Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

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Decoding the Mystery Box: A Dive into the Intricacies of Reward Design

Today, I’m going to guide you through a fascinating game design technique known as the “Mystery Box (GT #72).” A type of reward context, the Mystery Box, possesses a unique charm that plays on our inherent curiosity and desire for the unknown. Let’s delve into the world of reward structures, of which there are several types, and understand how the Mystery Box stands out from the rest.

Unveiling the Different Types of Reward Structures

A lot (but not all) of reward contexts fall into three categories based on how much Core Drive 7: Unpredictability there is – Fixed Action Reward (Earned Lunch), Mystery Box, and Easter Egg design.

Fixed Action Reward or “Earned Lunch” (GT #07)

In this model, the user knows exactly what they need to do to get the reward, and they also know what the reward is. They work diligently, and when they receive the reward, they’re not surprised. They feel they’ve earned it and that it was their due. This method is straightforward and satisfying IF the reward continues to be appealing, but it also lacks an element of surprise or excitement.

The Mystery Box (GT #72)

Unlike the Fixed Action Reward, with a Mystery Box, people know the action they need to take but don’t know what the reward is. Imagine opening a treasure chest or defeating a monster in a game; something drops, maybe a sword, but you’re unsure what it will be until the moment arrives.

The Easter Egg Design (GT #30)

In this type of reward, the user neither knows what the reward is nor what they need to do to get it. The reward just appears by surprise. This design presents an intriguing challenge as it takes both the task and rewards into the realm of the unknown.

In today’s discussion, we’ll focus primarily on the Mystery Box design.

The Charm and Challenge of the Mystery Box

What makes the Mystery Box particularly fascinating is that because people don’t know what the reward is, there’s a sprinkle of Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity tied to the reward, which is usually associated with Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession. The enigma of the unknown reward motivates individuals to make small commitments to satisfy their curiosity, but not large or long-term commitments.

Consider this example: If I asked you to walk across the room and pick up my crystal ball to show you something cool, you might wonder what it could be and complete the task due to curiosity. However, if I requested you to drive across town to my house to pick up the crystal ball, you’d probably hesitate, pondering if the reward would be worth such a large commitment.

Interestingly, this behavior is also reflected in lottery players. People are willing to spend a dollar for a one-in-a-billion chance of winning a million dollars but hesitate to invest $100 for a one-in-a-million chance of winning the same amount, even though the second deal is objectively ten times better. It demonstrates our willingness to make small commitments to deal with unpredictability, but larger commitments are a different story.

Leveraging the Mystery Box in Design

When implementing the Mystery Box design, remember that it’s most effective when users are already engaged in the Desired Actions. Adding a mystery box, and a little unpredictability, to the expected routine can increase engagement and motivation. For instance, telling an employee that they have a surprise reward waiting for them if they complete their day’s work efficiently can stimulate their interest and performance. However, remember that mystery box designs should not be long-drawn-out promises, as they can breed uncertainty and dissatisfaction.

To implement a Mystery Box reward without using technology or software,, you could create a schedule of rewards tied to a dice roll. Once an activity is completed, roll the dice to determine the reward. This approach adds an element of chance and excitement to the rewards, making the experience more engaging.

Be Careful with Probability!

Remember that when rolling two dice, the probability of getting each number is not the same. If you roll one die, there’s a one-in-six chance of getting any result. But when you roll two dice, you can’t get one, and there’s a higher probability of getting numbers around five, six, or seven than getting a two or twelve. When designing your reward schedule, you might make two and twelve the major rewards that you don’t want to give out too often. But when you do get them, it’s a significant event, adding an extra layer of excitement to the Mystery Box design.

The magic of the Mystery Box design lies in the anticipation and the thrill of rolling the dice and seeing what you get. The uncertainty of the reward combined with the Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity makes this a powerful tool for designing engaging experiences.

In closing, I hope this exploration of the Mystery Box design offers you valuable insights that you can integrate into your designs. Remember, the most impactful designs often come from a place of creativity and understanding of our inherent human motivations.

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