Sales & Marketing

Facebook, Google, World of Warcraft: Learning from the greats on how to make your site addictive

9 min read

13 April 2015

What does the game World of Warcraft (WoW) and social platform Facebook have in common, apart from being online? They can be completely addictive.

If you search for “World of Warcraft addiction” then you’ll be met with harrowing stories of gamers likening the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) to “crack cocaine” after a five week binge, and mothers weeping over the fact they had lost their children.

WoW, with its 11m subscribers, is apparently so addictive that there are websites devoted to helping people quit the game. There is also a “detox centre” in China. In fact, parents have previously sued Blizzard, the makers of the game, for the death of a teenager.

A report from Sweden’s Youth Care Foundation describes it as “the most dangerous game on the market’”, with author Sven Rollenhagen suggesting there was not a single case of game addiction they worked on which did not involve WoW.

One of the key reasons why WoW is so addictive is because it all starts before you even play the game. This phenomena is called social proof. Basically, it shows people that they aren’t the first to view the site, or in this case play the game. Most people join WoW because a friend started talking about it or a blogger ranted about it. In much the same sense, most users wouldn’t log into Facebook if they didn’t have friends and family already on there.

It’s the concept of appearing to be popular, and it’s all about making people curious. You need to play on their natural instinct of not wanting to miss out on something.

A way to incite curiosity is to show all the most recent comments, maybe even have a Twitter feed on the side bar.

In terms of blogs and social media, if someone’s started a particularly interesting topic or left a great comment, let them know – mention their name or dedicate a piece of content to them. This has the dual effect of showing that you get comments as well as increasing loyalty by being personal and in touch with your readership.

Psychology and habit also plays a crucial role in creating an addictive site.

In his latest book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”, Nir Eyal claimed that you needed to keep users coming back and browsing your webpage without conscious thought. Essentially, your site needs to become part of a user’s daily routine.

Companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter are masters at evoking Pavlovian reactions.

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“Let’s talk about Google,” Eyal said. “Google is one of these products that I think is incredibly habit-forming, and it’s the kind of product that shows this characteristic of something that we use with little or no conscious thought. You don’t even consider whether there’s a better search engine out there for people who are habituated to Google, and the evidence is in head-to-head comparisons. When you strip out the branding, people can’t tell the difference between Bing and Google. 

“It’s a 50/50 split. And yet Google dominates the market with something around 87 per cent of the market share. So these habits become a huge competitive advantage, and one of those advantages is that they keep competition out.”

He also mentioned Facebook. In a world filled with seven billion people, 864m check Facebook everyday.

“What Facebook wants is for users to create an association with it every time you’re bored or every time you have a few minutes,” explained Eyal. “We know that, psychologically speaking, boredom is painful. Whenever you’re feeling bored, whenever you have a few extra minutes, this is a salve for that itch. The internal trigger is boredom, and the external trigger are these notifications — every time someone posts something you get a little jewel icon on your phone that says check Facebook.”

Eventually users depend less on such triggers and start checking them out of habit. The most important part, he suggested, is the fact that most of these triggers happen because people liked or added a friend of their own will.

“I’m loading the next trigger because when I send someone a message on Facebook, or I like something, or I comment on something, guess what Facebook gets to do?” Eyal added. “They get to send me an external trigger, bringing me back, saying so and so replied to something that you were involved with. And you did it! You prompted that message; it’s not Facebook spamming you. You posted a photo and someone liked it, come see it.

“Loading the next trigger is when they send you this external notification that you prompted and now you’re passing through the hook once again, continuing through the same basic cycle. Forever and ever.”

Read on to find out what Eyal’s “hook” theory is and how WoW times certain content…

In his research he found a pattern, which he aptly called “the hook”. Eyal argued that products and sites that form habits create associations with an internal trigger – a situation, routine, or an emotion. To sate this emotion, the user will perform certain tasks with little or no conscious thought. Such behaviour can also be instilled through their anticipation of a reward; something like brushing the play button on YouTube or scrolling on Pinterest.

That’s precisely what makes WoW so addictive as well. Each time you level up you gain access to new powers and weapons. You also get the bragging rights associated with being a high level player instead of a “newbie”.

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Blizzard, the maker os WoW, constantly tweak the game. It expands the maps, releases new updates with access to different bosses and even how many levels are available to characters in the game. 

In much the same sense, you need to use innovative means to lure users back for more. One of the most common ways to bait consumers is by having regular competitions. The prize could be won by something as simple as leaving a certain amount of comments or mentioning your blog on Twitter. This is also one way of including your site into your users daily routine.

Or why not try the art of mystery. Start building up to something, even if its a few hints that you may be getting a new domain soon. Each time add more information over a span of a few months to leave them guessing and coming back to find out whether they were right. Everyone loves to solve a mystery.

Essentially, have a long-term reason for people to keep checking back on your site.
Plan your content and reveal it carefully

Another compelling factor about WoW is that you can only access certain areas of the map on different days. There are also dungeons which allow one person per time to step through, leaving others waiting at the opening for their turn.

The more they interact with your site, the more should be available to them.