For anyone who wants to learn more about customer experience and behavioral science, video game legend Super Mario is a great metaphor.
In the mobile game “Super Mario Run” players can immediately see that this game caters more toward what behavioral scientists call System 1 processing. It speaks to people’s impatient mind that seeks immediate gratification. Those who grew up playing the very first Super Mario may remember spending hours and hours trying to beat a particularly hard level or “world.” It required a lot of investment in time, effort and planning (to make sure you could spend next several hours on a video game).
However, more recent games, especially “Super Mario Run,” are structured very differently. One sub-game called “Toad Rally” is as short as 60 seconds, catering to our limited attention and need for instant gratification. Indeed, it is a fundamental principle of behavioral science that people have limited attention — even for things that matter to them.
Limited Attention in real life
One example from the real world is retirement accounts. Ideally, everyone spends adequate time to really think about when and how much to invest in which accounts. The reality, however, is quite different, according to an Ipsos survey that showed the majority of Millennials aren’t saving for retirement.
If people spend so little time planning their financial future, imagine the lack of effort spent on less important decisions. This points towards a critical lever in changing behavior: make it easy.
“Super Mario Run Remix 10” leverages this principle. When players start this game, each stage lasts as little as 15 seconds. Then the next stage starts as soon as they pass the first stage and continues until they finish all 10 stages. Essentially, this game is making it easier for players to continue playing versus stop playing, at least for the given 10 stages.
Uber uses similar tactics to keep drivers on the street. For example, they use an algorithm to have another passenger ready for drivers before they complete their current trip. That makes drivers more likely to continue a shift.
There is also the concept of loss aversion in “Super Mario Run.” In its “Toad Rally” sub-game you can play against a friend or a virtual opponent by competing to get more coins in 60 seconds. If a player beats their friend, then they get to steal toads from their friend. But, if they lose, they lose some of their toads to their friend. This is where loss aversion kicks in and motivates players to play more to recover the amphibians they’ve lost.
Another Behavioral Science theory integrated very well throughout the game is Goal Gradient Theory. Simply put, people engage more when they feel closer to reaching their goals. This is why it works so well for Mario to have many shorter games with many different goals to achieve.
In the game “World 1-1” gamers can play once and beat the game by getting to the end, i.e., one goal accomplished! But, they might have missed collecting one or two of the special pink coins, i.e., one goal yet to accomplish. So, they may play the same “World 1-1” one (or ten) more times just trying to get all the pink coins. Then they can move on to collecting even more exclusive purples coins, then the super-premium black coins.
Goal Gradient Theory applied
Goal gradient theory has been used outside of the video game industry, too. For example, a car wash establishment tested this with two different customer loyalty punch cards. One had eight stamps and another had 10. The trick was that the latter card already had two free stamps, so both cards had 8 more stamps to use to earn the free wash.
Surprisingly, with the eight-stamp cards, only 19% of customers made enough visits to get a free wash. However, with the 10-stamp group (the ones given a head start) 34% of the customers came back enough times to finish their loyalty cards. That gave the car wash an 80% increase in customer visits and happy customers.
Like with video games, that’s a lot of coin.
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