yukai chou gamification

The 8 Core Drives of Gamification #5: Social Influence & Relatedness

social pressure and envy

The 5th Core Drive of Gamification

(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.
For a video walk-through, check out: Episode 14, Social Influence & Relatedness)

Social Influence and Relatedness is Core Drive 5 within my Octalysis Gamification Framework, which is related to activities inspired by what other people think, do, or say. This Core Drive is the engine behind themes like mentorship, competition, envy, group quests, social treasures, and companionship.

This Core Drive also includes the “Relatedness” part, which deals with things like attachment to emotional associations and the feeling of nostalgia. For instance, if you see a product that reminds you of your childhood, you have a higher chance of buying that product. Similarly, if you meet someone from your hometown, you would also be more inclined to sign up a deal with this person.

Social Influence & Relatedness is a Right Brain Core Drive that bases its success off the common, and sometimes inevitable human desire to connect and compare with one another. When utilized properly, it can serve as one of the strongest and long-lasting motivations for people to become connected and engaged.

With the proliferation of new social media tools and platforms, more and more companies are working on optimizing Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness during the Discovery and Onboarding Process.

Almost every consumer app these days urges you to “Invite Your Friends” upon joining their service. However, just because the social platform is there to spread a message, does not mean there necessarily are engaging content and context that are share-worthy. There are many pitfalls as Social Influence & Relatedness is a double-edged sword and needs to be done carefully.

Mentorship (Game Technique #61)

In my book, I share how powerful mentorship could be in a game setting such as Parallel Kingdom, but it is also consistently effective in every medium of activity that requires sustained motivation.

During the rigorous process of joining a Fraternity in American universities, most fraternities have a Big Bro/Little Bro system where an experienced member in the organization will be matched up with a new potential member going through a semester-long training process known as “pledging.” The Big Bro is there to serve as a mentor that provides not only directional guidance, but also emotional support to make sure the time-consuming process of pledging becomes more bearable. This practice has lasted for over a century and shown to improve the Onboarding experience of members joining the organization.

Having a mentor also helps employees throughout organizations become more attached to the culture and environment, effectively increasing work satisfaction and decreasing turnover rates.

Unfortunately, most organizations require the individuals to become proactive on their own in finding mentors, and only individuals who are lucky get matched with a good mentor within an organization (or in their lives in general). It is beneficial for companies to create a systemized mentorship program that is fluid based on individual matches and compatibility to improve the experience and productivity within an organization.

The other benefit for Mentorship is that it also helps veteran players stay engaged in the Endgame Phase. In the Four Experience Phases of a Players Journey (relevant in Level 2 Octalysis) we learn that the Endgame is the most neglected and one of the hardest phases to optimize for. Good mentorship design in the Endgame also makes veterans feel as if they’ve worked hard enough to prove their status and show off their skills.

While the benefits of utilizing Mentorship within an organization are apparent, how can one utilize Mentorship to motivate customers who are outside of the organization?

Mentorship as a Booster to Customer Support

Mentorship can be an amazing way to super-charge a consumer-facing website, such as eCommerce marketplaces or online communities.

Generally, the best way of establishing trust from users online is to show that other veteran users have been using/benefitting/profiting off of the site and loving it for a long time.

Also, the majority of most online community support calls are not really about technical problems or bugs, but “how do I do this?” questions, where the operator just patiently walks the users through, “First click profile. Then click seller’s dashboard. Good. Now click on the button that says Gullible.”

This model is not very effective because:

  1. Users are not exactly enthralled by talking to “customer service” operators because they believe the customer service team does not really empathize with their problems and do not understand their needs.
  2. Costs for customer service can run very high, especially when the majority of them are solving these “how-do-I” interface problems.
  3. Newbies of the site don’t feel emotionally engaged with anyone on the site and feel no incentive to behave better in the community.
  4. The veterans of the website do not feel the fulfillment of reaching higher status and may become less engaged.

The solution? Get veterans to do “interface” support for newbies!

What if each time the veteran logs onto the website, there will be a little overlay widget where he can move a slider that says, “I am available for mentorship” and offer himself to become available for Gchat or Facebook Chat like conversations for newbies on the site?

For instance, lets say whenever a newbie seller on an eCommerce marketplace has a question, he has the option to connect to a veteran seller who’s been there, done that, and is exactly what the newbie sellers wants to be like one day on the site.

Of course, if the veteran expert can’t answer the questions, the newbie can immediately press a button that says, “Talk to an actual customer rep,” but newbies generally would love to get the opportunity to talk to a veteran who not only can help them solve their interface problems, but also give them tips and advice on how to become more successful sellers in the marketplace, such as applying better selling tactics. Needless to say, this is what the eCommerce company would love also, as each seller who skipped the boring tutorials can now learn how to become great sellers in an engaging fashion.

At the end of every month, the eCommerce site can then calculate how many “mentorship hours” the veteran did, and apply that to some type of fee discount or free shipping that the veteran, who likely sells in large volumes, would love to get.

This is economical for the eCommerce site because compared to the massive savings from expensive support costs, fee discounts or free shipping plans would be like a rounding error.

That way, the veteran gets his status perks and bonuses, the newbie gets his questions answered while feeling a social bond towards becoming a better seller, and the site saves a massive amount of support costs while having more engaged and professional sellers in the ecosystem.

What a massive win-win-win.

Group Quests (Game Technique #22)

The game technique Group Quest is very effective in collaborative play as well as viral marketing because it requires group participation before any individual can achieve the Win-State.

A successful game that utilizes this is World of Warcraft, another fanatically successful and addictive game made by Blizzard Entertainment.  In WoW, there are many quests that are so challenging that it requires an entire team of 40 max-leveled players to work together, each specialized in their own responsibilities, before they have a chance of beating the quest. In well-designed instances, even though the 40-player requirement is not imposed by the program, the users simply find it difficult to win if they had 39 players.

This motivated many players to group up together into clans and guilds and orchestrate raids on a regularly basis, ensuring that people will login regularly and not drop out due to the social pressure.

Farmville by mobile-gaming giant Zynga is also another game that has quests that require users to invite a group of farmer friends to produce a certain amount of crops within 24 hours. The game forces you to not only invite your friends to join, but to participate with you, which is more powerful than a spammy “I just started playing this game. Click on this link!”

Groups Quests have been found in games for decades, but only more recently has it been adopted into the business world. In late 2008, the new company Groupon realized that it would be highly motivating for businesses and consumers if they created group quests that allow consumers to get dramatic discounts when a threshold of enough people taking the Desired Action towards the Win-State is met.

They tout 60% off discounts if “over 200 people buy this deal.” Naturally, people who wanted the tremendous discount invited their friends to “go in on this together,” making the company a huge explosion.

According to Forbes in 2010 Groupon was “projecting that the company is on pace to make $1 billion in sales faster than any other business, ever.” That’s not bad for utilizing a time-tested Game Technique in business.

Of course, due to some mismanagement and operational issues, Groupon (while still having $2.57 Billion in Revenue in 2013) did not reach the expectations that it set itself up for, but similar Group Quest models such as Kickstarter and Indigogo are becoming very popular services that group funds innovative projects that could not raise money from institutional investors.

Brag Buttons (Game Technique #57) vs Tout Flags (Game Technique #64)

Bragging is when a person vocally (and relentlessly) expresses their accomplishments and achievements, whereas touting is when a person implicitly showing people that they’re accomplished without really saying it.

Intuitively encouraging users to brag about and tout their achievements comes in handy when it comes to recruiting new players and keeping veteran players active, but the two actions are appropriate in different scenarios.

A Brag Button is an obvious Desired Action that users can take in order to broadcast what they feel accomplished about (driven by Core Drive 2). In other words, Brag Buttons are little action tools and mechanisms for users to broadcast how awesome they are to others. Take the game Temple Run, for example. Whenever a game is over, there is a quick and easy way for users to take a screenshot of their high scores and share it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Soon after, people were competing with those who were scoring in the millions and users scoring in the millions were proud to post their score for everyone to see.

In many games and websites these days, you’re always encouraged to share more with your friends at every single Win-State. Most of these Brag Buttons are ignored though, because it again is not fueled by Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment (the dynamics and relationships between each Core Drive and how they power each other is studied in higher level Octalysis). You want to implement the Brag Buttons at the Major Win-States when users actually feel awesome about what they had just completed.

A Touting Flag, on the other hand, is an obvious display that shows the achievements of the users. In other words, the user simply has to put up the Flag, and without doing more things, everyone who walks by would acknowledge this great achievement.

Touting Flags are seen when you walk into someone’s office, and on their walls you see all types of awards, certificates, and credentials. These professionals don’t necessarily want to brag about how they graduated cum de laude from Stanford University and have a Level 4 Octalysis Certificate to everyone all the time, but by having it on their walls, they implicitly tout it.

In that sense, adding the title Ph.D after one’s own name is usually considered a Touting Flag, but once they verbally introduce themselves as “John Doe, Ph.D,” they’re pressed that Brag Button.

In gaming, Touting Flags can often be seen as trophies, badges, or avatars. In many games, some avatar gear or items can only be obtained after certain difficult milestones, such as beating a certain secret boss, inviting 100 friends to the game, or simply being in the game since Day 1. This allows everyone else to clearly see that this user is a target of envy (which is not necessarily bad for motivation) without the person annoyingly bringing it up all the time.

Keep in mind that there needs to be some level of Relatedness when someone brags or touts about something. When there is a mutual understanding toward the difficulty of reaching a certain level, people are more likely to brag or tout about their score because they know others how difficult it is to reach that achievement. Of course, if people see others constantly bragging about their achievements in a game, they start to become more motivated by Social Influence, as well as Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity, as they would like to try to see what they can get themselves in the game.

Temple Run does a great job on that process of gaining new users through bragging and stood high up in the leaderboard of Apple’s top featured apps for weeks in a row with a 5/5 star rating. Not bad for a monotonous game of constantly running forward.

Unfortunately, the interface for Temple Run 2 dimmed down the option of the Brag Button, which I believe would result in lower probability of someone sharing based on the Glowing Choice and Dessert Oasis game techniques we discussed in Core Drive 2.

Social Treasures (Game Technique #63) and the Thank-You Economy (Game Technique #45)

Social Treasures are gifts or rewards that can only be given to you by friends or other players.

In Farmville, there are certain types of virtual goods that are unobtainable in almost all ways – including the option to purchase it with real money. The only way of getting the item is if a friend clicks on a “Give to Friend” button and, without losing anything, the item appears out of thin air and is given to a friend. The result of this type of design is that, when people want these unique Social Treasure items, they would just give it to each other, and both sides win. This, of course, pushes people to get their friends to join the game, so they would have more friends to obtain Social Treasures from.

Soon, people were requesting items from their friends nonstop on Facebook, badgering them to give them various items. It became a nuisance and an annoyance for Facebook users, but even if it was overwhelming, it effectively attracted more users to the game.

I remember there was a time around 2007, where people kept on posting on my Facebook wall and requesting that I give them a Goat in Farmville. After receiving a few of those, I got annoyed, and simply responded with, “I don’t play Farmville.”, thinking that it would effectively stop these people from asking again. Unfortunately, the response I received was, “Hey! That’s okay!! Just create a Farmville account, and I can give you a Goat too!!”

It was strikingly interesting to me that this person thought that somehow I too would value a Goat so much that it would motivate me to create a Farmville account. This was a temporary loss of empathy and failing the child development psychology test of guessing what other people would do. If you are curious about the experiment, search for, “   “ online.

Social Treasures can been seen commonly these days in games such as getting more Lives from Candy Crush (in fact, my wife noticed that her niece in Taiwan was playing games at 1AM in the morning when she told everyone she was studying late because the niece sent out a Candy Crush request to all her Facebook friends asking for more lives), more “rerolls” in a slot or dice machine that is found in the Angry Birds Franchise Role-Playing Game “Angry Birds Epic,” and many more.

In the real world, the most common form of a Social Treasure is a vote. Besides your own vote, you cannot (legally) get yourself more votes, even if you were ready to spend money. The only way for you to obtain more votes is if other people give them to you. When you implement a voting system, it would be beneficial to also promote the website to explain to the friends of users why the users are competing and why they need votes. Quite often, you can even see people creating Facebook Events titled “Please Vote for Me!” that posts the link of the website. Others send messages saying, “Please vote for my picture for cutest puppy picture so I can win a year’s worth of free dog food!” This is tremendously useful for the hosting company because it exposes their name to heavy traffic and attention. .

A similar extension of the Social Treasure game technique is the concept coined by Gary Vaynerchuk called the “Thank you Economy.” This is based around the idea that if you design a system that encourages users to continuously and generously give, there’s a social pressure to give back somehow, creating a type of in-system viral coefficient.

In the gamified navigation app Waze, when you keep seeing people sharing information about road and traffic conditions, you become a bit more motivated to share some roadside information yourself (a little bit of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback). Afterwards, you would often get a “Thank You!” from a user that is also driving in the area, creating a good feeling of Oxytocin, or the chemical in our brains that give us the feeling of wellbeing from companionship and trust in relationships. As a result, everyone starts to share more, as well as thank each other more.

Based on this concept, system designers should try to create an ecosystem that fosters the environment of generosity and reward that generosity. People will get attached easier because more often than not, people are not appreciated enough in their daily activities. If through your service or system people are getting that warm feeling of giving and being appreciated, you likely will have a thriving and sustainable system.

Conformity Anchor (Game Technique #58)

Earlier we already talked about the power of Social Norming, and certain game design techniques implement that power into their products or experiences. I call it a Conformity Anchor.

The Utility SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) company oPower is a great example of Conformed Anchoring. oPower is tasked with the mission of reducing energy consumption in our planet. Inspired by the work of their Chief Scientist Robert Cialdini, who is one of the leading experts on Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, as well as Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.

oPower has discovered that, the best way to motivate households to consume less energy is to show them a chart on how their best neighbors are consuming, and what their neighbors are consuming.

With this interface, oPower reportedly reduced 2.6 terawatt hours of electricity through 16 million households worldwide between 2007 and 2013, the equivalent of $300 Million Dollars. They were personally endorsed by President Barrack Obama, named a Technology Pioneer at the prestigious World Economic Forum, and was on the CNBC Disruptor 50 List.

One interesting observation oPower had was that by applying Conformity Anchors to the utility billing process, the top energy savers actually started to consume more energy because they felt they could relax a bit and be more like the norm. As a result, the company started to apply smiley faces to those who are above average, and two smiley faces to those are at the top, in order to reinforce Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment. Of course, there’s a lot more oPower can do to add other Core Drives to the process, but so far the smiley faces seem to do their jobs 🙂 .

Water Coolers (Game Technique #55)

Another way to reinforce Conformed Anchoring is by establishing Water Coolers in your experience. In American corporate office culture, the water cooler is often the place where people take a small break from work and chat about a variety of non-work related topics. Much of the conversations are gossip or complaints related, but it actively gets employees to bond with one another, and has become a well-recognized terminology in the U.S.

One example of a Water Cooler is adding a forum to your site. Forums are very helpful for community to bond, share ideas, and for this purpose, broadcast a social norm.

When I was first playing the game Geomon, I was skeptical about buying virtual goods with real money. Without paying, I could only capture 10 monsters. After that, when I wanted to capture more monsters, I would have to evaporate an old one. That Scarcity design (Core Drive #6) tempted me to spend some money, but I held on and painfully continued to play without spending. However, when I went to the forums of the game (which surprisingly, two years after the game shut down, is still active), I found out that many people talked about how they were spending their premium gold coins (which are purchasable by real money) as if buying them was a common practice.

After that, I was influenced by the social norm established in the forum and had no problem spending a few dollars to unlock a few slots so I could capture more monsters that I wanted.

In the game Battle Camp, spending is even more so established as a social norm. Players who spend money are referred to as “Coiners” and many troops would post messages such as, “We only accept coiners” or people would plead, “I’m not a coiner, but I’m literally on every hour that I’m not sleeping. Please let me join your troop!”

One thing to take note of, is that when you introduce a forum-like Water Cooler system into your experience, it could easily be plagued by emptiness and inactivity. Generally, forums are not very good at creating a community, but are good at mingling that community once it is established. When people come on a new forum and sees that it’s mostly empty, that spells negative social proof (a big sin that we have learned in this chapter), and it will only demotivate people towards the Desired Actions. Rather, first create a strong community with a lot of pent up things to say, and then introduce the Water Cooler to unleash that social energy, which hopefully would place the Conformity Anchor at the place that benefits your system.

Social Prods (Game Technique #62)

The final technique we’ll cover in this Chapter is the Social Prod. The Social Prod is the least amount of effort to create a social interaction, often times a click of a button. Good examples are Facebook Pokes/Likes, Google +1s.

In the early days, Facebook provides a small “Poke” button that does not do anything other than notify the user that you’ve “poked” them. At first, it seemed pretty pointless. I just got poked? What does that mean? The advantage of a Social Prod is that the user does not need to spend time thinking about something witty to say, nor be worried about sounding stupid, but simply presses a poke button to start an interaction.

When you get poked, you don’t know what it means either. But you don’t worry about it – you just poke back. Now both of you feel like you have interacted socially without having to spend any effort at all.

One of the key but non-obvious examples of a Social Prod is the Linkedin Endorsements. The professional social network LinkedIn generally does very well with Left Brain (Extrinsic Tendency) Core Drives such as CD4: Ownership & Possession (it’s your life/career) and CD2: Development & Accomplishment (these are real achievements).

However, they haven’t been able to successfully implement any Right Brain (Intrinsic Tendency) Core Drives, which is why there’s not “engaging experience” on LinkedIn. People just create profiles and then leave it sitting there for months – there’s just nothing to do on LinkedIn.

This is why in the past few years, they have been focusing on CD 5: Social Influence & Relatedness, such as showing you how much you have in common with certain people, recommendations, and endorsements.

LinkedIn Recommendations are actually considered Social Treasures, as they are truly valuables that only other people can give you. Unfortunately, they take time and work to generate, and so Recommendations action hasn’t picked up over the years.

Endorsements on the other hand, are Social Prods – they are designed to be fairly meaningless but easy to do. In the early days, there are buttons that allow you to endorse people in batches of four, allowing you to quickly endorse dozens of people without even thinking who they were.

When you are on an individual profile, it generally shows you a list of half a dozen expertise that you can endorse a person for.

However, most people have no idea whether this individual is good at all the activities listed there or not. But if you want to just endorse that one skill you truly do endorse, you cannot simply select that skill. You have to start clicking on the “x”s to slowly cancel out the other ones before you can just endorse the one you know about. Most people don’t want to do that much work, and as a result simply click the “Endorse All” button.

This shows that by design, LinkedIn does not want endorsements to be meaningful. It’s simply to meant to be easy and thoughtless – the definition of a Social Prod.

And as a result, people are endorsing each other in a proliferate manner; others are getting multiple emails a day saying, “Your friend Jun just endorsed you.” and therefore feel the reciprocal urge to go on LinkedIn and endorse their friends back.

Even though these endorsements don’t really mean anything from a career standpoint, but simply mean how likeable you are as a person, now by aimlessly endorsing each other endlessly, there is finally something to do on Linkedin. Oh yes, they introduced a content strategy too, so now you can read on LinkedIn too!


Social Influence & Relatedness is one the best studied and practiced Right Brain Core Drives in gamification (with Development & Accomplishment being the counterpart Left Brain Core Drive that is well-studied).

Most people recognize that spending times with friends is an intrinsically fun activity, even if they have yet to grasp the engaging factor of Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback or Unpredictability & Curiosity.

But when everyone’s going after social, and every website trying to make users invite their friends, your system has to be much better thought out to truly create a rewarding experience. Once you master Social Influence & Relatedness, you will be in even better position to reinforce Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience.

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