Thursday, January 18, 2018

Engineering Addiction Into Your Product: Lessons From the Professionals

The pros in this case being the gaming gurus at Gamasutra, November 13, 2017:

Compulsion Loops & Dopamine in Games and Gamification
The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

This is a presentation I put up together for the Big Gamification Challenge 2018 organised by REACTOR in collaboration with the Anglia Ruskin university , UK To explain how to use Compulsion Loops to produce Dopamine in games and gamified apps I touch multiple subjects
  • Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation and Rewards
  • Challenges and Skills
  • Anticipation, Churn and Retention
Most of the talk is based on my experience of some theories I found works best for game system design. Find the Presentation Slides Here .I also decided to write an article on that talk so here it is :

Compulsion Loops & Dopamine in Games and Gamification
What is Gamification really about?

When you talk about Gamification to people, one word that comes back a lot is "Rewards". Well that's not what Gamification (or Games for that matter) is about! Whaaaat? don't get me wrong here, Rewards ARE important, but that's not what it's about.  It's really all about Dopamine!
Dopamine is a drug produced by the brain. Simply put, it makes people do stuff seeking rewarding outcomes. Its responsible for addiction but also for things like seeking food or shelter.
Compulsion loops come from Behavioral Psychology and can be used to explain how games and Gamification makes the brain produce Dopamine. A compulsion loop is made of 3 steps:
  1. Anticipation
  2. Activity
  3. Reward

Counter intuitively Dopamine is produced at the first step : Anticipation. If you look at BJ Fogg's Behavior Model anticipation would be the "Trigger" moment when you think about what you will do and its hopefully rewarding outcome.

But first to explain how to create anticipation that generates Dopamine we need to dig a bit deeper into the Rewards and Activities that are anticipated.

There is a lot to say about rewards and a lot of ongoing research and it would take too much time to go through all of it here. If you want more on that you can find some reference at the bottom of this article. For the sake of simplicity I will divide Rewards into two categories :
  • Extrinsic
  • Intrinsic
When I do something for something else, that "something else" is an Extrinsic motivation to the activity (that's kind of important because a part of the "clusterfuck" surrounding the theoretical discussions on rewards and motivation is due to the confusion between "What" rewards are extrinsic to. Let's just agree that here we are talking about motivations that are extrinsic or intrinsic to the activity and we should be able to talk about what really matters : how does it work?

Intrinsic motivation is when I do something for itself. The thing I do is it's own reward.

Let's look at an example :
Say I am playing a video game because I love the story. Unraveling the story is it's own reward. This is an intrinsic reward. While playing I discover that the game mechanics are actually great and I like the challenge they offer me. Progressively I start playing more and more for the mechanics and less for the story. There is a shift in my motivation. I play the mechanics because I like them. This is still Intrinsic to the activity.
Now Let's imagine that for some reason the game designer tough it would be a good idea to add Achievements to the mechanics to reinforce the wanted behaviors. Every time I succeed at a challenge using the game mechanics I love I get rewarded with an achievement that tells me I'm doing it right. That's nice and I start seeking these achievements. As I keep playing I start doing it more and more for the achievements. I might even start grinding to get them, getting me through mechanics I don't like that much which makes the game designer quite happy.  What is happening is that my motivation is shifting from Intrinsic to Extrinsic. This shift is called the Over justification effect. Where I was doing something for it's own sake I am now doing it for an extrinsic reward. What's important to know is that this is a one way trip. It's easy to steal Intrinsic motivation and shift it to Extrinsic motivation but the other way is much harder. If at that point the game stopped to give me achievements I would probably stop playing... 
Over-Justification Effect
Intrinsic Motivation is the Unicorn of game design. If you have it in your game or app, protect it ferociously and harness it's power!! Ok... so how do we do that? Glad you asked! Well my friend we will use what's called "Scaffolding" with the Skills and Challenges that are intrinsically motivating in the activity....

We'll be coming back to the topic and probably to Gamasutra over the next few weeks. Until the next installment here's an overview of where we're headed with this stuff:
"If you think your smartphone is addictive, you ain’t seen nothing yet."
"Mark Zuckerberg’s radical decision to reinvent the News Feed is a plea for mercy." (FB)
Related: Monday's ""Facebook Can’t Be Fixed" (FB)", last month's "Engineer a Little Addiction Into Your Product - Redux" or the just posted "Cory Doctorow: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention ".

Facebook's Statement on Social Media and Mental Health (FB)
"Hey, we've toned down the 'destroying society' shtick, Facebook insists" (FB)
"The Right to Attention in an Age of Distraction"
Climateer Line of the Day: Neurotransmitters and Facebook Edition
 "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works.  No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it's not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem."
—Former Facebook Vice President for Addicting Users, Chamath Palihapitiya
And many more, use the 'Search blog' box if interested.

Engineer a Little Addiction Into Your Product - Redux
My work here is done.

December 15
 Doctor And Dopamine - Dilbert by Scott Adams

December 21
 Dopamine - Dilbert by Scott Adams

There are three more in the series, very topical.

Previously in non-Dilbert commentary:
Dec. 11 
Climateer Line of the Day: Neurotransmitters and Facebook Edition
Dec 3 
"The Neurochemistry of Smartphone Addiction"
Sept. 25
Dopamine Labs: "Meet the tech company that wants to make you even more addicted to your phone"
Sept 24
"If You Want To Be Happy, Listen Up. Now! alternative title: The FT's Izabella Kaminska Is...".

And dozens and dozens more including  the namesake 2015 post "Want to Make Big Money? Engineer A Little Addiction Into Your Product