This is a guest post by secret gamification agent and webland wanderer, Average Joey. Joey doesn’t believe in real names or for those bringing gamification to life, that you should worry too much about a single construction of reality. Imagine, explore, play. Isn’t that what games and life is all about?
750words.com: The Gamification of writing
I have been using Buster Benson’s gamified writing site, 750words.com, for over 100 days now and I’ll admit to having a bit of a site-crush. I visit it on a daily basis and though I’m only at the beginning of what might become a beautiful friendship, other long term users clearly feel the same.
Among them, many have been engaged with the site for years. Writing their 750 words every, single, day.
Gamification is often put forward as a solution that promises this kind of passionate and committed long term engagement. But how many gamified sites really embed themselves into your daily habits not just a month, but over years?
The Empowerment to just write
Firstly and importantly the site’s every design choice feels tightly focused around a central goal. Write every day.
Sounds easy, but anyone who’s actually tried to write that novel, get down some of that essay or write a journal entry after a long day knows that finding that writer’s flow is often difficult.
This is why it feels such an empowering first experience when you log-in to the site. Before anything else, any browsing or the site showing off, you are simply challenged to write. In our digital lives filled with endless procrastination and distraction at every turn, a blank page with its sole intent at its centre feels refreshingly honest.
This is simple Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (Core Drive 3). Like any sandbox game you are given the tools early on and all the freedom to attack it anyway you want. The site name itself is all the tutorial for the on-boarding phase you need and the objective is clear from the moment you type in the url, “750words”. Go.
Here’s how it could have all gone wrong; A standard frame of menus, the badges, list of other users and challenges all gamified elements used later, if introduced at this point would have been a disaster. Those sparks for another chain of thought and suddenly your writing muse has wandered off.
Instead the gamification recognizes the different player journey phases and by focusing in on empowerment gets you to that early win-state of a successful writing day completed.
Simple and visual feedback on progress
In line with this stripped back design, there is no big progress bar with some swirly lights for feedback. The smallest of word counters is placed at the bottom of the page along with a time stamp update that let’s you know an autosave has happened. Its subtle and functional, but marks your progress and Accomplishment (Core Drive 2) every word along the way.
Once completed, the day is then marked by an X for the month you’re in. A kiss perhaps, I thought at first…
Why not a more fancy icon? When the Xs start to build up in a little chain across the top of those empty boxes, it starts to make sense. Strike!
I can almost hear the skittles falling over and in my head I do the obligatory turn around, fist pump and jaunty walk back to the pit.
If you happen to only part complete your writing on any given day. The box fills with the tantalising spare and an email is sent reminding you to not give up. It’s a clever visual feedback trick, that challenges you to do the bowling unthinkable and turn your spare into a full strike.
Rewarding commitment and consistency
After completing the most important action of writing. The site opens up its second layer of accomplishment that further reinforces long term engagement.
Like an attentive partner each visit it reminds me when we first started our journey together. It even wants to celebrate our anniversary by giving me a penguin. Ahhhh!
The scaffolding phase is led by the badges. Animal badges reflect the milestones of 5…30..etc days of writing in a row. The chain of Xs and the promise of a new badge is enough to encourage me to avoid breaking my streak (Core Drive 8, Loss & Avoidance). It’s a long way to fall back to day 1 on the way to that impressive and coveted 500 days Space Bird status (Core Drive 5, Social Influence).
The next thing you’ll notice is the available special badges for certain behaviours and the collector in us is inspired (Core Drive 4, Ownership). Type consistently fast and get the Cheetah badge. Type without distractions and get the Hamster badge. Each one is designed to illicit a certain behaviour that pushes you to stretch your writing muscles and habits.
Profiling the quantified writer
Even without these badges though. The ownership drive is also satisfied by the really interesting use of a writing analysis page
The pretty graphs and meta-analysis of my thoughts and feelings on any given day are often surprising. Providing a personalised dose of unpredictability (Core Drive 7). I’m always curious to see if the algorithm thinks my writing was extrovert or introvert, upset or happy?
This customization is more powerful than any avatar or profile. By intimately linking my presence on the site back to the core action of writing, the gamification once again reinforces the writing. Like staring in the fun house writer’s mirror, stripped past the choices I might have made on a profile. Instead here is a reflection of my writers face revealed by the words themselves.
So, Buster admits this is not exactly a full-proof algorithm, but I think this rather adds to its fun. Apparently I was pretty “touchy” and “feely” about my “future success” today.
Writing alone together
Then there is the one month challenge. A re-occurring chance to write 750 words every day within a single month.
The wall of awesomeness celebrates the champions and wall of shame is there to chide the losers at the end of each month. There is a countdown of challengers as they fall to the wayside each month and it brings together the usually invisible users as a group working towards a common writing goal. The challenge introduces an important element of competition and social pressure.
The voluntary sign-up to the month also asks each individual to fill in their own reward or penalty for the challenge.
“If I succeed, I will… treat myself to x.
If I miss a day or more, I will… y”
This simple self-made narrative, witnessed by your fellow participants is powerful. Instead of shoehorning some standardised Epic Meaning (Core Drive 1) into your interaction, it astutely allows you to craft your own. A sure fire way to tap into the intrinsic or extrinsic motivations that drive you.
Egg to Spacebird: Long term engagement from Discovery to Endgame
I first discovered the site in one of those serendipitous online conversations. Where a virtual stranger tells you in the hushed tones of a friend sharing a secret, of something special they have discovered.
This was very consistent with the discovery phase as an effective way of engaging curiosity (Core Drive 7) and the social influence (Core Drive 5) offered by the word of mouth from one writer to another.
Once you have joined the site, achieved your first few Xs and started the daily mastery towards a few badges, the final experience phase of gamification, the Endgame, comes into view.
This is where the relatively underused scarcity (Core Drive 6) appears. The patron cup of coffee is the only way to contribute and appear on the site beyond the core action of writing. It allows you to vote for site features or post an inspirational note on the patron page. Cups of coffee can only be obtained by donations or earned from monthly challenges.
These cups of coffee therefore encourage a sense of belonging to the community and investment in its future development. They can also be donated into a winner’s pool for the monthly challenges, as a way for users to give back to the community and demonstrate their mastery. For example, one member I saw recently giving away 40 cups to the winners pool.
Interestingly, there is also a locked down feature area, which is limited to early day members of the site. Currently it is impossible to ever earn the right to join this group, and it is therefore an extreme form of scarcity. Opening this up as an Endgame opportunity for more recent members to earn, I think, would be one of the practical improvements that Octalysis points to.
Another, would be to provide new forms of accomplishment and ways to engage with other players potentially using collaborative challenges. For example, there could be a special month challenge, where if 80% of the members signed up complete it successfully, then it will unlock a new badge for everyone.
This kind of Group Quest would provide a surprising and tangible reward for long term players taking on repeated monthly challenges, as well as new meaning to the writing of inspirational notes as a rallying call to the group to win this prize.
Playing the writers game
Buster says on the site, he created it out of his own desire and needs for something to motivate his daily writing practice and I believe, you can feel this through the gamified elements.
Unlike sites with plugin gamification features tagged on to the experience, 750words integrates it around this shared desire and at every phase of the writer’s journey.
Writing each day can sometimes feel like a lonely experience.
In the quiet space between the blank page and the words we try to wring out, 750words delivers an intimate gamified experience. Like the daily presence of an encouraging friend, who simply lends you their best pen.