Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

How I motivated my readers to vote for my gamification talk in SxSW

Gamification at SXSW

If you are reading this blog, you’ve most likely noticed the bright coral hello bar at the very top (and yes I know…it’s fat and humungous. How else can I get your attention?). Instead of just expecting my readers to just sign up and vote, I thought I would write a post to talk about how I decided on the messaging.

Many of you are probably familiar with South by Southwest. Some of you may have heard about it, or watched video clips from previous years. Others of you may have actually gone there before. And there may be those of you who have never heard of it, or are unclear about what it is.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is a major yearly event in Austin Texas that is composed of different festivals representing the best of the digital interactive world, music and film. It started back in 1987 and has continued to grow in its popularity.

Gamification – SXSW 2014

For SXSW 2014 (which will be held next spring) I’ve decided to enter the running to be a speaker on Gamification and Octalysis. But to earn this privilege, I will need your votes.

If you’re on my site, you probably have the understanding that gamification lies beyond trends, fads and gimmicks. You’ve heard me mention over and over on how it is Human-Focused Design (instead of function-focused design) that can really motivate people towards tedious tasks and make them fun.

Having this perspective voiced at SXSW would surely inspire the creation of more meaningful and socially uplifting experiences through the power of thoughtful game design. Here are two panel picker pages that I have created so far.

Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges & Leaderboards (writing a book on this topic) 

How Gamification Can Bring Back Desires to Learn

On a personal level, your vote would be a huge favor to me that I intend to honor.

Game Design Decisions behind the HelloBar Ask

So, as I was designing the hello bar at the top, I thought about which core drives would be most applicable to those who might vote for me. Not to be didactic, but as you may know by now, I’m here to teach about human-focused design and the 8 Core Drives, so it’s appropriate for me to discuss my thinking behind things.

I was thinking about what type of message would be best for my audience in the short sentence on the Hello Bar (very limited spacing), especially for a pretty annoying action of signing up to a new site (it redirects you to somewhere else!) and then voting.

I thought about Epic Meaning & Calling, where people who are passionate about Gamification (and doing it better through Octalysis) might want the world to know more about it, so possibly a “Help GOOD gamification spread by voting for me!” message may work. But still, most people aren’t as passionate about “spreading good gamification” as I am, even if they love coming to my site and learning from it (I’m seeing many people who have visited my site HUNDREDS of times…yea that’s right, weirdo).

I thought about a small combo of the Thank-You Economy from Core Drive #5, and a combination of Core Drive #4 and #2, saying something like, “If you can think of 2 useful things you have learned from my site, it would be great if you can vote for me.” Since it should be relatively easy for people to think that they learned 2 useful things on my site (note: studies have shown that if you say, “Can you think of 10?” people will give up after 4-5 and then have a NEGATIVE opinion of you or your brand just because they couldn’t complete the challenge), they self-qualify and may have a higher tendency to vote (they also feel ownership over their acquired knowledge). But that’s still like a “Hey, you need to pay me back” kind of feel, which I don’t like.

Social Influence & Relatedness (#5)

At the end, I went all in with Core Drive #5 with Social Influence & Relatedness, making this message very personal and from my heart. Even though by trade I’m a professional in motivational design (but still an early student in this nascent field!), I sincerely feel blessed to have such loyal readers and followers who regularly post their feedback and show their enthusiasm. 

For my quick HelloBar message, I use my own personal voice and directly ask for a vote to help ME. I make it very clear that this is a BIG favor to me and that I will appreciate it a lot if you do help out. I reiterate that value by saying “I owe you one” at the very end when space is very tight.

This feels different than saying, “You learned from me before, now you need to return the favor.” This is more like, “Please help me, and I will owe YOU one.” The feeling of “I’m awesome. I’m a nice person, and now Yu-kai Chou owes me a favor.” is much better and motivating. In fact, I’ve received a few emails from people I don’t know saying, “Hello Yu-kai. I voted for you today. I need some advice about gamification and was wondering if we could talk for 30 minutes about it.”

Even though these “free time commitment” emails I’m usually a bit slow on responding (despite truly wanting to help), I immediately responded to all the people who said they voted for me and gave them all the support I can.

I think that getting people to feel really comfortable reaching out to me for a favor return is actually a good result – it breaks the comfort zone barrier of talking to me because now people feel like they have EARNED the right to do so, and so they want to claim the REWARD they deserved, instead of thinking, “Hmm, he’s probably really busy so I don’t want to bother him.”

This helps tremendously towards making my site more social (and helping me build more meaningful relationships with my community).

Ownership & Possession (#4)

Another thing to note is that I made sure that within the message, the “favor” included the words “Sign Up and Vote.” This is important because if I just said, “Please do me a favor by voting!” People at this point might make a mental commitment to just vote, but once they go onto the site, they will see that they need to do the 7 second registration and then abandon the mission altogether because it was more than what they expected.

I wanted people to see at the beginning that they are committing to both signing up AND voting, so when they decide to click the link, they are prepared to sign up for something they probably didn’t care about. This gives people clear OWNERSHIP to what they committed to (Core Drive #4). I felt that adding the extra 2 words is pretty important, or else I would have gone for a shorter and simpler message on the bar.

Social Treasure: the game technique SxSW uses to market itself (Game Technique #63)

For SxSW, what they are doing is very clever and drives a ton of motivation. SxSW has successfully established itself as the big go-to place for tech, online media, and startups. In fact, during the few days it’s going on, dealmakers in this space stop taking meetings (outside of Austin, TX that is), and you have to explain to others why you are NOT going to SxSW.

For that, they have slowly built up some Epic Meaning & Calling (Core Drive #1) into the process, similar to what Burning Man, the World Cup, The Olympics, or TED has done. This means that many people go because they “should” go, since they are part of the industry and that’s what people in the industry do.

They have built up such strong meaning in their conference, that just for this year alone, there were 3,000 speaker submissions to the interactive design sessions and 750 speaker submissions to the education ones.

That’s A LOT of speakers!

And so, for speakers to differentiate themselves, the event organizers introduced a game mechanic I call the “Social Treasure” (which is Game Technique #63 in my secret stash of game mechanics and techniques). A Social Treasure is something that you can only obtain by having SOMEONE ELSE give it to you.

When you play Farmville, there are some items that you can’t earn by yourself. You can’t even buy with real-money! But the only way to get it is to have a friend give it to you for free, and somehow it’s just created out of thin air. Of course, you can give your friend one for free too. And because of this social treasure mechanism, a few years ago everyone’s spamming your Facebook wall, saying, “Please send me a goat!!” “I don’t even play Farmville!” “That’s okay! You can just created an account and I can give you a goat too!”


Anyway, the most common form of a Social Treasure in the online world right now is the Vote. By requiring other people outside of the system to vote for players, it automatically needs to be viral. If all 3,750 speakers go out and solicit votes, then that’s A TON of free promotional value for SxSW (ever thought why they have become so successful in the first place? These are clever people)

Choice Perception (Game Technique #89): Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

Another important mechanic here is what the vote mounts to. According to SxSW, the votes only contribute to 30% of the final decision. 40% are from the Advisory Board, and 30% from the SxSW staff. I think that’s clever design, because it gives people the Feeling of Choice, or Choice Perception.

At the beginning stage on any game (Onboarding, which is Phase 2…this post is probably more understandable by those who are more familiar with my Octalysis system….) you need to show users if this is a game worth playing. 

Lets say they just say that this is completely based on votes – 100%. Now, people may get upset over this and think, “Well, this is just a stupid popularity contest. I don’t have time to ask for votes all over the place,” and they don’t do anything.

Frankly, I’ve done those 100% vote-based campaigns once, and I decided to not do that again. My whole team worked our butts off, annoyed a bunch of friends, just to get the “chance” to present somewhere. We felt manipulated a little bit, because we HAVE to get our friends to vote to play.

However, in this case, they specifically tell you – since voting only determines 30% of your eligibility to speak at SxSW, you still may get picked without soliciting votes, so it is up to you if you want to do it.

Now the dynamics of the game has changed a little bit. Instead of saying, “Harassing your friends IS the game,” it’s now, “You can still play and win without harassing your friends, but it would be a strong bonus IF you did invite your friends.”

Now it FEELS better! It’s a game worth playing because I’m already awesome and judges and staff members will likely pick me, but I’m even super powered up more if I get my friends to vote!

This switched the Core Drives from Loss & Avoidance (#8), “I’m only getting votes because I don’t want to lose,” which is a great bottom-line motivator but not for sustaining engagement (like how I never wanted to do that again) to Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback (#3) and Development & Accomplishment (#2). Now people think, “Cool! Let me see HOW I can get people to vote for me and increase my chances even more!”

And even though, *sigh*, you probably still don’t have THAT much of a choice, you have the perception of choice, which makes you commit the Desired Actions towards the Win-State.

Believability and duality in a monetization engine


Again, 30% is an important number to communicate, because it feels more real and more believable. I’ve seen events that say, “You will have a voting competition, but at the end it will be based on the judges to pick who wins.” That actually creates the OPPOSITE effect (now you see why Human-Focused Design is so intricate? Takes a lot of time to learn and study…).

The reason why this creates the opposite effect is that now I’m either thinking, “OK….so I can work my butt off, but still get nothing??” or, “They say that but I don’t believe them. It’s going to be all about votes anyway.” And that again, leaves a bad taste in the mouth and people may not want to engage for the long run (again, it might work well in the short-run with some Black Hat Gamification tweaks…wow, this is probably the most technical post on Gamification I’ve written in a while).

You see this in games also – they will give you a choice: either spend money now and get all this awesome stuff, OR, spend 200 hours playing and eventually earn them. If the game just locks the items until you pay for them, users might feel that this is lame and the developers are greedy and just want to steal money. If they just give out all the stuff for free, users feel a sense of Abundance (instead of Scarcity, which is Core Drive #6), and they might not work as hard doing the 200 hours tasks.

But when you give them a choice between both, a lot of users feel, “Hey! I can save $3 by doing this [ridiculously long task that will take 200 hours to do]! That’s awesome! Let me start now!” Now doing those tasks has “value” in them, even the hourly rate they are saving is pretty pathetic.

Eventually the user realizes that too. “Wait a second…if I paid $3, I can save 100 hours of my time! That’s a no-brainer! I should do that!” and so now they don’t feel like the game developer is greedy and stealing their money for a gated garden. There is still a free path into the gated garden, but now you can pay and get in quickly! Woot!

The user ends up doing both the Desired Actions, AND paying money. AND they felt that just got a great deal. And none of this would have been accomplished if the game didn’t give them the Perception of Choice.

The quickest example of this in the non-game world is Dropbox.

Dropbox says, “Either you can get more space by inviting more users, OR, you can pay money now and get space immediately.” A lot of people, including me, started inviting friends to join Dropbox to get more space. In my case, I eventually felt, “Well, I need a lot of space since I back up my entire hard drive on Dropbox, but I don’t like to harass my friends, so I think I’ll just pay money.”

Lo and behold, I ended up inviting my friends AND paying for space in dropbop.

Anyway, because SxSW clearly states that it’s 30%, it feels legitimate, transparent, and every action I take feels like I am building a bonus, instead of

GG, South by South West

Just even in my case! I’m always already screaming for a lack of time. I went to bed 3:30AM yesterday morning and woke up 7AM this morning. Some clients are still waiting for me to deliver some work, and my wife has been feeling I have been working too much. And what do I do? I spent a lot of time working out the perfect promotion interface (finally picked HelloBar and customized it), thought about my messaging quite a bit as you can see, and even wrote a blogpost about it when I could be writing my book or making a new video!

I’ve clearly fell for their game technique here. I think we should create an industry jingo, where when you significantly changed your behavior because of Human-Focused Design, you should say, “GG, South by Southwest.”

GG stands for “Good Game” in the gaming community, and is most commonly used when one just lost a game against an opponent. It’s a good display of good manners and appreciates how the opponent demonstrated good abilities and outplayed the player.

Of course, in this game, if you have changed your action a lot based on a gamified campaign, you are also recognizing that they have created a “good game” to which you started to participate in. I think the alternative to GG is the word “Touché,” but it’s just not used much in the gaming world so a bit more off-theme, so I’ll stick to GG.

Oh yea, and GG Dropbox….GG.

If you have read up to here, please vote for me

Alright. Since you spent all this time reading about how I work so hard just to get a vote from you, it would be highly appreciated…or I would highly appreciate it if you actually click on the links and voted for me…especially if you have decided that you have learned 1-2 things from me here 😉 Feel free to email me and tell me you voted for me with an outrageous demand too. At the least, we’ll be friends afterwards.

For your convenience, here are the 2 links again:

Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges & Leaderboards (writing a book on this topic) 

How Gamification Can Bring Back Desires to Learn

Thank you so much.


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7 responses to “How I motivated my readers to vote for my gamification talk in SxSW”

  1. RubenGP Haha, thanks – I’m working on it! Very….slowly (along with my videos…). I also already have my 2nd booked planned out, which will be Titled: 10,000 Hours of Play. I’m really excited about that one but who knows when I will be able to finish that ;-(

  2. Hi Yukai, hope you get both conferences, I’ve already voted for them 🙂 Thanks for sharing your gamifying tricks, I’ll resort to them to promote my proposals by means of Octalysis jejejeje 
    By the way, your book Beyond PBL sounds pretty interesting and its title says a lot about its content since Gamification is far more than PBL… please finish it soon, I’m eager to read it 🙂 Take care,

  3. nikkit74 Yu-kai Chou Ah I see. Btw, I modified the bottom of my post just now to include deeper game mechanics that SxSW uses. Feel free to check out if interested! 😉

  4. Yu-kai Chou No but it lets you know how many people shared on Facebook/LinkedIn/twitter. I think that gives a fair representation of popularity 🙂

  5. I was looking at other ‘pickers’ and you definitely have more share’s than most of the others. Good Luck YuKai I would love to come and hear you speak but I am in Canada lol

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