Videos from VatorSpark Gamification Conference

Videos from VatorSpark Gamification Conference

Big props to the Vator team for putting on a great, intimate Gamification conference in Berkeley today.  I captured some of the content, with my (chicken-scratch) notes below each video.

Michael Wu, Chief Scientist, Lithium Techologies: Michael's keynote was fantastic.  He crammed a 2 hour workshop into a 45 minute presentation, so there was a lot of theory to digest in the video.


My notes from Michael's talk: (not necessarily super coherent)

Social = connection but gamification = interaction.   While connection is huge as evidenced by Facebook, interaction is what builds loyal relationships.

Gamification is created on top of connections.  Connection = baseline framework.

The latent value of a connection (fan/friend) is the potential to interact.

3 most common commercial uses of gamification: Deepen engagement, sustain loyalty, onboard new users... many more in non-business use (government, education)

What powers the magic behind gamification: The Fogg Behavior Model = 3 things that drive human psychology:

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Trigger

Gamification = temporal convergence of the these 3 things.  Must drive users above an activation threshold before triggering them.  In more detail:

Discussing motivation:

What motivates people:  Maslow's hierarchy of needs is what motivates people: Physical / Safety / Belonging / Esteem / Self-Actualization.    All social cohesion happens in "belonging" stage.  Game mechanics happen in "Esteem" stage.   Gamification = primal to the human psyche.

The self-actualization stage = "being stage" -- things like self sufficiency... goodness... completeness... autonomy... mastery... purpose... Game mechanics can be applied here as well.

Watson & Skinner say human behaviors are learned through conditioning... for example, assigning "points" for what works to reinforce behavior.   But points by themselves have no value.  The proper use of points depends on the reward schedule.  Drive different human behavior by providing different reward schedules, like:

Variable Ratio (VR):  This is what guides game addiction.  The "wildcard" where the user never knows exactly how many points are going to be distributed, and when.

Variable Interval (VI): Is same point amounts but on varying schedules.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:  Psychology of Flow = forget about physical feelings (hunger, sleep), passage of time, ego... it's HARD to get users to this state.

To do so, the skill has to match the challenge.  If the challenge is too hard, people get anxiety, if too easy, people get bored.  Flow = fine line between certainty and uncertainty.  Too much control = boring.  Too challenging = frustrating.  Very hard to please all users and get them into "Flow".  Over time people acquire more skill, so even if they're in the "Flow" at one point in time, they will fall out of it over time as they get better.

Developer must have variable, ongoing control over how hard the gameification mechanics are to keep the user in Flow.  (or the right algorithms to do so automatically)

Moving onto Ability:

Ability DNE skill.  Ability = measure of access to resources at the moment when the user needs to perform the behavior.  Resource types = 1) effort (physical, mental), 2) scarce (time, money, authority/permission, attention), 3) Adaptability (capacity to break norms)

Ability is context dependent... access to resources above is different for everyone.

Example he just gave:  Everyone in the room has the skill to send a tweet.  But Michael (presenting) does not have the ability to tweet because he's giving a presentation (he's lost access to time and attention resources above, because he's presenting).

2 perspectives on ability:  Think about it from a task perspective, not a user perspective.  Task perspective = focus on simplicity -- on perceived ability by user to do that task.    Another example:  Do it the "hard way" by training the user to have more ability (user perspective), or the "easy way" by making the task simpler (task perspective).  Example he gives is publishing video:  Anyone could do it before, but YouTube made it seem easy, so now many more people do it.  Other examples are progress bars (90% done, you feel like it's easier... divide & conquer... )

Last factor:  Trigger

Trigger = anything that asks the user to perform a behavior right now.  User must be aware of trigger and must understand what the trigger means.

Why are triggers necessary?  Some reasons:  User is unaware of his ability... user does not know when to do something... user may be distracted... user may question his motivation... good triggers break these routines and reassure user's motivation and bring to user's attention how easy the task is.

Trigger is all about timing.  There are a lot of bad triggers out there:  For example, spam mail.  Bad trigger because spam arrives at a time when we don't have the ability (i.e., bad timing).  "Cancun vacation" spam email ... user does not have motivation or ability to act on it.

Different types of triggers:

Spark trigger: User has ability but is not motivated.

Facilitator trigger:  User is motivated but does not have ability (often used with progress bar to create anticipation as user improves towards his goal)

Trigger effectiveness also depends on "gamer archetype"... creator of Dungeons & Dragons created this.  Says all men created in image of 4 types:  Achiever, Explorer, Killer, Socializer.  Look at these 4 types:

Killer:  Less than 1% of population.  Highly competitive.  How to trigger:  Challenge them.  Foursquare does this well:  "You've been ousted as mayor".

Socializer:  80% of population:  Opposite of Killer -- hate confrontation.  Value relationship & followers.  Best way to trigger = show that their friends are doing it.

Achiever:  10% of population:  Aspire to be killer but can never beat them.  Triggered by status increase.

Explorer: 10% of population.  Driven by discovery & uniqueness of their contributions.  Hate time & space constraints.  Trigger by calling on their unique skill (you are the only one with this skill).

===== END of 3 points description ====

Beware of moral hazard of game play:  Skinnerian operant conditioning:  The reward can become learned & become the motivator instead of the behavior.  Example:  gamify flossing -- reward with perks, like a toy:  kids will floss, but for the wrong reasons... you won't be able to keep up... then they lose all motivation to perform the desired task.

The overjustification effect:  Rewarding people with extrinsic rewards will actually decrease a person's intrinsic motivation for the gamified behavior.  If your kid hates to do math, don't reward them with $5 to do math, because they will hate it over time (yes he says this is counter intuitive).

Most commercial gamification uses perks & cash... can get expensive after a while.  Points & badges works on much larger scale (they're free).  BUT the problem is all of these are extrinsic rewards; won't keep working in long run.

There are 2 sustainable gamification strategies.

Bad news:  Gamification is NOT sustainable by itself in the long run
Good news:  Gamification is GREAT to get someone started on something... creating new habit... but there must be an intrinsic value beyond the gamification.  Gamification becomes secondary over time.  Gamify = start & reinforce behavior.

... which means:  Gamification is great for onboarding.

Other option:  figure out someone's intrinsic motivation through gamification (like a testing framework) and then focus on the user's intrinsic value.

So to sum up:

1) Make gamification work long enough for user to realize intrinsic value
2) Make gamification work long enough for the system to identify user's intrinsic value

Some examples of gamification:

Speed Camera Lottery:  Like a regular speed camera; takes pics of speeders... BUT also takes pics of drivers obeying the speed limit, and some of the $$$ collected is paid out to safe drivers.
Trigger type: Spark
Result:  It worked very well by changing user's behavior long-term: average speed dropped from 32mph to 25mph in 25mph zone

Gap gamify store check-in:  Gap free jeans giveaway event:  User checks in at Gap store to win a pair of jeans (giving 10,000 away)
Trigger type: "Ends today"
Result:  Moral hazard here, because once the 10,000 pairs are gone, user stops checking in.  There is no resulting intrinsic value for the user past the prize.

An evaluative framework + a design paradigm for gamification:

  • Motivate user with positive (not negative) behavior
  • Increase the user's ability by simplyfing the behavior of the task being gamified
  • Place the proper trigger at the right time

Gamification is iterative -- start at the 3rd point and iterate up.  I.e. start by placing a trigger... then try to make the task simpler... then try to motivate user differently.

Gamification is very data intensive:  You need deep behavior metrics & analytics, for example to track players you need to be able to track their behavior... you need feedback data to iterate on the game.

Other takeaways:
Gamification of work DNE mixing games with work.  Don't confuse the two.

Ranjith Kumaran, Founder, PunchTab


My notes from Ranjith's talk: (not necessarily super coherent)

Session by Ranjith Kumaran, founder of and co-founder of

Monthly Metrics from

18 out of 10,000 users will actively 'like' something on Facebook.  Gamify on FB = 157 out of 10,000.

1 in 10,000 are active on Google+.  Gamify on G+ = 9 in 10,000

UGC is really tough: Comment threads are fairly active... 32 out of 10,000 will actively comment once/month.  Game-enable = triple it -- 70 to 80 out of 10,000

Sharing activity on twitter = 3x that of Facebook (similar to what Komal found)

This speaker's main point:  Player should be able to play passively -- for example, gamification happens when user is doing something else.  Example in our case would be that user accumulates points by taking a social action in an app, or by reading content in an app.  "Just by showing up you get a little bit of social currency." ... that gets users into the system.  Over time users realize they have a lot of 'social currency' locked up in a system when they've been gaining it passively, then over time they start making incremental choices to increase that social currency -- i.e., once they have a big # of points, then they care more about increasing it.

"Make it real within 30 days" --> ideally within first 17 days have the user take an action that gets them personally invested:  unlock a badge, for example.  Then the user becomes aspirational.

The takeaway:  Give users points for doing stuff they're going to do anyway to get them onboard, and then make sure they know how many points they've accumulated.

Jonny Shaw, Founder, and Chethan Ramachandran, Co-Founder and CEO, Playnomics


My notes from Jonny & Chethan's talk: (not necessarily coherent)

Taking gamification to the next level (past badges):  Personalized play...

To unlock big brand and advertiser budgets, we need a new type of strategic framework.

Richard Bartle created the "Killers/Achievers/Socializers/Explorers" types of players... these speakers argue that these 4 categories are no longer relevant.

These speakers have created a new framework for gamification that's built around social & mobile, where casual play is much more pronounced:

Horizontal axis of new framework:  Pleasure -- why do people play?  Pursuing pleasure -- "proactive" or "reactive"  Are users seeking pleasure, or are they more likely to react to pleasurable experiences.

Vertical axis of new framework:  Intuitive vs. Diligent .  Do you strategize & think, or do you use reflex & instinct.

Third axis = smaller circle inside the larger circle:  Solus vs. Social

Use this framework to define 8 fundamental types of players:

Outer ring:
Top left:  Scientist: Trying new things and intuitively applying learnings, i.e., Cut the Rope game

Top right: Habitualist:  Seek repetitive pleasure feedback.  (I.e., gambling slots game).  Overindulgent & spontaneous.  Much of gamification today is at this level.

Bottom left: Strategist:  Control environment to suit skills.  Keeping self in check.  I.e., Minecraft.

Bottom right: Soloist: Detached security & controlled environments... classic motivation of single player puzzle games.  I.e., Drop7 game.

Inner ring:
Top left: Politician:  Trying to get ahead by intuitively adapting to people.  Huge oppty for more to be built in this area.  I.e., Chore wars

Top right: Socialite:   Connecting people at all costs.  Getting a fix out of other people.  Draw something = tip of iceberg of this type of game.  All about being intuitive, reactive & social.

Bottom left: Competitor: Gaining respect; beating the other guy.  Control & power.  I.e, Words With Friends

Bottom right: Collectivist:  Follow social norms with badges & uniforms.  Heart & soul of gamification at the moment.  I.e., Foursquare.

Takeaway:  Adaptive play, personalization, customization... if you know the core behaviors & personalities you want to speak to, you can start creating environments for the users...  For example, a frequent flyer program that changes based on risk appetites -- you can gamble all your points for that elusive first class upgrade... but you might lose all your points.

Explaning Gamification:

Take the humble, old-school crossword:  The best gamification platform of all time.  The best loyalty program of all time.  (People bought the paper for the crossword puzzle... came back the next day to see the answers).  It didn't have any badges... no gimmicks... yet created 30 year loyal buyers of the NY Times.

"People like playing games more than people like collecting badges"

On Maslow again:  20th century did well with "Esteem" -- expensive cars, luxury goods, etc... but 21st century & future of marketing is around self actualization:  and game play fits into that.

Panel of Gamification Experts: