Neal Freeland

Engineering/marketing manager, family guy. My personal blog with a few work thoughts mixed in.

How Game Design Can Motivate People to Use Bing

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Introduction                       

Bing is a great search engine. Our results are top-notch, we have many innovative features, and our brand is known and admired. That said, people are creatures of habit and continue to use other search engines. To be successful, we need to find ways to motivate people to take the time to try Bing and use it more. Just building a better mousetrap will not ensure the world will beat a path to our door. We have to understand and tap into what motivates people to act.

What Motivates People?                                               

Motivation is the force that drives people to take action[1]. It is their willingness to spend energy to do something.  There are two basic classifications of motivation.

  • Intrinsic motivation. People can be internally motivated, taking interest or enjoyment in the activity itself.
    • Desire for mastery. They may derive a sense of self-esteem from mastering an activity and doing it well.
    • Desire to help others (altruism). They may also be motivated by altruism, feeling a sense of belonging and fulfillment when they are able to use their knowledge and skills to help others.
  • Extrinsic motivation. People can also be externally motivated, responding positively to feedback from their environment.
    • Desire for recognition. They may want public acknowledgement for their achievements, looking to a community to give them status and recognize their merit.
    • Desire for rewards. They may also be driven by a desire to obtain incentives such as pay or rewards.

Motivation can be increased by reinforcing desired behavior: do A, get B. B is the reinforcer, and can be anything people find desirable. Everyone is different, so the reinforcers must align with people’s desires for mastery, altruism, recognition, or rewards.

The reinforcers can also be scheduled. There are two basic types of schedules.

  • Fixed schedule. Every time people do A, they always get B. Fixed schedules are like annual bonuses, and are useful for setting up clearly defined rules and expectations about what is needed to get the reinforcer. However, their predictability can also make them boring, with the desired behavior fading over time or requiring ever increasing reinforcers to drive the same behavior.
  • Variable schedule. Every time people do A, they sometimes get B.  Variable schedules are like slot machines, and are useful for keeping interest high. However, the lack of predictability may make it difficult, especially for new participants, to immediately understand what behavior is being reinforced.

How We Currently Motivate People to Use Bing

Bing Rewards currently gives people credits when they search with Bing, check out new features, or set their homepage or search defaults to Bing. This is an extrinsic motivator that capitalizes on people’s desire for incentives. We use a variable schedule to reinforce this behavior, changing the rate at which people earn credits each month and adding new features to explore a couple of times a week.

As we continue to develop the program, we are considering the following:

  • Expand motivations. There is only so much direct value in the form of cash rewards that we are going to be able to share with program members. To grow interest in the program we need to find ways to motivate people beyond just rewards and take advantage of the desires for mastery, altruism, and recognition.
  • Add fixed schedule. We have several test cells with different earning rates, and some of our members only get one credit for every 3 or 5 searches. When a member is brand new to the program, this schedule does not provide enough immediate feedback. We’re considering ways to address this.

Game Design Principles                                                

Game designers have developed several principles to make games enjoyable and keep people coming back. We can draw several important insights from these principles that will help us continue to shape and grow the program.

  • Create the player journey. Games are enjoyable because there is a story line filled with challenges for the players. We need to create a journey that supports each stage of a member’s lifecycle with Bing.
    • Newbies. With each new Bing member, we have an opportunity to educate them about what Bing provides and get them hooked.  We can do this by designing an onboarding experience (or game) that will showcase Bing’s value, and offer the player a series of challenges.
    • Experts. Once Bing members know the ropes, they shift into a different lifecycle phase that’s about building and reinforcing the habit of using Bing. At this stage, the members are ready for more tools. We can start to expose the breadth of features and domains in Bing.
    • Masters. A small (2-5%) but important subset of Bing members will become Masters. These are passionate heavy-users who know everything about Bing and want to help make it better. We can harness their energy and ideas by giving them something exclusive to do and achieve via “The Elder Game.” There is no immediate need to develop this part of the program but it is something for us to look to do in the future.

  • Shape the game play style. Every game has a style of play that appeals to different types of player personalities[2]. For Bing, we are striving to create an experience that is cooperative and supportive. Bing is not a competitive environment where for one person to win another must lose. Searching is inherently an activity for explorers who want to learn about the world, and for achievers who want to get things done. As we fold in more data from Facebook and elsewhere, search is also becoming more social and interactive.
  • Deploy game mechanics.  There are many game mechanics that game designers use to drive participation[3]. Here are a few that are relevant to Bing and we can use to design our experiences.
Mechanic Description
Achievement Achievementsare a virtual or physical representation of having accomplished something. Achievements can be easy, difficult, surprising, funny, accomplished alone or as a group. Achievements are a way to give players a way to brag about what they’ve done indirectly as well as add challenge and character to a game. Achievements are often considered “locked” until you have met the series of tasks that are required to “unlock” the Achievement.Example: Badges in Foursquare for checking into locations
Appointments Appointment Dynamicsare game dynamics in which at a predetermined times/place a user must log-in or participate in game, for positive effect.Example: In Farmville, players are required to return to harvest their crops after a specific amount of time has passed after planting. If they do not return within the specified time period, their crops can rot and the player will not earn the value for harvesting the crop
Cascading Information Theory The theory that information should be released in the minimum possible snippets to gain the appropriate level of understanding at each point during a game narrativeExample: showing basic actions first, unlocking more as you progress through levels
Community Collaboration The game dynamic wherein an entire community is rallied to work together to solve a riddle, a problem or a challenge. Immensely viral and very fun.
Countdown The dynamic in which players are only given a certain amount of time to do something. This will create an activity graph that causes increased initial activity increasing frenetically until time runs out, which is a forced extinction.
Discovery Also called Exploration, players love to discover something, to be surprised. This also can be seen in the Game Feature, Discovery. Discovery encourages players to discover new pages within a website. This drives up page views and time-on-site.
Levels Levels are a system, or “ramp”, by which players are rewarded an increasing value for a cumulation of points. Often features or abilities are unlocked as players progress to higher levels. Leveling is one of the highest components of motivation for gamers
Loss aversion Loss Aversion is a game mechanic that influences user behavior not by reward, but by not instituting punishment.Example: Points expire if not engaged after 6 months
Points Points are a running numerical value given for any single action or combination of actions. Points can drive users to participate in activities. Weighting points (giving more or less) around specific activities can motivate players to participate in those activities if players have been given a reason to care about points
Progression A dynamic in which success is granularly displayed and measured through the process of completing itemized tasks. The progress bar towards next achievement
Victory Define the point of the game and how to win.
Virality A game element that requires multiple people to play (or that can be played better with multiple people)Example: Farmville making you more successful in the game if you invite your friends
Voyeurism and narcissism The desire to have what others have. In order for this to be effective seeing what other people have (voyeurism) must be employed. Create profile to showcase achievements. Profile is a mirror for self.  It is also a way to show off to others

[1] Motivation theory is broad. This is a brief summary of ideas relevant to Bing. See http://www.analytictech.com/mb021/motivation.htm for notes on Cognitive Evaluation Theory, Reinforcement Schedules, and Expectancy Theory

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Written by nealfreeland

May 31, 2011 at 10:22 pm

One Response

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  1. Very interesting and in-depth articles. I am the event producer for the Enterprise Tomorrow Conference, and would love to have you come and present some of this information to our audience. Please shoot me an email so we can discuss the opportunity further-

    Ben Zvaifler

    June 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm


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