Gamification is widely abused by either an inconsequential implementation to jazz up a product or the basic PLB (Points, Leaderboard and Badges) – usually to appeal to a younger audience. What is the peril in that you, dear reader may ask? Not much except that it may lead your product to become a dud! Before you delve into a paranoia of shock and denial and change your product roadmap, it is important to know the areas an enthusiastic product manager can slip into this trap.
North Star Metric
Just one metric that is a distillation of all the data that you have. This is the one action that everyone in the company needs to work toward. For AirBnB it is nights booked, for WhatsApp it is messages sent, for Facebook it is Daily Active Users (changed from its early days when it was adding 10 friends in 14 days), Youtube being minutes watched.
Gamification shouldn’t be a crutch on your journey north. It should be your go-kart loaded with candy and thrusters. Afterall, isn’t the journey is the destination itself. The idea to gamify a product is to make this journey entertaining and to keep you motivated or even to make things competitive. This is essentially done by deploying the PLB trio – points, badges and a leaderboard. These should not just be rolled out but must be an integral part of the product design – rewarding user achievements and milestones. The key thing to remember here is all products do not need gamification, only ones where you need to add in an element of motivation and competition. Think about a learning app and think about a banking app. Which one has a stronger case for gamification?
More features, more engagement. Not!
“A feature is not something that gets built but something that gets used”. This was taped on a former colleague’s desk for as long as I can remember (Avis, if you are reading this then remember you owe me a 100 bucks when I covered you for a taxi). We all fall in love with our products and our imaginations run wild. We see millions of users using every feature, analytics dashboards chiming, tinkling, chirping and springing forth numbers. Well, that’s all in our heads. Gamification like any other feature needs to aid the user journey, add value to their lives and not just rack up metrics for vanity.
Pointing to points
Miles in a journey and points on a gamified product – these are the indicators of progress. These points need to be tangible – redeemable for certain features that you can unlock. That sounds great, users are rewarded for using your product and then they unlock new and perhaps even premium features. There is a catch however, the system can be gamed (pun intended). There is a monetary cost to the giveaway, this is especially clear if users are redeeming their points for real world objects or premium features. The product manager needs to think about protection from fraud and set limits on the amount, frequency of redemption or get users to match it with equal amounts themselves. The other important thing is that as the users (few thousands to millions) grow, so do these acts of redemption. These overall can lead to a large number (tens of thousands to hundreds of thousand users) that the platform has to pay out every single day. Marketing will not be happy that product has a bigger giveaway than them.
The cost and the benefit
Every feature has a cost that should be outweighed by its benefit. There are two costs here, one is to build the product up and the second is to keep it running. The build cost is the manpower that builds it up – product, tech and design teams. Among the running costs that you can imagine are also the cost of the analytics and the marketing efforts required. You will constantly monitor all important metrics and then also ask that these be promoted within the product. There is the cost of manpower for these teams and perhaps an opportunity cost to get hold of the user’s attention. We are social and playful creatures. Gamification can be a powerful tool if implemented properly. It is the spice to otherwise dull tasks like company training, filling out surveys or products where people lack intrinsic motivation. Products like Reddit, Foursquare/Swarm, Duo Lingo have successfully used it to drive laser focused user journeys. Use it not as a prop but as your guide, your North Star.