Gamification, Reality TV, and Reiss’s 16 Intrinsic Motivators

24 10 2010

Steven Reiss is a professor of Psychology at Ohio State University and author of several books including  The Normal Personality.

Based on research from over 6,000 participants, Reiss suggests that intrinsic motivators, or those reasons people hold for initiating and performing voluntary behavior,  can be described as 16 basic desires.

These desires are:

(click on chart for higher resolution)

In this multifaceted model, these basic intrinsic desires directly motivate a person’s behavior. The unique combination and ranking of these desires determine our individuality and uniqueness.  Although people may also be motivated by non-basic desires, Reiss suggests it may be a means to achieve an even deeper basic motivation.

From a Gamification standpoint, it is especially interesting to note that Reiss models a close association between the basic desire for social contact with the need to play or to have fun.   If our social needs are genetically intertwined with play, it may add another lens to the importance of multiplayer relationships in game design.

The 16 desires give us a better understanding of variability in designing systems for engagement.  Reiss suggests that the enormous differences in what makes people happy make it unreasonable to factor out extrinsic incentives such as money or grades as effective motivators.  Different people are motivated in different ways, and as Reiss wrote in an article in Psychology Today:

I [Reiss] object to intrinsic-extrinsic motivation because it offers “one size fits all” solutions for educating children and motivating adults. I believe, for example, that some children thrive with cooperative learning, others thrive with competitive learning situations, but intrinsic-extrinsic motivation theory wants all children to grow up with cooperative learning. In the name of self-determination, undermining theory imposes its values on others believing it is for their own good. I think undermining theory could be misused to teach children who are competitive by nature that something is wrong with them for enjoying competition.

How do these 16 desires affect our taste in media?  In 2004 Reiss and James Wiltz performed a study on Why People Watch Reality TV.  According to Reis, Media events like Reality TV repeatedly allow people to experience the 16 desires and joys and suggests that people select media to fulfill certain needs. These needs vary greatly from one individual to the next, however his data showed that the largest significant motive for watching reality television was social status.  Slightly less than the need for social status was the need for vengeance, or the desire to win. These same 2 high-ranking motivators may be the reason why we find early implementations of Gamification emphasizing achievements and status levels.

Consequently, it makes sense that media or subject matter that taps into all 16 basic desires have a higher chance of attracting more people.  In the case of Reality TV, Bryant Paul, a psychology professor at Indiana University suggests “The closer someone is to you, the easier it is to empathize, and really good empathy equals really good television.”  The same holds true in game design – the more the game mechanics echo our own intrinsic needs, the better the individual’s gaming experience.

Taking the 16 desires into popular game design, this chart shows how (for example) World of Warcraft addresses each motive:

(click on chart for higher resolution)

Reiss’s 16 basic desires can provide an effective framework for measuring how successfully an application covers the range of intrinsic motivators. Using this framework should allow you to evaluate your own application’s appeal and highlight areas of improvement.

Why Both Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators Matter in Gamification

17 10 2010

Dan Ariely, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University wrote a book titled Predictably Irrational where he describes the difference between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators and how these affect management decisions in driving employee behavior .   Ariely suggests that moving from extrinsic motivators or rewards such as money, points or schedules, to intrinsic motivators or internal needs including friendship, commitments , and loyalty, is in essence making a move from a market relationship to a social relationship.

An extrinsic or market relationship in this case is defined by the exchange of monetary currency for a product or service.  An Intrinsic or social relationship is the exchange of an intangible for a product or service.  Ariely illustrates this differentiation in his book with a Thanksgiving dinner scenario, also retold by Jeff Monday in the video below:

Imagine you are at your in-laws house for Thanksgiving. At the end of the fantastic meal you walk over to your mother-in-law and instead of giving her the customary social payment of a big hug and thank you, you pull out your wallet and ask her how much she wants for the meal. Here is where the behavioral economics get interesting. Even if you were to offer her $1000 for the meal, a meal that only cost her only a couple hundred dollars and a few hours of her time, she and everyone else at the table will be offended because they will feel you cheapened the day.

Why? Well behavioral economics show us that the intangibles like love, gratitude, trust, and community that we receive in a social exchange are difficult to put a value on, so difficult in fact, that we can’t calculate them and value them as priceless. By offering the $1000 to your mother in law for the Thanksgiving dinner you are putting a cheap value on something that is priceless in her mind. This inequity is caused by trying to blend a social exchange with a market exchange and it is an important lesson for managers who are moving to a management style with greater intrinsic motivators.

Jeff Monday’s video discussing Ariely’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (approx 5 minutes):

The Thanksgiving dinner example can be described within a gaming context, as Sebastian Deterding presents in his slideshow Pawned. Gamification and its Discontents.  Deterding shares a similar scenario where an extrinsic motivator interfered with intrinsic needs:

…adding explicit rule systems to a given conduct can mess with the implicit social rules, norms and meanings governing it. Take akoha, a service that tries to promote random acts of kindness by casting them as “missions” you collect awards and gifts for. Now a befriended game designer of mine tried this with another game designer friend of his and invited him for a coffee, as the mission required. When the friend curiously asked why he was invited, my friend replied in explaining the service and mission he was on. To which the friend furiously answered:

“Have you any idea how degrading that is, being invited not because you care about me, but because you want to progress in some game?”

We have learned that game rewards or points can cause conflict when it is the primary motivator in exchange for a friend’s intrinsic social needs.  But what would happen if the motivations in this scenario were instead presented in this fashion:

“Would you like to meet for coffee and play this social game together?”

So rather than suggesting the points are the primary reward, the player presents an opportunity to build upon a social relationship as the main motivator.  This is a similar positioning to the popular social game “Words with Friends”, where players can “catch up with friends as you kick their butts in a word game”.   Taking it a step further and offering both parties added synergies in game play will enforce the link, emphasizing the importance of the relationship.  The Washington Post reported on social bonds created in online games:

The most popular social games are collaborations. To progress quickly through the games, you need to help other players, and they need to help you. Such collaborations, according to game designers and users, foster a sense of community in an often-splintered world.

In our examples, shifting focus to an intrinsic value would probably have produced a stronger relationship, even when external motivators are part of the system.  However, that doesn’t mean we ignore extrinsic motivators altogether, as Steven Reiss, a Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University argues,

“Individuals differ enormously in what makes them happy – for some competition, winning and wealth are the greatest sources of happiness, but for others, feeling competent or socializing may be more satisfying. The point is that you can’t say some motivations, like money, are inherently inferior.”

The illustration above offers a perspective where intrinsically positioned game mechanics can act as facilitators for social activity and exchanges.  Games give us an effective framework to bond with others.  Interestingly enough, as soon as we try to measure those intrinsic mechanics we move them into the realm of external motivators.   That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the number of Twitter followers or friends on Facebook influence us in different ways.  But we want to try to build systems where externals aren’t the only things available.  Internationally-known metagame expert and social game designer  Amy Jo Kim describes game mechanics as the sauce or seasoning on the meat of the core game. Designers need a great core game and should use game mechanics to help improve it. Game mechanics as extrinsic tools like experience bars or achievements will push the player to reach the next goal.  But things of intrinsic value will always provide greater incentive for the player.

Dan Ariely’s video discussing experiments in motivation:

Another part of Ariely’s discussion, Motivation in the Knowledge Economy:

The Myth of the Universal Player

12 10 2010

Malcolm Gladwell  spoke at TED on the subject of spaghetti sauce and business lessons learned from Howard Moskowitz, an American market researcher and Psychophysicist famous for his studies in spaghetti sauce and consumer behaviors.

In his talk, Gladwell shares how Moskowitz fundamentally changed the way the food industry thought about human tastes and what makes the consumer “happy”.  Moskowitz discovered 3 break-through concepts in his work, questioning the validity of historical assumptions in the food industry:

1. People don’t necessarily know what they want to eat or what will make them happy. When it came to food tastes, focus group results did not correlate with their test data.  A critically important step in understanding our own desires and tastes is to realize that we cannot always explain what we want deep down.

2.  The importance of horizontal segmentation. There is no “perfect product”, but rather many flavors of the same product.  Moskowitz democratized the way we think about tastes.

3.  Confronted the notion of a platonic dish and that there was only one way to serve a dish. In the 1970’s, when the industry talked about “authentic tomato sauce” it implied thin, Italian tomato sauce with no visible solids, and that to please the maximum number of people, they had to provide culturally authentic tomato sauce.  They discovered that this was not the case.

Maxwell describes the industry’s past obsessions with the search for the ultimate cooking universals, finding one taste that suited all of us.  And those universals were sought after in all fields of study.  Psychologists, medical scientists,  economists, were all interested in finding out the rules that govern the way all of us behave.  Moskowitz’s spaghetti sauces changed all of that.

The revolutionary shift in science over the past few years is the movement from the search for Universals to the understanding of variability.  And as Moskowitz says “When we pursue universal principles in food, we aren’t just making an error, we are actually doing ourselves a massive disservice.”

We can infer similar scenarios in game genres, game mechanics and our tastes in fun.  Different segments of the population will have different interpretations of what they find fun, hence the importance of understanding variations in human behavior and psychological profiles.  Regardless of who’s personality type model the designer is building towards (different models are shared in this blog, your choice!), the primary point is that in order to engage a broad, online population, one has to design for varieties in motivations.

And of course the upper parameter should also be set, as Barry Swartz (another TED talks psychologist) warns us.  Too many choices can lead to paralysis and overwhelming numbers make it hard for people to choose anything at all, leaving us ultimately dissatisfied with our decisions.

The answer: Create a variety of choices, tailored to a few key clusters of preferences.  Anything beyond may create stress and confusion.

And as Malcolm Gladwell closes, “In embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a sure way to true happiness.”

[Edited to add:]  One question to ask is, if we don’t believe in the myth of the Universal Player, then why do we see so many universal ranking systems?

Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talks video:

Gamification in the Most Unlikely Places

9 10 2010

Successful game-based designs are everywhere – we just have to know where to look.  And they often appear in the most unlikely places. In this ongoing series, we’ll look at interesting implementations of game mechanics in places you wouldn’t suspect.  Today’s subject, for example, is found in the bathroom.

A popular “trade secret” of parents with toddlers is the wondrous multipurpose utility in Cheerios.  Parents are known to creatively present learning opportunities as games to their children.  In potty training, Cheerios become the perfect targets.  Simply throw a few Cheerios in the toilet and the children, especially boys, start target practice.  And it works.   Some parents even build upon the game, awarding stars for successful hits, leveling up targets with colored Fruit Loops, shaving cream or colored ice cubes.

One innovative company has even designed color-changing targets.

Are you finding your toddler isn’t interested or motivated by the target practice game mechanic?  Not to worry, there are many game mechanics available that align with different motivations and personality types.  Another option could address nurturing personalities.  For example, one parent shares this game variant that worked for their child:

“Every house has a toilet or two. Our toilet’s name is Mr Toilet, and his job is to eat up all the poo, so that people don’t get sore tummies. That’s what all toilets do. Mr Toilet is very hungry and very sad because you won’t feed him by going to sit on him to do No.2’s. Do you think you could help him to not feel sad anymore?”

“Imagine my surprise and elation”, said the parent, “when she looked at me for only a second before giving me a nod and a big smile, and then running off to “feed” Mr Toilet!”

Although this is not a common topic in most design-oriented Gamification blogs (Seth Godin’s Purple Cow?), I wanted to share an extension of this game mechanic used today by adults.

In Amsterdam’s airport, the men’s room porcelain urinals have an image of a single fly etched close to the urinal drains, as an experiment in human behavior.

The New York Times reported that “spillage” on the men’s-room floor fell by a remarkable 80 percent with the introduction of the etchings.  Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, a pioneer in the increasingly influential field of behavioral economics, called this a “Nudge” or the subtle introduction of an engineered mechanic that manages to attract people’s attention and alter their behavior in a positive way. Best of all, a nudge does not actually require anyone to do anything to enforce it; it’s a part of human behavior.  Thaler suggests the flies are fun as “Men evidently like to aim at targets.”

Cheerios apparently works at any age!

Multiplayer Relationships, Interdependence, and Synergy in Gamification Design

7 10 2010

What attributes keep people engaged in, and committed to playing a multiplayer game?

Tom Bollich, an early Zynga investor and former lead engineer says today’s social games have a challenge.  He described the problem in a recent interview:

“You can’t make the cheap little viral games like you used to.  These games, it’s like pouring water into a bucket with holes in it. You can get a lot of people, but they don’t stick around.”

Game mechanics in social games have been effective at getting people’s attention, but how do you design a system that keeps players engaged and involved?  We may find some clues when examining another form of social games, the MMORPG and it’s industry leader World of Warcraft (WoW).  WoW has managed to keep players entertained for almost 6 years, attracting over 11.5 million players worldwide.  Nielsen shared numbers from 2009 that ranked WoW first in PC games most played, averaging 653 minutes per week.

Typing “/played” in World of Warcraft displays how long a character has been played and the numbers surprise most people.  So the question becomes, what game mechanics or features are keeping so many people interested for such a long period of time?  What attributes can transform a simple game into a lasting community?

People tend to be more engaged within a community when they feel a sense of belonging and can contribute towards a hot topic or goal within the community.   The “Tribalization of Business” study conducted by Beeline Labs, Deloitte and the Society for New Communications Research (2008) cited key features contributing most to community effectiveness:

Most Facebook games involve asynchronous multi-player game play, or experiences that are presented in discrete chunks at different times for each player, so players can interact and perform exchanges without the need of being simultaneously online.

Oftentimes the social game is so focused on the need for asynchronous game-play, that they bypass the importance of building relationships and interdependencies between players and the game becomes almost a single player activity.   As seen in the Tribalization study, engaged social players want to be able to help others and contribute towards a common goal.   They want to develop a reputation and grow in status.  Adding a way for players to feel needed increases their desire to stay within the community.  The stronger the community, the more important status becomes. The opposite is also true: without a community, there is no status.

Interdependence, or the dynamic of being mutually responsible to each other,  is an important aspect in designing longer lasting communities. Providing interdependent subtasks allow players an opportunity to create relationships and to personalize their experiences as they explore the system.

Interdependence is also an element of effective social groups, where groups evolve beyond just a collection of people and become functional teams.  Muzafer Sherif formulated a technical definition of social groups listing the following elements:

A social group is a unit consisting of a number of individuals interacting with each other with respect to:

1.  Common motives and goals;

2.  An accepted division of labor, i.e. roles,

3.  Established status (social rank, dominance) relationships;

4.  Accepted norms and values with reference to matters relevant to the group;

5.  Development of accepted sanctions (praise and punishment) if and when norms were respected or violated.


Here we see that a group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams have members with complementary skills and generate synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to maximize his or her strengths and minimize his or her weaknesses. Effective team members learn how to help one another, help other team members realize their true potential, and create an environment that allows everyone to go beyond their limitations.


This dynamic is found in WoW, where each class has a function in gameplay. By working together, the team players synergize -becoming more powerful, or gaining in game advantages.

Missing one of the functional character types leads to slower progress or potential failure in quests and dungeons.

Most MMO’s utilize what is called the “holy trinity”- Tank, Healer and DPS.  A “Tank” function is the player who has armor and is the focus of a monster’s attacks – they take the brunt of the beating but in exchange do very little damage to the monster.  A “healer” is someone who can replenish health, but is generally very fragile.  “DPS” is the Damage class which has power, but little armor.  Each class relies on and enhances the other in order to maximize performance.

If one function is missing, the group feels a significant impact.  For example, a Tank and healer without DPS means the monsters don’t die.  A tank and DPS without healer means the group takes too much damage.  Each player is needed for the team to succeed.

Unlike most Facebook games, WoW sits on the other end of the spectrum, and is designed to encourage synchronous play.  Players feel obligated to work with others because of established responsibilities and expectations to the team. Peer pressure and in-game social commitments are implicit in the system’s design.  So one may ask, will these social features work in an asynchronous environment?  A few social games have adapted casual variations of this:

  • FarmVille requires players to fertilize each other’s crops
  • Happy Aquarium requires another player to open mystery crates in their fish tanks
  • Yoville has “Friend actions” that require friends to complete

Promoting interesting and longterm interdependent activities may increase the chances of a user staying active in the community.

An important aspect in the design of a system, the social group (2 players to many players) can be implemented in many creative ways:

Roles, or a division of labor, gives players a specialized function and presents an opportunity for designers to tap into player motivations and personality types.  For example with respect to the Myers-Briggs personalities:

The key is to offer an equally enjoyable experience for each role or personality type, which requires paying particular attention to balancing fun for each class.  Any function a user chooses to adopt should offer the same amount of fun and content.

World of Warcraft Looking for Group Screen

Make it easy to find the roles you are missing. Interdependencies can backfire if a particular class is too necessary to progress, too hard to find (rare), or unavailable for the team.  To address this, Blizzard built an innovative “Looking for Group” option making it easier to randomly fill parties.

Class homogenization can become boring.  Creating diverse and challenging jobs for players to master allows them a choice in how to contribute to the community.  And by leveraging a system of player interdependence you amplify the importance of relationships within a community.  Once meaningful relationships are established, there is little motivation for a player to leave the game.

Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley on Using Game Mechanics for Good

2 10 2010

Foursquare is a one of the first successful products in using game mechanics within a non-traditional gaming application to drive user engagement.  It is a mobile application that adds interest to real world locations within a engaging framework of badges and leader boards.  Users “check in” to places they visit, find friends, share comments and encourage exploration.

Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare, spoke at the Web 2.0 Expo 2010 in New York to share a Foursquare thesis the company sought to prove:

Thesis #1: Can you use game mechanics to change behavior in the real world?

Crowley explains that game mechanics in this sense, can be used for good.  Foursquare hopes to motivate people to change in a positive way, by building real world social experiences that reward people for their actions.  From working out at the local gym to volunteering and philanthropy, game mechanics are a great way to recognize accomplishments and encourage behavior.

The presentation supports an earlier post where we discussed the benefits of using game mechanics to promote positive community behavior. The video below demonstrates new features in Foursquare: