Friday, December 11, 2009

Reader, Writer, User Points: Engagement Engines

This comes as a response to an ongoing discussion at regarding user points and reward systems for online fiction readers. Essentially, the motivation for a user points system is to increase engagement by giving readers something to achieve. The downside is that in order to implement a points system, as a writer you need to produce more, or deny some of your readership access to writing in which they would normally participate. This is problematic.

The system I am trying to sketch out here works within a larger framework that I am proposing, which I am calling an engagement engine. It works like this:

A writer begins with a blank slate, on which she can add descriptions of people, places and things. These are big categories that structure the engagement engine. As a writer, you are able to write as much as you want, but you cannot publish a new person, place or thing until the system allows you to do so - shortly after you start writing, you receive a gift (much like a gift in a social networking environment), which upon opening reveals itself to be, for instance, a place. You use this gift to breathe life into one of the locations you have already privately given a description, and this location is now available for use in your story. After you describe your location more deeply, you receive another gift, and this in turn allows you to breathe life into one of the characters you have described. Now you have a place and you have a person. You can start to really tell your story.

In an engagement engine, multiple writers are supported. This is not essential to the points and rewards system, but I honestly think this is an important component in creating a community, by creating healthy competition and collaboration. As opposed to a content management system, an content engagement system, applies many of the concepts of game-play and social networks, and these work best if they operate within and encourage a wider community.

What really drives the engagement system is the act of creating content, so as you add more content to the system, you receive more gifts, which allows you to breathe life into more people, places and things. This may seem artificial, but I am hazarding a guess that it actually plays well to a strength of many writers that I have known: they are more creative when faced with restrictions and challenges. And there is no limit on the amount of detail, narrative and dialog you can write, or the number of people, places and things you can describe - it's just that you can't actually publicly use these people, places or things until the system has allowed you to breathe life into them. Which means you will want to use your best ideas, and that is what you do anyway.

So this is where the points system comes into play. As your story is published in serial and people read it, you collect extra points from them toward the gifts you use to breathe life into your creations. So you might say "I need 50 more readers before I can add this really cool story arc," and your existing reader base have an incentive to pass the word along, because they benefit from the gifts you receive.

The more readers read a writer, the more that writer can write. This defines story arcs, and encourages reader and writer engagement in an organic fashion. This is by no means a complete description of what I am describing when I say engagement engine, but it is a start. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions.


Clare K. R. Miller said...

It sounds interesting, but I don't understand how it would work in practice. When you say "breathe life into," is that the same as "publish"? (It sounds like it must be because you say you can write without "breathing life into.") How can people and places be restricted separately? Why is it better for multiple writers?

piers said...


In practice, an author within the system could privately write descriptions for a large number of characters and settings.

With an appropriate gift, the writer could publish one of her descriptions, creating an identity within the system, which basically amounts to being able to tag content with the new identity.

Because tagged content feeds the system by helping earn new identity gifts, this is important.

Regarding multiple writers, that's a very good question. Bridge and Poker are more popular games than Solitaire, I suppose, and there is an element of game-play involved in what I am trying to describe.

In practice, I am trying to take a plan for a more complicated platform, and scale it down to something I can prototype, and that is proving to be hard.

Thank you so much for your comment!