Imagine you’re in one of those fun escape rooms for a birthday party or work outing. You’re completely immersed in a virtual environment, where everything around you is novel and “other-worldly”. You’re excited and marveling at the realism of this new dimension. But you can’t find the instructions; there’s no guidance given about the goal. As you walk through each room, the novelty quickly wears off and it suddenly hits you… the boredom. You exit.
Now, imagine that the escape room venue is a metaverse that’s lacking gamification. And the “instructions” or “guidance” that’s missing are the core drives of human motivation. Then you’re bound to feel boredom. After all, virtual reality (VR), for all its 3D animations and realism, can’t stand alone. It needs engagement, a compelling reason to come back to the realm regularly.
Why is engagement in the Metaverse so important
We are on the verge of a technological revolution. Countless companies, including big fish like Facebook, are planning to transform their platforms into a metaverse – a universe of overlapping digital and physical experiences. In these virtual environments, users will be able to see and interact with digital caricatures of each other as though they were physically there (e.g., flicking a friend on the forehead).
Facebook has invested $50 million and will be hiring 10,000 people across the EU for these purposes. Fortnite is selling billions of dollars worth of metaverse game skins. Sandbox just received a $93 million investment to take it to the next level. And Roblox, an online game platform, is incorporating an increasing number of metaverse-like integrations. That’s just naming a few.
Not to mention, since the advent of COVID and social distancing protocols, people are more desperate than ever to connect in more realistic and meaningful ways. Hence the Zoom boom and the world’s unprecedented reliance on technology.
But even though everyone’s excited and getting on board, this trend towards metaverses and virtual reality is much more than meets the eye. In order for it to succeed it requires incorporation of gamification and behavioral science based human motivation design. I will discuss why this is below.
At Octalysis, we’re just as excited about the direction technology’s headed. So how can we ensure that this concept takes off before falling flat on its face? Well, as captains of the gamification ship, we’re here to steer companies back on course.
The Metaverse: not just a bunch of cool functionality
It’s easy to have the right idea; it’s the execution that’s the hard part. VR has a lot of potential for businesses, but that potential’s being left by the wayside because of the “careless” way that it’s being implemented.
When we think of metaverses and virtual reality, businesses tend to fixate on the “virtual” to the neglect of “reality”. That is, they neglect the reality of what makes metaverses – especially when coupled with VR – so engaging. This is one of the biggest problems with the practice.
To better illustrate this problem, we first need to illustrate how metaverses, VR, and gamification are different, yet entwined:
A metaverse is a collection of physical and digital experiences, rendered in real-time, that seamlessly overlap and integrate to create a shared and simulated 3D world. There’s a sense of continuity that mimics real life, such as persistent objects and identities, shared histories, rights/entitlements, the ability to make payments, etc.
Any number of people can synchronously enter the metaverse and still experience it with an individual sense of presence.
Virtual reality uses computer technology to create simulated environments. It can be fully simulated or partially-simulated (i.e., augmented reality or “AR”, like Pokémon Go). In any case, VR was mainly used for gaming. But now, it’s being used to deepen the metaverse experience using cutting-edge graphics and high-definition hardware (i.e., a VR headset).
Unlike VR, metaverses take digital reality to the next level by enabling hang outs, movies, concerts, work… practically anything.
Gamification is the art of applying game mechanics to non-game contexts. This includes players, competition, and your classic PBLs (points, badges, and leaderboards).
But here, at Octalysis, we take gamification further by asking, “What underlying aspects of games make them so inherently fun?” We isolate the game itself from the motivations of game-playing. Then we transfer these motivations over to make “virtually” anything engaging!
So, VR technology not only grants access the metaverse, it enhances our experience while we’re in it. And gamification is what makes people want to re-access the metaverse again and again. And therein lies the problem. Because the fact of the matter is, both VR and the metaverse aren’t fun in and of themselves.
Just like you can enter an escape room (a sort of old-fashioned, analog metaverse without VR technology) that’s dressed to the nines with cool designs and ornaments, you can still get bored. The experience flow should be bidirectional, wherein the user interacts with the metaverse and the metaverse interacts with the user. It’s called user “engagement” for a reason!
With that said, VR, the metaverse… they’re mere tools that deliver the core drives of human motivation, especially intrinsic motivation! Without acknowledging that, then even for all its potential, businesses are at risk of dropping the ball when it comes to merging technology with the metaverse.
So how do we make the Metaverse really fun?
Oftentimes, VR is so cool and immersive. But you’ll run out of steam quickly when there’s no core drives to keep the fuel going. Enter the Octalysis Framework, which features the 8 core drives of human motivation:
- Epic Meaning & Calling
- Development & Accomplishment
- Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
- Ownership & Possession
- Social Influence & Relatedness
- Scarcity & Impatience
- Unpredictability & Curiosity
- Loss & Avoidance
Another reason why these core drives are so invaluable is because its content is difficult and time-consuming to produce, and thus quite expensive. We’re talking about a regular output of realistic yet immersive 3D models in HD. Many companies assume that fresh and new content is the only way to keep users engaged and coming back for more. So they regularly fork out handsome sums of money to game designers, which isn’t sustainable.
So if you want to keep releasing new content, you need to keep it evergreen by leveraging the core human motivations drives. That way, no matter how much time passes, your metaverse will be engaging and immersive.
You could be infusing Core Drive 1 – Epic Meaning & Calling. Whether it’s saving a princess from a dragon or feeling like an elite group of people, your users need a sense of purpose to feel like they’re a part of that world. This requires a combination of good storytelling and refined creation of the world through game design and animation.
Not only will Epic Meaning & Calling (1) keep them coming back for more as they progress towards their goal. But they’ll be able to make meaningful choices to achieve their purpose, which gives them a sense of mastery and accomplishment (Core Drive 2). That said, you don’t want to leave them completely in the dark. Their feelings alone won’t suffice without some feedback along the way to reinforce their creativity (Core Drive 3). It could be as simple as popup bubbles to discourage or egg them on, or RPG characters that clap as the users pass by.
Speaking of RPG characters, a game without any aspect of Social Relatedness & Influence (Core Drive 5) is as boring as existing in a world without other people to interact with. Whether it’s for competition or cooperation, the use of other virtual reality characters or actual, digitized people, is a must-have. Think of games like World of Warcraft or Fortnite; the social elements speak to an intrinsic need that every human has – meaningful social interaction. That’s why solitary confinement is considered a cruel and unusual punishment, even for many murderers.
Funny thing is, while these core drives will keep them coming back for more, your virtual world will still eventually become boring and monotonous without an intrinsic motivator that also drives urgency to act: Unpredictability & Curiosity (Core Drive 7). The easiest way to infuse this core drive is by creating a non-linear narrative. Unlike a race, where the path is singular and linear, your metaverse should have everyone working towards the same end goal, but from different angles. So, ask yourself:
Are there different pathways with unique surprises, or does everyone follow the same path like a herd of sheep?
Is the metaverse unpredictable and does it inspire curiosity?
Like an escape room venue with only one room, without multiple paths to the same goal, you won’t empower the users’ creativity (3), and you’ll eliminate opportunities for unpredictability. Once the novelty of the metaverse wears off and becomes predictable, the users’ interest will wane.
The key is placing all these core drives within a purposeful context. Put otherwise, they should be subtle. You shouldn’t have characters randomly pop out of nowhere yelling “boogidyboo!” just to add surprise and unpredictability. Nor should you have random RPG characters approach users with useless small talk.
Another gamification device that companies are especially prone to misuse are function-focused mechanisms like points and coins/currency. Though they have the right idea, since they’re going for both accomplishment (2) and ownership (Core Drive 4), they shouldn’t be handed out willy-nilly like Halloween candy. They should be human-focused – that is, earned according to a pre-defined narrative.
With metaverses, it’s easy to create an overarching purpose (1) to find and collect things. For example, you could create a digitized, virtual world where the more coins you collect (4), the more buying power you have, thus enabling you to purchase “special powers” that can make it easier to attain your goal (e.g., flight powers to reach the peak of a mountain).
When virtual reality is well-executed, it leverages intrinsic motivation and leaves behind the function-focused, BF-skinner-style of classic conditioning (where you simply press a button to get more cheese). The same goes for Scarcity & Impatience (6) and Loss & Avoidance (8). You don’t want to be like Lucy from Charlie Brown, constantly yanking the football away whenever he goes to punt it (he never gets to punt that football by the way, not even once).
Rather than dangling the proverbial carrot in front of your metaverse users, you can incorporate Core Drives 6 and 8 by asking:
Are users aware that there are things that difficult to get? (6) You can incorporate this core drive by making certain superpowers limited or “first come, first serve”.
How long will users have to wait or what work will they have to put in to get the goods? (2 & 6) You can inspire a feeling of accomplishment by making an extra-tasty superpower inaccessible beyond a certain point of mastery/achievement.
Is everything a given or can it be taken away, without a moment’s notice, if they don’t perform certain actions? When power up is given, make sure it can expire if users don’t commit to desired actions, like logging on for a certain number of hours per week or at a certain frequency.
Despite all the hype, metaverses and virtual reality have a high possibility of failing before they truly get off the ground. The key is to include the 8 core drives, and view VR and metaverses as devices that deliver those drives. Proper incorporation of the core drives is a sign of a good platform. Whereas delivering them explicitly and/or out of context is a sign of a poorly-designed platform.
But getting it right is easier said than done. So we’re not here to wag our fingers; we’re here to help! Give us a shout and we’ll help you out!