How web designers use psychology to encourage participation

This interesting talk, given at Standford, details how game and web designers use psychology to encourage participation.

In case you don't have an hour to watch the video, here is a brief summary of the game/web design part (you can find the slides here:

How to drive participation using a meta-game
Meta-games are all about statistics. No one will play (or care) unless there is a way to keep score. Stats lead to competition, comparison, status, and achievement. Statistics can be used to nudge

Games need to leverage human desires
We're all pretty basic. We want rewards, status, self-expression, competition, and (want to believe we are) altruistic. Game designers have known for years how to hit on these points. Games have points (reward, status, achievement, and competition), challenges (reward, status, and achievement), levels (status, achievement, and competition), virtual goods (reward, status, and self-expression), leader-boards (status, achievement, and competition), gifting (altruism, status, and achievement).

Microsoft Vista.
Hard to get people to install vista internally at Microsoft. Invented a simple game that allows people to rank themselves based on installing. This simple little competitive status metric quadrupled participation overnight.

New breed of personal statistics applications (, Nike+) — this is all about the feedback loop.

Animals and humans like to maximize a reward's frequency, not its magnitude.

Who buys virtual goods?
We all do, really. We pay for brands, which is in a way, buying virtual. We are willing to spend to differentiate our self from others (status, affiliation, signaling).


Other Notes:

  • People need goals. They are not just doing something to do it.
  • Real time feedback is key to reinforce behavior.
  • People hate having holes in sets. They want to complete the set.
  • Team goals – don't want to let down the team.
  • Clocks (time limits, this week only)

Interested in learning more? Check out The Psychology behind Computer Games and read A Theory of Fun for Game Design.