Thursday, August 06, 2015

Hidden Annotations as Easter Eggs

In the research for my book, I was looking into examples of Easter Eggs as a design element.  For the non-gamers, Easter Eggs are surprises designed to keep users engaged and paying attention.  One of the more famous examples is in Super Mario Bros where players jump at a random location and hit a square that reveals a previously invisible prize.  Of course, if you play enough you learn where the Easter Eggs are hidden – but as you reach each advanced level you renew your motivation to find new ones.  So there are rewards for the novice on level 1 as well as rewards for advanced users.  There is all kinds of psychology behind Easter Eggs, including how looking up their locations online as a shortcut coverts the motivation from valuable and engaging intrinsic motivation to game-grinding extrinsic motivation.  The gamer thinks this will increase his/her enjoyment, but it really decreases it.

My book is about gamification - using game elements such as Easter Eggs in real life contexts to engage and motivate users.  One example of this is hidden annotations in YouTube videos.  The standard kind of annotation are links that appear inside a video that take you to another YouTube video, replacing the one that is playing.  This is different from the standard recommendations for related videos on the side or bottom of the video player.  These are embedded by the video author as a form of video navigation.  They can be used to create a kind of “make your own adventure” path through a series of videos.

Hidden annotations apply the concept of Easter Eggs to embedded annotations.  The user clicks at a random spot in a video to active an invisible annotation and navigation to a new video.  Just like in Super Mario Bros, experienced users can learn first that they even exist, second where they are hidden, and then third to search for new links in new videos.

In gamification, Easter Eggs have a different goal than just making a game more fun. Searching for Easter Eggs requires paying attention. Many of you have probably lost interest in a video as it was playing. Maybe it is a how-to video explaining how to retile your bathroom.  Not nearly as exciting as the latest episode of House of Cards, so your mind soon wanders.  The possibility of finding an Easter Egg, in the form of a hidden annotation, can keep your attention on the video. You can use the same technique in a workplace training video.  

Real life benefits by using game elements in non-game contexts.