The Lazy Designer

Guilt based motivation

Engaging consumers — whether they be readers, viewers, or application users — is always a tricky business. One underutilized tool that I touched on in a previous post is guilt. I’ll go into some more detail here in a more general manner (the other post was specific to games).

Guilt is a prime motivator of my own activities, especially my online activities. Contents creators should try and leverage this when possible — though respectfully, after a while guilt just turns into annoyance. Some examples of what has been effective:

  • If someone I know has a book published or other content created I buy it. My definition of “I Know” has started to grow to include people on social network sites. (Yes, this is one of the reason I’m starting to be overwhelmed by content)
  • If someone announces a major event in their professional life — even if I barely know them — I’ll often post it to my blog; I simply feel compelled to do so… I have the means to broadcast good news and feel that I should do so as long as the content fits with my blog.
  • On Empire Avenue I tend to buy and sell newbies to generate spending cash. If a newbie I buy happens to post a shout out or buy shares in me I am much less likely to sell them — at least for a few days. (I’d just feel too bad about myself to sell them right away :)

So how can writers leverage this? Creating social network profiles help — of course time online must be balanced against actual working time; there’s no point in being the net’s most popular writer if you don’t actually write or sell anything. Once people start connecting to you, you’ll start forming stronger relationships with a subset of them. These people have the potential of becoming evangelists for you (and you them). For the relationships to really profit, they should be reciprocal.

Social network developers really nail the guilt factor. Think of Facebook and all those annoying requests from friends to help save their lost cow or raid a mafia headquarters. This is all guilt based motivation — allowing one group of Facebook users to help recruit other users on the network to engage in an activity. Of course many of us just ignore these after a while — the whole annoyance thing, mentioned above — but they are still effective on newcomers.

On a more personal level, I’ve recognized my own susceptibility to guilt and use it to help motivate me to write daily. I allow myself only a handful of no writing days a month (defined as less than 1000 words) and I have an additional goal of at least 5000 words a week. I track this all on a sheet of paper beside my computer. I have taken some days off of writing but have yet to miss my weekly wordcount goal so far this year. I’ve taken guilt even further, adding a ‘nag‘ feature to my writing platform YourOtherMind — once activated I get nags if I alt-tab out to go surf the web or other activities. These are tracked and show up in my weekly progress reports. For me, knowing that I have these goals — and the nag tracker which will produce a record of accountability — make me less likely to slack off.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.

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