00:00:00 ◼ ► Welcome to Under the Radar, a show about independent iOS and recently Mac app development.
00:00:12 ◼ ► So today we wanted to dive into a little bit about talking about the best term for it is
00:00:18 ◼ ► probably the psychological tricks that are often employed in apps to boosting retention,
00:00:30 ◼ ► A lot of these things you'll often see in these kind of in-app purchase-focused applications,
00:00:44 ◼ ► seeing these kind of trends and these tricks and these things that are going on into it.
00:00:48 ◼ ► And our point in this is definitely not to—there's definitely a topic to talk through about,
00:00:52 ◼ ► like the moralizing part of that, of like sometimes these things can get kind of abusive
00:00:59 ◼ ► But I think moreover, what was an interesting topic as app developers was to think through
00:01:05 ◼ ► how these different tricks that you can do can be used positively in your applications.
00:01:26 ◼ ► And it's kind of like if you ever see someone do a magic trick, and then they show you how
00:01:37 ◼ ► And it can still be interesting and compelling, but it's overall nice to have that awareness
00:01:46 ◼ ► I think the first one I wanted to dive in and talk about is the concept of loss aversion.
00:01:51 ◼ ► And so this is something that you--it's like a psychological phenomenon where people are
00:01:56 ◼ ► much more affected by the prospect of losing something they have than the prospect of gaining
00:02:06 ◼ ► But essentially, it's like if you have something or you feel like you have something, you will
00:02:23 ◼ ► was in a game--the first time in an in-app purchase game where you're going down, you're
00:02:32 ◼ ► And a little thing pops up and it says, "Would you like to continue for three crystals?"
00:02:37 ◼ ► Or whatever it is, whatever the made-up smurfberry thing that they're using in the game.
00:02:48 ◼ ► Because you've gotten to this point in the game, you know, you, "Oh wow, this is my new
00:02:57 ◼ ► And you'll be so much more apt to do it at that moment than you would to just start again
00:03:13 ◼ ► So in my App Activity++, I have this thing where it tracks how long you've hit your standing
00:03:22 ◼ ► And you don't want to break a streak because you feel like you have it and you don't want
00:03:35 ◼ ► It's this weird feeling of people just don't like giving up things they have, and often
00:03:41 ◼ ► in some ways irrationally if you compare the effort to which someone will go to keep something
00:04:18 ◼ ► And the Sledgehammer Suit is so much better than anything else in the game because those
00:04:35 ◼ ► And like I'm so afraid of using it and then just getting hit and losing it that I often will go through
00:04:55 ◼ ► And it's a powerful tool, I think, as developers for us to--like we can think of in our apps.
00:05:02 ◼ ► Like are there things that we can do where we make people feel like they have something that they don't want to lose?
00:05:11 ◼ ► Like it's this really weird conditioning thing that people really don't want to give up what they have.
00:05:17 ◼ ► And whether that's--yeah, it's like I think of things--there's so many things in games where that same kind of thing
00:05:30 ◼ ► I mean I think even like in Pokemon Go where I noticed this recently was they have this thing where like
00:05:44 ◼ ► And having something appear and then disappear is way more painful than never finding it.
00:05:52 ◼ ► Which is kind of a weird thing, but it's that kind of behavior you can totally see the way that game like that is structured
00:05:59 ◼ ► is entirely to manipulate you into making sure that you always feel like you have to use all your things
00:06:08 ◼ ► And that's kind of weird. I don't know. It's a strange thing how people's mindset just can be--
00:06:19 ◼ ► As you said, once you notice this you kind of see it everywhere. This is in so many games.
00:06:32 ◼ ► I mean obviously a lot of these kind of tricks or psychological plays, obviously they tend to have
00:06:39 ◼ ► I think the most direct uses in games, especially in app purchase driven games as you said.
00:06:49 ◼ ► Like loss aversion is kind of the idea between a time limited trial where you can try out this app
00:06:56 ◼ ► and have these great features, but then after 30 days or whatever those features stop working.
00:07:05 ◼ ► So it's like you had them, you know how good they are, and then now they're gone, you better pay.
00:07:45 ◼ ► Or you don't want to--like you've built up a collection of notes in Evernote or something,
00:07:58 ◼ ► "Oh well, if I stop paying, all the stuff that I've built up over time will just go away."
00:08:28 ◼ ► I've noticed myself, since I did the research into how variable reinforcement was the topic,
00:08:34 ◼ ► which is the concept of how if you're trying to condition a behavior into something or someone,
00:08:48 ◼ ► maybe this is rather than getting into parenting, so you think of taking care of a dog or something.
00:09:11 ◼ ► is that the strongest and most powerful form of conditioning is where you have what they call variable reinforcement,
00:09:20 ◼ ► where it is still predictable insofar as the average number of reinforcing events is sort of still somewhat constant,
00:09:34 ◼ ► So in the example of trying to train a dog, say if roughly every third time the dog sits, you were to give it a treat.
00:09:43 ◼ ► But if you did it on exactly every third, then it's a much weaker reinforcer than just on average giving it every third.
00:09:53 ◼ ► And this is the concept behind slot machines and many, many things where if you add just a little bit of randomness in it
00:10:10 ◼ ► It's consistent enough that it feels fair, but in any particular opportunity, they don't know if they're going to be rewarded or not.
00:10:19 ◼ ► It is really powerful for creating that classically addictive behavior, where you want to keep trying the reinforced activity,
00:10:30 ◼ ► and you keep trying and trying and trying in the hopes that you'll get it, but you never know when you're going to get it,
00:10:38 ◼ ► And you can imagine this on the more tricky side with a lot of things in apps where you get an item that will be upgradeable
00:10:48 ◼ ► or has some other value down the road, or like in Pokemon Go there was the thing with eggs where you get an egg and you never know what's in it.
00:10:59 ◼ ► And as long as it's consistent enough that you feel like it's fair, you'll keep trying it in a more strong way.
00:11:06 ◼ ► But even in a weird way on the positive side, I was thinking about in a lot of my apps I have confetti to celebrate when you hit your goals.
00:11:15 ◼ ► And in a weird way, I'm using variable reinforcement to get people to keep opening my app,
00:11:32 ◼ ► And so as someone goes around their day, every time you open the app, you have this feeling of like,
00:11:38 ◼ ► it's like you're pulling the arm on the slot machine in some ways and saying, "Have I done it yet? Have I done it yet? Have I done it yet? I did! Hooray!"
00:11:48 ◼ ► If it's the third time you open the app and every day you got confetti, well, it wouldn't be nearly as compelling.
00:11:55 ◼ ► But as long as you add that variability, that randomness into it, is where it starts to get really interesting.
00:12:02 ◼ ► That's amazing. And see, even the way you're doing it is a little bit different than a slot machine kind of thing.
00:12:09 ◼ ► The way you're doing it is based on reaching a goal, whereas the just kind of randomly fail and randomly give people what they want sometimes,
00:12:22 ◼ ► That's kind of the problem. All of these things kind of feel a little bit dirty if you think about them as a way to manipulate people.
00:12:29 ◼ ► But with a lot of these things, there are obviously ways to do it in a way that lets you sleep at night.
00:12:36 ◼ ► So with this, I have a hard time coming up with those ways that aren't actually driven by things that are within the user's control in reality, like your app.
00:12:47 ◼ ► Sure. And that's the thing that's so interesting about this as a topic that I kind of find fascinating as a developer,
00:12:53 ◼ ► because if you can be aware of these things and find ways to judiciously and responsibly use them in your app, it can be really compelling.
00:13:04 ◼ ► In many ways, this is what makes things like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram effective.
00:13:10 ◼ ► It's this exact same concept where you keep going to the thing in the hope that you never know if you're going to open up Twitter,
00:13:18 ◼ ► and it's kind of more boring or not interesting to you, but every now and then you get this really interesting, exciting thing,
00:13:26 ◼ ► or you feel like, "Wow, I'm the first person to know this thing because it happened just a moment ago."
00:13:31 ◼ ► And that conditions you to want to go into there. And in a lot of apps, that can be a useful thing.
00:13:36 ◼ ► That can be a helpful thing to actually think back to, I think it was my first WWDC back in 2009.
00:13:44 ◼ ► I remember I signed up for one of the UI design labs, and the person who was looking at my app's design,
00:13:52 ◼ ► one of his comments was, "Do you have a place in your app that has a constantly changing set of items, or set of anything?
00:14:05 ◼ ► Because if you do, you can create this habit and this pattern that people will start to do to go and check it."
00:14:13 ◼ ► In this case, it was an audiobook app, and he was wondering if I should start to do something where,
00:14:18 ◼ ► each day, I put a particular book and spotlight it or something, and it creates that same pattern.
00:14:27 ◼ ► Even if sometimes you'll go there and there's nothing, it's like, "Oh, it's not for me, it's not for me.
00:14:32 ◼ ► Ooh, that's interesting, I've never seen that." As soon as you have that one experience of going there and being rewarded for it,
00:14:42 ◼ ► This one in particular is really worrying to me in a lot of ways. As a side note, it always bothers me when I see
00:14:50 ◼ ► app descriptions in the App Store, where it has "super addictive" listed as a positive bullet point.
00:15:02 ◼ ► It's like an anti-ad. Being on the top grossing list is also kind of an anti-ad for an app, because it's like,
00:15:12 ◼ ► Yeah, it always just drove me crazy. You'll see these things, and it's like, "Warning! Super addictive!"
00:15:17 ◼ ► It's not really a warning in the way that it's a health and safety label. They're trying to pitch it as,
00:15:29 ◼ ► The last thing my life needs is something to be addicted to. That's never going to be a good thing in my life.
00:15:38 ◼ ► So that's definitely something that I... This in particular, you start to look out for it, where anytime there's
00:15:44 ◼ ► a random way in which you're reinforced, it's like, "Oh no. Take a step back. I'm being messed with."
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00:17:13 ◼ ► All right, the next one of these things that I thought would be fun to dive into a little bit is not as much of a trick
00:17:20 ◼ ► like the first two are, but is something that is a psychological phenomenon that is pervasive in people,
00:17:26 ◼ ► and that is impatience. So this is something that I start to notice, and obviously none of us like waiting.
00:17:47 ◼ ► That's true. We may be a particularly impatient group, so maybe this will resonate with our audience.
00:17:52 ◼ ► But in a lot of games, you'll have a thing where there's this concept of a timeout or a wait or an energy meter
00:17:57 ◼ ► that you have to fill up, and if you don't--when you've spent all your energy, you have to wait 24 hours
00:18:02 ◼ ► while you recharge, or you can pay money to recharge your energy meter. It gets very convoluted at a certain point,
00:18:11 ◼ ► but it's always tying back to this concept of impatience, that we don't want to wait, that we don't like to have a timeout.
00:18:18 ◼ ► If there's something that we can do to feel like we're saving time, we will disproportionately value it.
00:18:25 ◼ ► But the interesting thing I was thinking when I was preparing this episode is I was thinking about smart speed.
00:18:30 ◼ ► When you made smart speed, it's a fascinating feature because it taps into my sense of impatience
00:18:39 ◼ ► in such a way that if I don't listen to audio run through smart speed, I feel like I'm wasting my time.
00:18:47 ◼ ► That is a really powerful--I remember I think in an episode of Developing Perspective a couple years ago about this,
00:18:53 ◼ ► it's an insidious feature in the best possible way, that smart speed has now gotten into my brain such that
00:19:01 ◼ ► if I listen to something that isn't smart speeded, it's like, "Why am I doing this? I'm wasting time."
00:19:05 ◼ ► I could have 10% more audio listened to in a particular amount of time because that's what smart speed does,
00:19:12 ◼ ► and I wouldn't notice it because that's the whole cool thing with smart speed. It just shortens those silences that I never hear anyway.
00:19:18 ◼ ► It really ruins YouTube for me. I have a very hard time watching YouTube videos because these are so slow.
00:19:24 ◼ ► Sure. I mean, it's true. I've definitely had that same thought when I was going through WWDC videos.
00:19:29 ◼ ► I was like, "Oh, man, I wish I could smart speed these." And it's tapping into that sense of impatience.
00:19:40 ◼ ► I guess in some ways we could just tap from how this is relevant to app developers' perspective.
00:19:45 ◼ ► It's like, "Well, we could always just make everything faster." That's definitely a good thing.
00:19:48 ◼ ► People hate waiting, so if we can make our apps faster, better performant, etc., then that's cool.
00:19:55 ◼ ► And if there's any areas that we can take out waits, then people will definitely like it and will notice and appreciate that.
00:20:01 ◼ ► But I guess on the flip side, if we introduce artificial waits, we can potentially find ways to make people work to avoid them.
00:20:09 ◼ ► Yeah. Have you seen any of the big games? I think the worst ones are the real racing games.
00:20:16 ◼ ► Where it's like you try these games out on your Apple TV or something and it's like, "Oh, it's this free racing game. It looks pretty good. All right, cool."
00:20:22 ◼ ► And it's like, "Oh, well, congratulations. You just bought this upgrade for your car with these coins you earned.
00:20:28 ◼ ► It's going to be installed over the next 45 minutes." Or you can pay more coins and have it installed faster.
00:20:35 ◼ ► It's such a... Oh, man. It drives me crazy. Fortunately, I've never gotten too into these games, but I've seen them enough.
00:20:42 ◼ ► And every time I see it, it just makes me angry. I just feel like that's just a progress bar to nothing.
00:20:48 ◼ ► And it's just a completely artificial delay inserted for no reason other than to try to get more people to pay more money for nothing.
00:20:57 ◼ ► They're getting nothing. I don't know. I say this as somebody who my app is funded by people paying for nothing,
00:21:05 ◼ ► but still, it just feels really manipulative and wrong to me when I see the way these games do it.
00:21:11 ◼ ► Sure. Yeah. And you can take advantage of people's impatience in positive ways. Like I just said, it was smart speed.
00:21:17 ◼ ► I don't think you necessarily set out to do it that specifically in mind, but for me, as a user, that's why I use Overcast to listen to podcasts.
00:21:25 ◼ ► And I now use it to listen to audiobooks, too. I use it to listen to everything that I listen to that's audio-related.
00:21:32 ◼ ► I'll run it through Overcast because in my mind, the impatience in me thinks that if I'm not, I'm wasting time.
00:21:40 ◼ ► And it has tremendous retention as a result. I think it's a really powerful feature in that way.
00:21:47 ◼ ► And if you can find these little hooks that make people feel like they're saving time, that's huge.
00:21:52 ◼ ► But yeah, the flip side of it can be so awkward. It's like this artificial scarcity kind of concept,
00:21:59 ◼ ► where people are just inventing things that take longer or need more whatevers to create or use.
00:22:16 ◼ ► You have to create this sense of artificial scarcity. It's like, "Oh, we only have so many installers in the virtual car garage who are able to install new spoilers."
00:22:28 ◼ ► That's really what they're saying. It's like, "There's only so many of these virtual guys who are able to run around."
00:22:33 ◼ ► It's like, "No, there's not. You just flip a number around and then it's done. It doesn't take time or effort."
00:22:42 ◼ ► So yeah, impatience is a tricky one for me to feel okay with when you start using it too much in an app,
00:22:53 ◼ ► Yeah, if you are creating artificial delays just for the purpose of people paying you money, that feels a little bit weird.
00:23:23 ◼ ► Whereas inserting artificial delays so that kids beg their parents to let them pay you more money, I don't know. That just feels wrong.
00:23:31 ◼ ► Yeah, and there's a lot of this that can go that way. But anyway, we can move on to our next one.
00:23:40 ◼ ► So I think the last place we wanted to touch on is the--and this gets a bit more social, I think--
00:23:46 ◼ ► is a combination of the fear of missing out, or what the hipsters call FOMO, and competition.
00:24:01 ◼ ► I went to Wikipedia when I was preparing for this, and I thought they had a really interesting definition of the fear of missing out.
00:24:07 ◼ ► It's a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which we are absent.
00:24:15 ◼ ► It is such a true thing, and this is a lot of, I think, people say why things like Twitter and Facebook are so compelling and interesting for you,
00:24:40 ◼ ► And so even if you weren't there and you didn't have that same meal, you still got to experience a little bit of it.
00:24:46 ◼ ► And it can create that feeling of--it helps you deal with the apprehension that someone else could be having an experience that you're not having.
00:25:07 ◼ ► that people can go and feel like they're experiencing other people's lives and not missing out as a result.
00:25:17 ◼ ► And on the flip side, or similarly related to it, you have the competition side of things,
00:25:33 ◼ ► Which is, in some ways, you're directly tapping into someone's fear of missing out by saying,
00:25:43 ◼ ► Or, "The Fitbit, I think, has a lot of this. And watchOS 3 has this in the activity sharing."
00:25:56 ◼ ► because it feels more personal, and it almost taps into elementary school peer pressure kind of stuff.
00:26:05 ◼ ► And also, it helps you and your app latch onto and likely profit from people's existing competitive relationships in their lives.
00:26:20 ◼ ► or are having a friendly competition with the activity they have in a day or whatever else,
00:26:30 ◼ ► Yeah. Because so much of this ultimately is coming down to trying to find ways that are beyond just the fundamental functionality of your app,
00:27:03 ◼ ► And if you have an advertising-supported app, you want to have people keep opening your app.
00:27:15 ◼ ► And in sharing or these competitive kinds of things, you can get into really funny places too when you start to think about it.
00:27:22 ◼ ► When someone shares their steps with someone else, and say you have a system in your app where you send them a push notification.
00:27:31 ◼ ► There's nothing I've actually gotten into, but I've been trying to think through those kinds of things.
00:27:35 ◼ ► You can get into really funny questions of, "Should you show the information in the app?"
00:27:41 ◼ ► You should just say that, you know, "So and so, Marco sent you a step challenge," or something.
00:27:51 ◼ ► It's sort of like you'll see this, I think, on... I'm not actually on Facebook, but I've seen these on other people's phones and screenshots,
00:27:57 ◼ ► where you have, like, "So and so updated their status." And you don't tell anybody why, like what actually they did.
00:28:03 ◼ ► Well, the worst one is, like, this person, you know, commented on your photo, but they won't tell you what the comment is.
00:28:08 ◼ ► Sure. And the reason is because it improves retention and going to something if you have to go to the app to find out.
00:28:16 ◼ ► And so you can take advantage of the fact that people are competitive, and we don't want to miss out on other people's experiences.
00:28:22 ◼ ► And you can tap into that in an app that, by making it social, you can make it compelling.
00:28:28 ◼ ► It's a little weird in some ways, but overall, like a lot of this, people are doing this more on their own.
00:28:35 ◼ ► And maybe you can be aware of it and see it as an opportunity for helping your app to spread.
00:28:39 ◼ ► Like, I love when my apps are growing because of social sharing, that people are saying, you know, "I got your app, I loved it, I recommended it to three friends."
00:28:49 ◼ ► Like, that's awesome, that's like the really positive version of this. But, you know, maybe as with all these things,
00:28:53 ◼ ► there's definitely this balance of you can use it in a good way or you can use it in a not so good way.
00:28:59 ◼ ► And maybe at the very least, if you're aware of it, you'll be able to better take care of yourself as a result.
00:29:09 ◼ ► Please use these tricks responsibly and use them to make people's lives better, not worse.
00:29:14 ◼ ► Make the world a better place. Don't subtract from it. Thanks, everyone, and we'll see you next week.