Applying Game Mechanics to Blog Design to Drive Engagement

On average, our standard of living is higher now than it was for our parents.

The basic needs for survival, shelter and safety have been met and the thing that we are all searching for now is more fun, engagement, more connectedness with other human beings, and more Game Mechanics. Except, we’re not consciously aware of the last one.

Those of us who are in Content Provider business, are competing for one resource that is finite, and that is people’s attention.

The Flipped Funnel

It used to be that people would become a customer FIRST, and only then would the seller allow the customer to engage in a game. Think Marlboro miles for instance.

If you wanted to collect Marlboro miles you had to become a customer first (buy a pack of Marlboros). Same thing with Airline miles.

But the sales funnel has flipped.

Now, we are all competing for attention of the customer, and the way to get the customers to buy from us, is to keep that customer glued to our content.

If the reader is glued to your blog, if that bounce rate is low, if the page views are high, then, and only then, will you have the opportunity to sell to that would-be-customer.

Except selling to that customer is not the main point of the game.

3 Types of Engaged

You want your readers to stay on your blog for 3 reasons other than an immediate and direct sale.

  1. Longer they stay, more likely they are to share your content with their friends, thereby bringing other readers to your blog which can then do the same thing. A virtuous circle indeed.
  2. Longer they stay more likely they are to comment, sign up for your newsletter, click on ads, click on affiliate links, etc.
  3. Longer they stay more likely you are to burrow your ideas and images into the reader’s head, ergo, more likely they are to return.

Big blogs like Huff Post and the ilk understand this, so they keep readers engaged by pumping out new content that’s easy to share and breaking new stories which drives the return traffic.

Personality bloggers and one-man operations are seldom able to compete UNLESS we step up our game. And the only shining beacon of possibility is if solid Game Mechanics are employed on our blogs.

Porn-Dirty Sans Porn

We’ve followed the Internet Marketer example for way too long. Lemme ask you a question.

Ever been on a website that had nothing to do with porn and yet you felt dirty?

If yes, then you’ve experienced the unethical, sleazy, and salesy methodology of gaining a customer. And Internet Marketers have bean leading the charge in experimentation, aggressiveness, brute-force sales, and –lets not mince words here- unethical behavior.

Bloggers who are successful have learned from this but have basically toned down IM techniques to preserve their souls at the cost of diminishing effectiveness.

I say we can keep our souls and increase effectiveness through solid Game Mechanics.

Game Mechanics isn’t Only for Games

In Sweden, they experimented with Game Mechanics on a large scale and in real life.

Instead of punishing drivers for speeding, cameras would capture drivers who were driving 5 miles below the speed limit. These drivers would then be entered in a lottery and the reward money came from drivers who were speeding. This had a significant effect (over 70%) on the reduction of accidents on Swedish highways.

So, if Game Mechanics can be applied to Swedish highways, Marlboro customers and frequent flyers, why not your blog?

To learn more, follow Gabe Zichermann on Twitter. He will DM you a link to few really great videos on Game Dynamics. Also, check out his book.

…Ability to Engage? Priceless.

What does everyone want?

Everyone wants SAPS. Status, Access, Power and Stuff. And in that order.

The great news for your blog is that Status, Access, and Power cost absolutely nothing and yet THEY are the strongest drivers of engagement.

Stuff, on the other hand, (mugs, T-Shirts, hats, whatever) costs money and yet it is the weakest driver of engagement. Why?  People know how much “Stuff” costs. People know that a T-Shirt costs about $15.00 bucks. And a hat costs about $10.00 bucks. They can put a value on it.

However, no one is able to correctly apply value to Status, Access, and Power.

  • If you are the Chief of a tribe on Triberr, that is a status designation. But how valuable is that?
  • If I give you access to a secret post before its published to everyone else, how valuable is that?
  • If I allow you to become a moderator on my forum, how valuable is that?

It’s impossible to put a dollar value on these things, and as a rule, people usually over shoot in their estimates.

Bad Design is Pervasive

From the perspective of Game Mechanics, blogs are –by and large- terribly designed. So how do you design your blog so it drives engagement?

I will NOT talk about giving stuff away. This is simplistic and common. Moreover, I will save the discussion of Power-giving to drive engagement for some other time.

At this moment, I want to discuss two most powerful drivers of engagement, and those are Status and Access.

Leader Scoreboard

If you look to your left, you will see my Leader Scoreboard.

It shows 21 people ranked from highest to lowest as measured in terms of commenting frequency on DIYB.

This is not terribly original. Many blogs have Top Commenters widget on the side. But Top Commenters doesn’t do anything to impart the sense of Status on anyone. However, calling it Leader Scoreboard, does.

If you call it “Leader Scoreboard”, the reader is immediately transplanted to his or her childhood when they would walk by a video game at the local Arcade and glanced at the top players. This would usually be followed by either a comment under one’s breath “those lucky bastards”, or inserting of the coin at an attempt to beat the top score.

In our case, we’re going for the second reaction.

However, Leader Scoreboard, as it’s applied her on DIYB is far from perfect.

The lowest “score” is 19 Comments at the time of this writing. Which –for some- may be a real deterrent, an insurmountable number to reach. Which creates a barrier to entry for new arrivals.

A perfect Leader Scoreboard widget, would show 4 of your friends (pulled from Facebook, Twitter, or comment systems database) and show you the 2 above you and 2 below you.

This way, you would see that you’re doing better than some of your friends (bragging rights) and you would see what you need to do to beat the friend who is right above you (competitiveness trigger).

A perfect Leader Scoreboard widget would also allow you to tweet or share on Facebook when you reach a new level on the Leader Scoreboard.

As far as I know, such a widget doesn’t exist. Could someone please create one?

Responsiveness is Access Trigger

There are blogs who get 10 times more traffic than this one. And yet, DIYB does 10 times better in terms of comment numbers. And folks, lets not fool ourselves, comments are in important sign of blog’s stickiness.

Comments are a “shorthand” new visitors use to determine if the blog is worth sticking around for, or not.

One way in which bloggers can make their blog more engaging is to give commentators a timely reply.

What is a timely reply? An immediate one, ideally.

This gives the sense to the visitor that they have Access to you (which they do), which is incredibly empowering to the reader.

This level of accessibility is something smaller bloggers have that large blogs (and bloggers) cant replicate. This is an advantage small bloggers have that –I feel- they are not using as much as they could.

I live what I preach

How many of you have watched a comment come in only to think “I should wait to reply so I don’t come of desperate”. Can you see how wrong that kind of thinking is?

Another Example of Access

On my dog blog, I would give my Facebook fans exclusive access to an unpublished post, 24 hrs before it became available to everyone else.

This always resulted in a few comments and lots of traffic.

I use Posterous platform for my dog blog, which allows me to do this. On WordPress, I don’t believe that’s an option. Too bad, that would be another cool plug in. Will someone get on that please?

The Only Way to Beat WoW Is To Quit WoW

Dan Cristo used to play World of Warcraft…A LOT. He shared a saying they have in the world of…World of Warcraft.

The only way to beat World of Warcraft is to quit.

Did you know that the second largest Wikipedia-like depository of information is WOW-Wikipedia?

I’m saying this to impart upon you the significance of applying Game Mechanics to your online efforts. And no one does Game Mechanics better than WoW.

Whether they are in the form of an online game, blog, Social Media strategy, motivating your employees, or something entirely different, solid Game Mechanics will be the difference between success and utter failure.

The problem is, we’re not accustomed to doing this. Not on our blog, not in our Social Media efforts, and not in real life.

But, if we start thinking in terms of Game Mechanics, and we start applying it to our blogging efforts, Social Media campaigns, and even life, (remember the Swedish highway?) we will improve our chances of stickiness and success by a significant margin.

  • How much do you know about Game Mechanics?
  • Have you used any on your blog or life?
  • What questions do you have after reading this primer on Game Mechanics?

Dino Dogan

Global Force for Badassery | Founder of Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Writer for Technorati | Speaker | Lousy Martial Artist | Pretty good singer/songwriter | Hi 🙂

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  • Black Seo Guy

    Your engaging approach depends on a number of things you think people will
    like. If a gaming model fits your audience base, then do it to the best of your
    ability. I’m just so familiar with it though..
    “Black Seo Guy “Signing

    • Dino Dogan

      Hey Antonio,

      So, one of the surprising things I’ve learned whilst researching game mechanics is that it can be applied to everything, no matter the audience.

      Airline miles use game mechanics. Marlboro miles use game mechanics,  @empireave:twitter ‘s only appeal is the fact that they use game mechanics. Some companies even offer email apps that are based on game mechanics. See

      So, they seam to work in all settings, its simple a matter of correctly applying them. My goal is to find the right set of game mechanics as they apply to blogging and share those with you guys.

      Btw…when is the interview coming out, cant wait to see what you did with all the answers 🙂

      • Black Seo Guy

        It will be posted this week..I will email you?

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  • Robert Dempsey

    Hey Dino – I must admit that seeing myself at the top of your leader board makes me feel awesome. It also helps to solidly place myself as one of your top underlings. Let all quake before us! Haha. Ok, now for realz.

    I know practically nothing about game mechanics past the fact that they kept me playing WOW for more than a year. I recently deleted it from my laptop, clearing up close to 40 GB of stuff. My laptop thanks me, and I’m reading a lot more now too.

    For the answer to #2 see #1 – I am thus far ignorant of these.

    My question? Any good book recommendations on this? My Kindle queue is about to be drained.

    • Dino Dogan

      Absolutely. You should start with Game Based Marketing by Gabe Zicherman, and alos, keep an eye out for his Gamification by Design, coming out soon.

      As I delve deeper into this topic myself, I will both write about it and recommend additional reading.

      P.S. Im on the West Coast these days, so my legendary fast replies are no longer as legendary. Will be back in NJ in a few weeks, so the replies will be as legendary as ever 🙂

      • Robert Dempsey

        Cool thanks for the recommendation Dino. And enjoy Cali you lucky dog.

  • Stanford @ PushingSocial

    Dino thanks for the excellent post.

    What plug-in or php-ninja skills did you use to create your comment leaderboard?  It’s pretty nifty and a great way to reward your engaged readers.

    I’ve been spending more time studying and looking for ways to apply game mechanics so this post was very timely.

    BTW: I need to play around with Triberr more 😉

    • Stan Faryna

      What ideas are you cooking?

    • Dino Dogan

      Hi Stan,

      The Leader Scoreboard is a Top Commenters code taken and modified from the DisqUs system.

      I’ve removed the credit link (manually) and the default phrase “Top Commenters” which is normally part of the widget’s code.

      So, ts little bit of HTML wrangling but totally doable.

      What books or resources have you been using to dig into game mechanics?

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  • The JackB

    Damn, I have fallen down a few notches on the leaderboard. Consequently I must rectify that immediately by placing 28 new comments.

    On a serious note, I think that the quick reply to comments is important. It really does help drive a conversation and keep people around.

    • Dino Dogan

      Its true. Timing is one of the most important factors in dog training. And I often say that people are very much like dogs (I love dogs so this is a compliment to people :-))

      The right reward at the right time is very important in driving the behavior towards a desired outcome.

      This may sound slightly manipulative, but I think the intention is what makes the difference, And if blogger’s intention is to engage and share information, then “manipulation” is not so bad IMHO.

      • Stan Faryna

        My chow chow thinks timing is for the birds. Mister Hachi’s approach is… Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?! Better be a KFC drumstick in your hand – if you are talking to me!

  • Stan Faryna

    I don’t know if I like the game approach. But I like the approach. I’ve actually been thinking about how to socialize the blog format as I plan my next blog platform. Good to know that great minds think alike!

    • Dino Dogan

      I will reiterate what I mentioned in Antonio’s comment.

      So, one of the surprising things I’ve learned whilst researching game
      mechanics is that it can be applied to everything, no matter the

      Airline miles use game mechanics. Marlboro miles use game mechanics,  Empire Avenue’s only appeal is the fact that they use game mechanics. Some companies
      even offer email apps that are based on game mechanics. See

      they seam to work in all settings, its simple a matter of correctly
      applying them. My goal is to find the right set of game mechanics as
      they apply to blogging and share those with you guys.

      ARE YOU WITH ME!?!? 🙂

      • Stan Faryna

        Hell yeah, Dino. I’m all about uber. [grin]

        • Stan Faryna

          Two more comments and I’ll get the second spot. [laughing]

          • Dino Dogan

            haha…game mechanics at work my friend 🙂

          • Stan Faryna

            I’d like a title like Warlord, no. of kills listed, and no. of slaves. And, yeah, I’ll take that side order of big ass fries. (ref. to idiocracy) [grin]

          • Dino Dogan

            Idiocracy was a surprisingly poignant movie. Loved it.

  • Riley Harrison

    That was really good and food for thought. Also Dan’s metrics for measuring twitter effectiveness is brilliant. I hope you guys promote the hell out of that aspect of Triberr.

    • Dino Dogan

      Thnx Riley.

      The Naked Stats is something @dancristo:twitter has worked on since before the inception of Triberr. When he showed them to me I flipped. It is truly awesome and unique.

      As for promoting that aspect of Triberr, well…like all features, its there and our goal is to blow our users minds every time we add a new feature. I just love that people are “getting” it and understand the implications of something like the Naked Stats. Very cool 🙂

  • Amy Harrison

    Such a meaty post Dino. This is the first time i’ve heard of game mechanics, but it makes sense. As you mention,  “stuff” as an incentive rates pretty low. We want to feel like we know our blogger, that we’re getting a personal service and a reward for being areader either through content like this, or through ways that reward us for being engaged with the blog. Love it.

    • Dino Dogan

      Thnx Amy,

      I’ve been thinking about how game mechanics applies to copywriting…will have more on that soon 🙂

  • Gabriella – the stepford wife

    This is the first time that I have heard about game mechanics and the entire post seemed so interesting. It – basically you can apply the core concept to most things in life? I would have never thought you could.

    • Dino Dogan

      That was one of the most surprising things to me as well. I will share more as I delve deeper into it 🙂

  • Yomar

    If there’s ever a moment when I really felt the desire to pelvic thrust and consumate my mancrush for you, it is NOW.
    This is a concept I’ve always felt like writing about but I felt I should keep as a secret weapon.  It’s so painfully obvious that this is no mere trend.  Some folks are just noticing a bit too late that people love to be at the center of your experience.  Your thoughts remind me a lot of Seth Godin’s concept of “Free Prize Inside”, except you took it further and really BROUGHT IT!
    I love these ideas so much that I have been planning some new web sites with built-in game mechanics just like you suggest.  In fact, a few items on me ever-growing “nag list” involve hacking existing scripts and plug-ins to make enable functionality like you refer to.  Mind you, I got sucked into IT for a while like so many others but I am a computer programmer and game developer by trade soooo, needless to say, I am getting all geeked-up over here!
    Let’s talk about your leaderboard idea and why there are many lessons to be learned there:
    Taking the “Top Commenters” plugin and positioning it as a “Leaderboard” shows what a savvy marketer you are.  It’s not about hype or spin but, merely, speaking in terms people can get excited about.  It’s all about leading in with your best selling points and benefits!
    You NAILED IT when you discussed how leaderboards are mostly broken.  Top-selling video games get it wrong, too.  What fun is it to be buried in a list of people that, quite possibly, just have more free time than you or have made a lifestyle out of the thing that is just a hobby to you?  Your competitive nature just may not be enough to try to invest all that man hours to rise to the top.  That means your incentive is kicked in the proverbial balls most of the time.  We fall short like this in the business world all the time.
    But, wait, there’s more!
    Leaderboards are more well-received when they can be filtered and “pivoted”.  Let me see weekly leaderboards or see how I rank against friends or like-minded individuals.  Let me see averages versus total scores.  Can we gauge quality over quantity?  Absolutely!
    I have pithched ideas like this to video game companies and more traditional businesses all the time.  Most do not get it.  Some get it and see huge success with it.  It would seem so painfully obvious that Status, Access, and Power are things that cost us nothing but a little investment of time, yet drive SO much value to our audience and customers.  Perhaps we’re worrying about information overload?  Maybe we’re just waiting for the trend to spread so rampantly that we have no choice but to jump on-board?
    Whatever the case may be, there are so many ways we can organically build content, engage our audience, and set up our businesses to be almost completely self-sufficient.  This will allow us to focus on the stuff that you simply can’t automate.  Make your business, or at least part of it, into a game and make it remarkable.  The beauty here is that, even if everyone jumps on-board with this, no two games will be alike and I don’t merely mean having a slight edge, either! ;o)

  • Yomar

    Hmmm… For some reason, Disqus posted my comment twice soooo..


    BTW, I agree that the only way to beat WoW is to quit it. If you look at MMORPGs and other time killers out there, they suck up people’s time because they are so easy to get into, socially/user-driven, and they keep people engaged, even if the achievements and rewards can be a bit repetitive at times. The same goes for Facebook games which we all know are made from the same mold practically. There are tons of lessons to be learned there as well…

    The question I ask you all: what makes these games worth wasting away our life on? I mean, I love games of all sorts but some people are ADDICTED (I’ve seen WoW kill many marriages, for example). What is it that garners that level of interest and immersion?

    Consider those rhetorical questions, though I would like to see some of your perspectives out there. 8)

    (Did I mention? Best. Article. EVER!)

    • Dino Dogan

      Thnx Yomar,

      There are two things that I left out of the article that I think will answer (at least partially) your questions…

      First. The theme is the lure, the game mechanics keep the players playing.

      In other words, when you go to Vegas to play slot machines, you might play Oprah themed slot machine over Kiss themed slot machine because you like Oprah better, but once you start playing, its not the Oprah that keeps you there, its the game mechanics.

      Second. One common trend in recent gaming is to connect games with real life. Wii fit is a game that gets you fit in real life. So games are spilling over to real life. Everything is more real. Check out this DICE talk for some great points on gaming

      Hope that gets the brain juices flowing 🙂

      • Yomar

        Oh, believe me, the juices are flowing!  You’re on the money again, bud: game mechanics make the difference between high replay value or “rental”, in my opinion.  Another thing that helps with the spilling into real life, which is at the heart of social and casual gaming alike, is rewarding things that we’re already doing..  Some achievement, badge, and trophy systems (all the same thing, really) reward silly stuff while the more smart systems focus on things that get the gamers to do more of what they already enjoy doing.

        Certainly, we can go on a while with this topic but you’re right: the idea is only the start.  You have to execute the idea well.  This applies to pretty much everything!

  • Julie Nutter

    Oh God. I’m still laughing at “The only way to beat WoW is to quit” comment. Golden words, and so true… Lost many a friend to that game.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know ANYTHING about Game Mechanics, and you’re the first to mention it, so I’m off to do a little research (hopefully there is free information out there? I will be looking on the interwebs after all) to see what I can find, and if I can use it/how useful it will be.

    You know, you’re just one of those bloggers… You say something, and I’m off finding more information about something that may have nothing to do with me or what I do….just because it sounds so interesting. I always learn new things from catching up on your blogs. =]

    • Dino Dogan

      Julie, my Julie 🙂

      You know more about Game Mechanics than you might think.

      Dog training is all about timing, rewards, creativity, clear communication, status (pack order if you will), access (to life rewards, toys, treats, etc) and you know all that.

      Game Mechanics applies those same triggers to things we dont expect. Like Swedish highway system.

      After all, I always say -and I hope dogs forgive me for this comparison- that humans are just dogs 🙂

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  • Matmi

    Great detailed post. Lots of interesting points.Getting readers to comment is a huge task and you have broken down the many ways it can be done. Thanks for such an informative post.

    I agree that WordPress should get onto integrating the Posterous platform pre-24 hr Facebook feature. Be very handy.

  • Ryan Critchett

    Really interesting post Dino. I’m familiar with what you’re talking about, but haven’t given it much thought. We’ll have to talk about this 😉 

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  • Amber-Lee

    Ya know, Dino- when this one came out, I didn’t even completely skim it, “Game Mechanics, you are not talking to me…”  Hmm, see? I’m learning all the time! Wow (no pun intended), I never realized it. You are right, I use it as a Momma, I use it with the guys in the Fall, because, really (?), who wouldn’t rather be a hero? I have to think more about it. It became clearer as I read your responses. Thanks for the direction.

  • IActionable

     I actually feel that a blog, while seeming like a great candidate – is actually fairly difficult to “gamify” easily. The problem is that there are not a lot of actions a user can take. Generally there are two – you can read a post and you can comment on a post (or maybe even comment on a comment). That’s it. It’s very hard to build a meaningful and compelling system around 2 activities, especially when there is little extra data related to either of them. People might see a slight boost but it will most likely drop off as soon as the novelty wears off. That’s really the problem – designing a system around a blog that’s more than just a novelty. We actually built a plugin for Wrodpress that you could just drop in and instantly add gamification to your blog, but it just didn’t feel right. We decided not to release it because it just seemed incapable of providing the level of engagement we expect from gamification (and I’ll say it did far more than some of the plugins for WordPress that have come out since). I think gamification of a blog could work – on the right blog. If you have a strong community then I think it could amplify the connectedness and shared experience people have. However, it is not something that will turn middling blog into a success. Definitely some interesting thoughts and I’d love to find an interesting way to gamify a blog, but it’s definitely a challenge.

    • Dino Dogan

      Here is one way in which one can gamify a blog. Immediate feedback (or near immediate…14 minutes is not bad 🙂

    • Dino Dogan

      You are right of curse…it is VERY hard to gamify a blog. The add-ons I’ve seen suck at it.

      While I disagree about about the limited number of actions (users can Like a post on Facebook or tweet a post, sign up for newsletter, there are prob few more things to do…) I do agree that blog doesnt land its self smoothly to gamification.

      At the same time, I think that those who try and do a better job than the next guy will benefit from it, especially if its all things being equal.

      Also, I agree that gamification will not make up for sucky content, however, once the content-quality reaches at least mediocre level, all bets are off and gamification can take over.

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  • Kim Davies

    Hi, Dino.

    It seems that I have neglected your blog for far too long and I did not even realize it. I’m so sorry. 🙁

    Now, I don’t know much about gaming, but if there is one thing that I full understand and wholeheartedly agree in your post is the matter of timely comments. I don’t have much commenters on blog site yet but what comments I do have, I reply to if not in the same day but on the next day it was posted. I have always believed that if I do this, I will encourage my online friends to think that I am always there for them. 

    I still have so many things to learn, Dino. I am just so glad though that I have a great number of friends online, like you, who I can learn from. I hope you don’t mind that I consider you one of my friends. 😀

    • Dino Dogan

      I’ve reset your password to lorirocks

      give it another whirl 🙂

      Dino Dogan

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    • Dino Dogan

      So I discovered that you can reply to these comments by sending an email to DisqUs 🙂

      Thats kinda neat 🙂

      • Kim Davies


  • Constantin Gabor

    I remember Stan Faryna said he’s gonna do something better than WoW so my guess is he can teach some game mechanics as well. 

    Not sure how to implement this into a search traffic blog… I have to think of something that may be interwoven with the gear giveaways that the outdoor brands do on my blog.

    Thanks for this, Dino!

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  • Nail Yener


    It’s a really interesting point and as a gamer myself, I liked your idea. I am sure I can apply some of your tips on my blog as well.


    • Dino Dogan

      WordPress is an amazing publishing platform but it wasnt built with game mechanics in mind. That WILL be its downfall. Plugins may help, but even those are not really built with gaming in mind. Know any good dev guys? lol

  • numerology1991

    Interesting Post. You bring up some interesting points with this write up. I’ve been wondering about this sort of thing for a while so it was nice to discover this.

  • DesignAndPromote

    a game of commenting is pretty cool and would make it much more rewarding endeavor.