Boosters: User Reactivation Through Gamification

Reactivating Users is a massive headache in every Sector

In case you’re unsure of what I mean I’m talking about that kid with massive potential whose faced a few knocks to their confidence and stopped applying himself. From staff who simply stop trying to gamers calling quits on their favorite titles the problem of re-inspiring and motivating people to reapply themselves is (sadly) a common one. One of the core principles here at IAMP is that Gamification techniques can be used for Social Good and a prime example here is the use of what the games industry loosely terms ‘Boosters’.

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Ever played Mario Cart? Every racer was equal but the underdog always got stronger power ups to get them back in the race. Candy Crush use the same techniques by gifting players as they progress with special abilities and extra moves to push them forward (although in that case it’s to get players used to the powers and purchase more when they freebies run out). In Golf player handicaps are pretty nifty Boosters if you stop to think about it.

The primary role of Boosters is to lift morale, increase performance and drive reengagement.

Sounds simple in theory but the fact is Boosters can make or break a gamified environment. Booster over-use will kill competitive spirit (what’s the point in playing if anyone can repetitively ‘power up’ and instantly win) while a total lack of them will likely kick User Reactivation to the curb (and a general decline in total players overall).

Of course the complexity of the issue grows as you consider the various environments (Education, Human Resources, Online Gaming etc) in which they can be applied. IAMP’s primary focus is Education and Labor so we spend a lot of time looking at how we can correctly introduce Booster systems into our Gamification Platform. A common mistake is to see Boosters as a sort of system assisted ‘cheating’. It’s easy to make that mistake when a Booster is designed around either removing or reducing tasks to complete or influence challenge difficulties (never mind the ridiculous practice in some industries using them to artificially ‘boost’ performance numbers of a platform by making more players successful). It’s easy to see the difference between cheating and boosting if we run a little experiment:

Thought Experiment

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For arguments sake let’s say we have 300 player workshop engaged in a version of our Iam-IT platform (Like we did last week). The task for each player is to complete as many Challenges and Quests as they can within a specified time period- with public leader boards ranking students based on variety of factors such as total questions answered or time taken.

Within a short period of time the leader boards will start populating with the highest performers, while our back end will be populated with detailed stats on every player from the probable winner to the students likely not to complete the game in time. We could take two approaches in introducing Boosters into this scenario

Version 1:

A randomized Booster that effects any student who is performing in the bottom 10th percentile. The effect of the Booster will be to remove a random number of Quests and Challenges for a random period of defined time.

End Result: Lower performing students achieving far higher results than they should do otherwise – rendering both the leader boards and the results of the whole endeavor useless. Of course these players would be highly reengaged but for all the wrong reasons.

Version 2:

A defined Booster that targets students (based on  performance data that is gathered during the workshop and any data supplied by the school) who have shown sustained performance but as they encountered difficulties their performance to inherent capability has skewed negatively. In other words they have demonstrable ability but their enthusiasm has waned. Our defined Booster would be target these type of players with an effect that increases points gained for solving Challenges and Quests for a defined period of time

End Result: The leader boards would not be negatively affected as well as the exercise as a whole. Players affected by the boost would be incentivized to reengage as the points reward makes positive progress more attractive. The challenge remains the same for all the players but those who needed a little extra support when they faltered got it when they needed it.

Of course this is a very simplified example of a far more complex event that happened recently but quite clearly defines the difference between ‘cheating’ and ‘Boosting’.

In terms of key points to keep in mind when it comes to the design and implementation of Boosters these are what I call:

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The 3T’s:

Timing

The point of a Booster is to drive engagement before it’s too late. You want to fire the will and transform reluctance into desire, pushing the player to give the system another chance with a helpful push, at the perfect moment. Delivering a Boost to a high performance player is not only useless but also dangerous to the entire design. The same applies to Boosting every poorly performing player instead of the right set of players at the right time.

Targeting

Past performance is generally (but not always) a key indicator of future performance. Gamified systems can track performance and with the right coding quite easily identify ‘player outliers’. Players who were doing well but are now falling behind by whatever key factors (time, achievements, performance etc) are your primary indicators. Boosters arent about giving everyone a chance – it’s about delivering a second chance to a player who, with a little Boosted assistance, can be engaged to perform as well or better as they did before. It’s about opportunity not opportunism

Temperance

A Booster’s effect should be substantial in context but its effect negligible system wise. It’s about giving a deserved second chance to the right person at the right time but not to the excess of rendering the competitive framework of the system useless. You’re aiming for positive ripples – not a Tsunami.

In closing Boosters can serve as a powerful tool for positive change in any Gamification Designers toolbox. To me the purpose of a Booster is to give a deserving player the experience of an ‘Epic Win’: A transformative moment that reactivates the Player and empowers them to confidently move forward using all their potential.

Author’s Note: While I have used the term ‘player’ extensively through this post it should be read not just as a video game player but rather as as anyone engaged within a Gamification System / Platform.

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