True gamification: What Google Maps has to learn from Supercell

I am in San Francisco battling jet lag, trying to sleep at the local time. But not so far away from me a group of kids is blaring out music.  It is an international bunch of kids in their twenties and they are playing from their phones what they think the others will like.  You could call it “party classics” in a way.  But Spotify will never know these songs.  These are the ones someone chose because he thought a bunch of strangers will like them.  The good ones you know because they all sing out of tune and slightly drunk.  Either the boys are heard more or the girls, depending on the appeal.  Sometimes both together, boy, they must be too shy to get on to sex so they keep listening I suppose.  The failed songs are changed after the first chorus when they see lack of traction with the audience.

It is vitally important to really listen to what is going on in the world and your target market.  “We are gamifying the platform” they say in software with conviction.  They mean you now have a goal, some medals or some levels to complete.  Whether it is Google Maps, a school or some old fashioned application with a face lift, the story is the same.  Way too little, way too late.

It is called “gamification” for a reason.  It is meant to be like games.  Modern games though.  Stop looking ten years behind and look at the games that do well today.  How do they motivate users? I have my kids to thank for Clash Royale.  So I know the difference.  It is hard to explain when you don’t play and when you don’t see kids reacting to the opportunities and changes in the game.  But I will try.

 

First of all with the onboarding.  It doesn’t just run an intro to get you going.  Clash Royale maintains a learning culture in players but constantly introducing new challenges and incentives to learn tools.  They know that if complexity increases and players don’t follow, they will be disappointed and leave.  For example these days they made a new “touchdown” way of playing.  So there is a simple version for you to get into it gradually in a consequence free environment.  Nothing to lose.  In fact you can’t go to the “proper” game until you have taken off the training wheels here.  Now think how many GUIs “upgrade”, “update” or generally get more difficult and lose customers.

The most common mistake of so called “gamification” plans is in fact the opposite of this.  They make the changes complicated but the rewards too simple.  Clash Royale allows you to feel you are the best on many different levels.  Maybe you have the most donations to clan members this week.  Or you are the only one with the new cool weapon, the highest level troop or some other unique category you can brag about.  You might be really good at a particular challenge.  Everything you do gains you something, but it is never simple.  Gold is useful, diamonds even better, experience points help you gain levels and it is all connected.  (Won’t go into how exactly, too nerdy, you have to play it.)  The rules of these rewards can be as complex as you want, in fact the more complicated the better.  Just stay on top of it.  We are online after all, you can adjust them dynamically depending on how people are reacting or not reacting to them.

Supercell, the creator of Clash Royale, is fast to fix things like that.  They take each new character as it’s own franchise.  With pre promotion, videos on youtube, it’s own introductory events to get everyone to know and use it and then new challenges to help it get back into vogue if we are not using it much.  Maybe it costs less elixir this week or it does double damage the next.  This is an economy which is centrally controlled after all.  Just make sure it is fun.

It can all be done with any platform.  It could be done with Google Maps.  After all the single biggest problem is how to get people involved and contributing.  You can’t map the world on your own.  I am a level 8 Local Guide.  At 15.000 points, all I get is the information that my next milestone is 50.000.  It is like looking at a very tall mountain from the bottom and not wanting to walk.  It would be like going through fifth and sixth grade together without any school report along the way, just a “well done!  You made it!” at the end of two years.   If you want me to tell you about wheelchair access, tell me that I am the hottest contributor this week or in my area this week.  Or that I did the fastest first ten contribution this week.  Anything.  In Clash Royale everything is always moving you ahead …somewhere.

The other important aspect of effort is community of course.  But here again, Supercell show the way ahead.  Because you can’t force community down anybody’s throat, much like you can’t force modern people to be sociable in the same way.  Some like to play with friends, to collaborate.  Others prefer to play with strangers or against strangers.  Sometimes we like to spar against friends.  At times we want the buzz of risking but then we like to just slog away in mindless torpor to relax.  It can’t all be at the same level all the time.  Clash Royale offers all these different ways of playing almost all the time.  Because as central dictator of their universe, they make sure that things are never permanent or too stable and boring.  Clan challenges appeared for a while, then disappeared while they decided on the initial data, then reappeared with gusto.  Now they come mainly on the weekends when all my sons’ friends (and me!) can play together and try and win clan chests which we all share.  Some of us like playing like that.

So by all means gamify your platform.  Gamify work, gamify learning.  But do it like Supercell or call it something else.

Software features the industry forgot

Everyone in the software industry knows how fickle users can be.  One wants it this way, one the other.  Everyone thinks that the interface or the features they need at this moment are what is most important.  Almost nobody really knows everything that the software can do, yet opinions are all over the place.   Somewhere there is a company guru (if you haven’t fired him) that knows the ins and outs, that has met many users, that has seen crazy applications.  But most of the time, everyone works the software in the “wrong” way.  You are clicking six times when you could automate it down to two.  “If you download the latest version and learn how to use that new menu properly….”

But of course, users don’t care.  They just want to get their jobs done.  Quickly and easily.  Without having to learn new things.  So even saturated product segments can be shaken up.   Here are two examples:

Media Player.   Settled matter isn’t it?  Windows Media Player, Quicktime, VLC…what more can we add to this simple software?   Here is one simple feature that would get me installing at the drop of a hat:  instant delete.  I get given loads of MP3 files.  Or I experiment with new types of music.   As I listen to a song I either like it (keeper) or don’t (delete).  I want one button to do it.  No, I don’t want to stick tags, or stars or rate it to delete later.  I want to send it to the Underworld of music not worth listening to ever again.  I listened for 5, 10 or 30 seconds and I don’t want to waste any more time with it.  Sure, the main use is for people downloading illegally.   Or with friends that download illegally.   But if that is how I like to occasionally listen to the Top40 (I usually weed that down to 3-4 songs that are bearable) that is the software I want.

A similar example would be photo management.  Here more companies seem to see the sense in a new interface paradigm.   I shoot huge files with my digital camera, even if it is not in RAW.  And then I want to do something with them.  So I have to resize them, edit them individually, stick together whichever pics were meant as a panorama, hide the faces of any friends or relatives that don’t want to be on the internet, watermark them… it is a lot of work.  Get some technology to do this automatically in “good enough” way please.  Locally, on my hard disk.  Most of the planet doesn’t enjoy broadband speeds and even if you do, uploading everything at full resolution isn’t usually the way to go.   Sure I could write macro commands….macro what?  We are in the age of simplicity.  Users are twiddling their thumbs at phones and tablets.  Just get it done.  If you wan’t to stick it on the back of Google Instant Upload or Facebook’s latest attempt at convincing me to trust them with all my pictures, fine.

These features may seem minor to a seasoned software developer.  It is a fad, you are just one user, you can do it in a million different ways already with other software, it isn’t really our main focus….etc.  But even I, the man who keeps his work computer carefully maintained for top speed and as uncluttered as possible, would probably install a new software to get them done.    User interface isn’t the thing anymore.  I am looking for a digital slave.

 

How social networks are improving the whole software industry

Few people realize how important the Google Plus “Real names”policy really is.   Maybe it’s just me having spent so much energy taking advantage of Facebook’s completely chaotic structure over the past years.  Sure, it ran contrary to most Facebook official policies but any business person would be an idiot not too.  What?   You can see all the ‘friends’ of your competitors’ fan page. That is often their customer list.  Damn sure I will take them even it has to be done one by one manually from a user profile.   Facebook has plugged the holes over time but Google Plus in comparison feels like a straight jacket from it’s beginning.   No free lunches here.

So point No1:  1. How strict and honest a social network is.

And then today everyone is talking about the “new” Facebook, changing their profiles to “look slick”.   Looks like a waste of prime screen real estate to me.   Hello?  Most people are still on 768 pixel vertical resolution you know…that big picture takes almost all of it up!   And these new fangled timeline adjustments of course will fly over the head of most users who have started whining about the “great old interface” as usual…  Point 2. Simplicity

It sort of reminds me of the WordPress vs Tumblr debate.   Users get used to something simple and figure out how to work around it.   Hash tags and loads of third party developers built the ecosystem that works for million of users.   Then  Twitter added photos, then comes video and…before you know it we have another Facebook like experience on our hands.   And then we will need complex settings and choices explained to get it to do what we want it to.  How our privacy is controlled.   Who sees what.   Point No3 is Control.

As anyone who has worked in the software industry knows, there is no perfect interface.   Every user wants something different and it will depend on their experience, background and …well…their mood really!   Your energy levels at different points in the day even.   What Facebook and Google are getting better at is getting the interface to morph constantly using intelligence, a little user input and a whole lot of bravado.   It takes balls to change a user interface, especially when you are a market leader with everything to lose.   But Facebook is right to do it now while it is still a virtual monopoly.

As users switch from software to online applications and from computers to smartphones, a lot of the old “big boys” in software better pay attention…  HP, if you really want to get into software, don’t go chasing the SAP business model…

 

The politics of software piracy statistics

Working with software in the Balkans, piracy has always been a prominent issue.  Whether it was during an initial meeting with a new vendor trying to figure out which parts of the market to first aim at, or with an old partner looking to squeeze out some particular segment.  “Nah, we can’t do that.  Too much piracy.”  Discussion ends.  For people in technology as long as me, a big part of us is resigned to the situation.  Everything can be copied.  Change your business model.

But then BSA (the Business Software Alliance is the most polite version of the acronym) came along.  Sure it was only backed by a few companies but they were the big ones that matter.  And their PR, well, I don’t need to tell you how many millions piracy costs the software industry because everyone else does.  OK, it sort of makes sense to accept a number like this from an organization that represents software companies.  Not!  Why on earth should we not assume that they are greatly exaggerating?  It is like accepting the data from McDonald’s about the nutritional value of their food!  “Ultimately, determining the global PC software piracy rate includes collecting 182 discrete data inputs and evaluating PC and software trends and data in each of 111 economies.”  No mention of the exact data inputs…no wonder Pearson is selling of IDC with shoddy work like that.

And it gets worse.  “Worse” as in “worrying that most people/journalists/politicians take them at face value”.  You read a title like “Piracy down in Canada”.  Based on what numbers?  BSA.  Well, actually a mish mash of pseudo proper looking numbers from IDC and whatever else they can combine to make it look scientific.  In Canada’s case even IDC and BSA admitted they overdid it.  Their numbers were wild guesstimates!   Now this sort of megahoax gets people like me interested.  Why should BSA want Canada to appear like a low piracy country?   A good example.

It seems that the main purpose of BSA is to get legislation passed so the companies involved can sell more while doing less.  To achieve this:

1. Statistics are fabricated and presented in such a way so as to apply pressure when and where needed.  Yeah, let’s change around the top ranking so as to get different countries in the spot light.

2. PR and advertising focuses on either general wishy washy “principles” or specific cases (for intimidational purposes – it is cheaper than actually suing every culprit)

3. Position the lobbying effort as high as possible with as many vaguely relevant organisations as possible.  Then get them to regurgitate the rubbish data, or – better still – to simply take action based on the false information.

So why has piracy dropped in Greece?  I would love to take the credit through the increased retail presence of ProgramA.  It has been a truly massive change in retail indeed.  But let’s be honest.  Not even GfK monitors most retail sales!   So it must be, because the Greek government bowed to the pressure and passed the laws BSA asked for.  Bill Gates shook hands with our prime minister, got his top level deal, threw in a bone with a Microsoft research centre in Greece.  Guess what?  We are no longer top of their list!

The list of countries on this year’s BSA report read like a US terrorist suspect roll call!  Georgia    95% Zimbabwe  92% bangladesh  91% Moldova    91% armenia    90% yemen    90% sri lanka   89% azerbaijan  88% libya    88%  belarus    87% Venezuela  87%  Indonesia   86% Vietnam    85%  Ukraine    85%  Iraq    85%  Pakistan    84% algeria    84%  cameroon   83% nigeria    83%  Paraguay   82%  Zambia    82%  Montenegro  81%  bolivia    80%  el salvador  80%  Guatemala  80%  botswana   79%  china    79%  Ivory coast   79% Kenya    79%  nicaragua  79%   On the other hand “Serbia is one of a handful of economies, including Italy, Greece and Colombia, where tax audits also include software license compliance. This is one of the reasons piracy has dropped six points from 2005 to 2008.”  Great work guys, you got government agencies working for you in these countries!

You know what the initials BS stand for.  Now you know what BSA stands for.  Only believe statistics you have made up yourself!