier than when I was running a technology startup. That’s because I am now mostly motivated by White Hat Core Drives, as opposed to the Black Hat Core Drives of constantly counting our runway before dying.

One thought on “When to use Black Hat Gamification Design”

  1. Our ‘product’ – employee engagement training days – followed by a extended engagement with a citizen science project – are freely (anyone can sign up and it is fully funded) available to anyone within our partner (corporate) organisation who wants to sign up to come along. The vast majority of those who come along enjoy the event immensely, and one of the things we ask alumni to do is to spread the word to help recruit others. We really struggle with recruitment. So although ‘word of mouth’ is supposed to be a powerful recruitment tool in may areas, and we delight those who come into contact with us, this clearly isn’t working as a strategy. It seems like a little ‘black hat’ – scarcity and exclusivity – might benefit our efforts at the Discovery stage – so long as we revert back to more ‘white hat’ motivation once we get people signing up.

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