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It’s All In How They Play The Game

I have been keeping a Createquity post about gamification and arts events bookmarked on my web brower for while now. I liked some of the ideas suggested there and hoped to refer back to the entry for inspiration in the future. I was surprised to realize the post was actually created nearly two years ago. It seems so much more recent.

I came across another article recently that underscored the necessity of paying close attention to the design of any experience you may gamify. As with any game, some times people get a little more competitive than we might like.

In a post recounting the different experiences she and her friends experienced attending Sleep No More, Megan Reilly talks about how some of the repeat attendees have been using their knowledge to try to force certain outcomes. This tends to negatively impact the experience of other attendees, especially first timers.

My other friend, Amanda, got to have the same Hecate experience that I described above – having the ring put on her finger, and going through “Is That All There Is?” When Hecate turned to choose someone else for her 1:1, however, that selected person apparently tried to take the ring off my friend’s finger! I really want to know what was going on in that person’s head, to make him think that this behavior was ok. And this is not the worst behavior I’ve heard of on the part of the audience – just the worst that has happened to someone I know

and later

Many people by now have had so much experience visiting and revisiting “Sleep No More” that they are becoming like gamers, saving and restoring and attempting something new to experience something they KNOW is there but has so far been hidden from them. They try to find the secret combination of moves that unlocks the 1:1 with Hecate, and get visibly frustrated when they are not the chosen ones. They don’t care that someone else next to them might be experiencing the show for the first time – they want their experience/interaction/hidden secret scene, dammit. After all, they paid roughly $90 to play this game (or more, if like me you are not in NYC) and they want to win.

I love the parallels between “Sleep No More” and games, I really do. I love being responsible for my own journey through a story, and having to do some work in order to discover a narrative. I love that there are little errands and quests within the show that are given to different lucky audience members. I don’t want the 1:1 experiences to be removed. But how do you let the audience of 400 something people a night know that the experience of the show doesn’t have to include any one of these things? That their ticket price does not entitle them to a specific experience? And that the other audience members and the performers are not non-playable characters?

I would encourage people to read the whole thing, even if you have no intention of ever gamifying your experience. Megan Reilly’s discussion of what elements work and why it is so exciting might change your mind.

In some respects, what she talks about are the hazards of attending a public performance writ large. The person who pulls out their cellphone in the middle of a conventional performance and starts talking may be the same person who pushes you aside at Sleep No More. The percentage of the general population who will impinge upon the enjoyment of others is probably going to remain constant.

Another issue one of Reilly’s friends faced seemed to simply be a function of letting the audience interact with each other. There was a lot of non-verbal signalling that something was going to happen when experienced audience members watched the rest of the audience for their reaction or all started rushing in a certain direction.

When people are all seated quietly in a theater facing in one direction, the anticipation of those who have seen the show before is less apparent. But that experience is certainly also less interesting and probably doesn’t encourage as much return business as the Sleep No More experience, even at $90 a pop.

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Don’t Pay To Boost That Post Quite Yet

Long time readers will know that I frequently counsel not jumping on the newest technological gizmo bandwagon too quickly lest you dilute your efforts fruitlessly across too many efforts.

While Facebook isn’t the newest kid on the block, some recent research by the Pew Research Center reveals the value of visitors brought to your page by Facebook and search engine results is pretty low. You may want to rethink any plans to buy ads.

The research was conducted on news sites so the validity may vary depending on how much more engaging you feel your website is versus the top 26 news sites like CNN, Fox News, BBC, NPR and BuzzFeed.

Pew Research found that people visiting a site directly stayed longer (4:36), looked around more (24.8 pages) and returned more often (10.9 visits) than those arriving via Facebook (1:41, 4.2 pages and 2.9 visits)

Even sites such as digital native and National Public Radio’s, which have an unusually high level of Facebook traffic, saw much greater engagement from those who came in directly.

The data also suggest that converting social media or search eyeballs to dedicated readers is difficult to do

Reading the report, you may notice that the results are all based on desktop and laptop user data because the mobile data collected by the major analytics firms are not as detailed and thus are unable to support as granular an analysis.


While the main analysis does not include mobile traffic to these sites due to comScore’s smaller mobile panel size, the overall findings translate to the mobile realm as well. As Patrick Cooper, NPR’s Director of Web and Engagement told Pew Research, “The big thing publishers should take
away from the desktop data, even if desktop is going away, is that: 1) method of entry matters to the experience and 2) they can’t control method of entry.”

Remember, these numbers reflect the behavior of people who are visiting a webpage based on something they see elsewhere on the web. This research doesn’t address whether Facebook is a good tool for developing relationships with people.

The act of typing in the direct address of a website (or clicking on a bookmark) implies a certain level of engagement with the website already. The fact is, The New York Times may have tens of thousands of people who choose visit the NYT Facebook page faithfully everyday by typing in their Facebook address, but who don’t linger long or look around much when they choose to click through to the website to read a story.

There may be thousands of people who feel loyal and engaged with the New York Times via their Facebook page that the research is viewing as lightly engaged due to their habits upon visiting the webpage.

Arts organizations can just as quickly describe a show and provide supporting video on a Facebook page as their webpage and don’t need to depend on the same attention span as a news site would to read an article. (Which may mean some visitors may have too short an attention span to watch a performance, regardless of where they see it listed.)

So, lacking evidence to the contrary, Facebook may still be a good tool for providing information to people who are already following your organization. My take away from the research though is that buying ads, having people like your posts or reposting your information may bring you a surge in traffic, but not necessarily increase the number of people engaged in your work.

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When Customer Relationship Management is Pull Rather Than Push

Monday night I went to the library to return a couple books. I had finished the second book in a series and wanted to read the third, but I had checked and knew the library didn’t have the third book. I went to the reference desk to see if I could request the book from another one in the state.

I was told the system to check if another library in the state had the book was down, but if I wanted, I could request that the library buy it. That way, I could have the book for a month rather than 2 weeks via interlibrary loan. Since I read quickly and didn’t want the library to buy a new book on my account, I said I would request the book via interlibrary loan during another visit.

This is where things got interesting.

The librarian decided to check if they had already ordered the book given that they had the first two volumes. She discovered that not only had they ordered the book in the last week, but my name had been flagged as a person to inform when the book came in based on my borrowing habits.

I left the library muttering under my breath that I really needed to start looking seriously at customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Here was a library serving a rural county of 78,000 whose services I use for free that had bought a book for me based on tracking my use of their services. (Yes, I suppose other people may have read the series too, but they ordered it right after I took out the second book so as far as I am concerned, they bought it for me.)

The way I see it, if they invest so much effort into serving a person who uses their services for free, how much disservice am I doing to my patrons who are paying me $30-$50 to see shows if I am not closely tracking their preferences and trying to figure out how to serve them better?

The way I see it, that last sentence there is a crucial one. There is a difference between the way Amazon uses software to track my activities in the interest of trying to sell me a book and the way the library tracks my activities in interest of buying a book for me.

While I would certainly use the software to suggest shows a person might be interested in seeing based on past history, I would also want to think about ways I could use data we collect to shape our programming to serve their interests.

[N.B. Well, I wrote this post on Monday evening knowing I wouldn't have time to do so on Tuesday because we had a show. I just happened to see one of the librarians after the show and asked her what CRM system they used. She tapped her head.

Turns out, she had noticed what books I was taking out and order the third book in the series. I had specifically asked on Monday night if it were she that had ordered the book and was given an answer that made me think it was all tracked by software. This just goes to show that the best customer relationship software is caring employees paying attention and making notes.]

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Price and Value

Seth Godin recently made a post that provides a good summary of how value influences the way consumers view price.

“It’s too expensive,” almost never means, “there isn’t enough money if I think it’s worth it.”

Social entrepreneurs are often chagrined to discover that low-income communities around the world that said their innovation was, “too expensive” figured out how to find the money to buy a cell phone instead. Even at the bottom of the pyramid, many people find a way to pay for the things they value.


Often, it actually means, “it’s not worth it.” This is a totally different analysis, of course. Lots of things aren’t worth it, at least to you, right now. I think it’s safe to assume that when you hear a potential customer say, “it’s too expensive,” what you’re really hearing is something quite specific.

There is a sentiment commonly expressed around arts organizations, especially ones that are trying to attract college age attendees, that college students who say a ticket is too expensive will generally spend twice as much on beer on the same Saturday night. While a performance and a beer are transitory experiences, everyone knows beer is more transitory of the two. (The old saying, you don’t buy it, you rent it.) But, of course, it is the social environment that accompanies the beer that people value.

More from Godin:

Culturally, we create boundaries for what something is worth. A pomegranate juice on the streets of Istanbul costs a dollar, and it’s delicious. The same juice in New York would be seen as a bargain for five times as much money. Clearly, we’re not discussing the ability to pay nor are we considering the absolute value of a glass of juice. No, it’s about our expectation of what people like us pay for something like that.

Start with a tribe or community that in fact does value what you do. And then do an ever better job of explaining and storytelling, increasing the perceived value instead of lowering the price. (Even better, actually increase the value delivered). When you don’t need everyone to buy what you sell, “it’s too expensive” from some is actually a useful reminder that you’ve priced this appropriately for the rest of your audience.

Over time, as influencers within a tribe embrace the higher value (and higher price) then the culture starts to change. When people like us start to pay more for something like that, it becomes natural (and even urgent) for us to pay for it too.

That bit I bolded caught my eye. In theory the arts already deal with a tribe or community that does value what it does. That tribe tends to be affluent and influential, but we all know the common refrain is that these people are dying off. Whatever influence they have, it isn’t continuing to motivate too many others.

I am not sure the answer is just better storytelling and waiting for influencers to help shift the culture. I think there has to be a corresponding shift in product features to something consumers value as well.

This isn’t just about the arts. In the cell phone example Godin uses, the phone’s value in the developing world goes beyond just being able to talk to other people. It allows people to gather information about crop prices and choose which market to travel to and acts as a medium for currency exchange.

Without these benefits, I don’t imagine as many people in the developing world would own phones as do today. They are buying Nokia phones with long battery life rather than iPhones because electricity sources are so scarce.

In terms of the arts, I have no doubt that it is entirely possible to avoid compromising on price. I likewise believe that there are many groups out there offering what people want, but who suffer from lack of good storytelling.

Yet just as phone companies know they will sell more Nokia phones in Kenya than Apple and Samsung phones, even though those two companies are duking it out for domination in the rest of the world, very few arts organizations are going to be exempt from aligning their “product features” to suit local conditions.

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