Thursday, June 7, 2012

Gamification: Check-ins and Updated Foursquare

With E3 going on, gamification seems like an good topic. Over at Pando Daily, Erin Griffith has a post on Foursquare's newly updated app and their changing relationship with the check-in.
Perhaps you remember 2011 — it was the year the check-in died. That sentiment wasn’t lost on New York’s resident Lord of the Check-ins, Foursquare.

The company witnessed slowing user growth and a backlash brewing. But rather than ignore it and continue to congratulate themselves on achieving darling status and a crazy-rich valuation, Foursquare did the right thing:

They disassembled the entire app and put it back together again.
As someone who has been using Foursquare for a couple of years, I've personally seen some interesting dynamics associated with the app -- call it anecdotal analysis of behavior patterns and use case. While you might call Foursquare a deals site or focus on the social aspects, gamification is an important part of the app and plays a key role in many of use patterns that I've seen. Here are some lessons that I've taken from Foursquare's gamification.

Badges and Mayorships
Badges and 'Mayorships' can help drive early adopters or provide a small reward for some exclusive social circles (possibly location-based), but they become somewhat irrelevant with long term use or when the number of users exceeds an early adopter threshold. Sure it might be cool to be the mayor of the local Starbucks, but with hundreds of people checking in every day, do I really care about bragging rights over the guy behind me in line? And what do I get for it? Maybe something like a free cup of coffee, but more likely nothing.

The Point System
Foursquare's point system is a great driver for competitive behavior, but their point scoring model also has issues. Foursquare's scoring system points to one of the great challenges of gamification -- the differing interests between new users and experienced users. Foursquare scores new check-in locations with higher point values that repeated check-ins. This means that if you go somewhere for the first time or you are a new user, you get more points that if you go to your usual restaurant.

This model is great for drawing in new users with a sense of competitive behavior. Over the past couple of years, I've seen several people use Foursquare with the goal of beating me on the scoreboard. And when they are new users, this gives them a bump of excitement as they outscore the veteran user. But as they become a more regular user, their scores fall off and they fall into the veteran scoring system. Depending on the user, I've also seen this result in a fall-off of engagement with the app.

In that same way, a good game needs to provide a good entry point for new users, but deliver an increasing level of challenge based on use and experience. At the same time, if there isn't a correspondingly increasing reward system, regular users will fall off. A simple way to restate that would be put in context of the structure of Diablo 2:
  • As you play the game more, you get more experience. 
  • The battles you fight are against tougher creatures, but the treasure and the items that you get are also increasingly greater.
  • Later in the game, you could go back to the areas that you went through earlier, but the battles offer little challenges, the rewards are usually too small, and there just isn't any real challenge, so most players don't go back.
The Foursquare point system doesn't really provide any substantial growth path or increasing level of return. Instead, it's almost like it was designed to serve as nicotine hook -- to get you habituated to a behavior of checking in. Unfortunately, from what I've seen, there isn't the same addiction and new users get bored with the application as their point-rewards start to drop.

Location-based Flash Deals
While this initially held some promise, I've yet to see more than one or two deals that got me to log my check-in with a business. While this could be a result of the challenge of selling local, I also think that there's a difference between the kind of people who seek out deals (and use something like Groupon) versus those that happen to be at a location, check-in, and then are surprised by some added reward for that behavior.

No comments: