Life, the Game (You and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)

Scoring points in a video game is a rush, and the rest of the world is catching on. For years we’ve been earning points (miles) in frequent-flier programs, which have influenced the creation of all kinds of frequent-buyer programs (your 11th haircut is free!). As Jesse Schell’s DICE talk  discussed, you may soon be earning points for brushing your teeth, going on a jog … and so on. And now the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has turned more people on to the idea.

With all kinds of amazing apps being developed, the question is: Should points be limited to games? I don’t think so. Almost any kind of app can be made more fun and interesting with a point system. What do you want your app users to do? Give them points for it! What do you really want them to do? Give them lots of points for it. In fact, give them enough to “level up” in your app. Psychologists and game designers know that an unpredictable, irregular reward system is more addictive, so don’t always say which points are coming or when, and surprise your users with more (or less) points than they expect sometimes.

Psychologists and game designers also know that people are more averse to loss than they are motivated by gain. This means the threat of having points taken away may be more motivating than earning more points. Yes, it’s no accident people get “addicted” to games sometimes: Game designers are expert manipulators.

The same game-design principles can also be utilized to make apps addictive — a growing number of people are already doing it. What are your thoughts? Do you have any plans or products that use point systems?