Everyone Loves Easter Eggs

January 3rd, 2013 Leave a Comment

Over the years, I’ve put a fair amount of thought into the ways that game mechanics can improve software usability. I’m not alone, since now there’s, a name for this process, gamification.

The biggest problem designers face when attempting to create engagement through game mechanics is “doing it right,” and since each system is different, as are its users, even when you do it right for some, others hate it.

I’m a huge fan of Easter Eggs, and I’ve come to think this is the best way to sprinkle game mechanics into existing software.

Why?

First off, unexpected discovery creates surprise, e.g. Loren Brichter’s pull to refresh, which debuted in his awesome Twitter client, Tweetie. You could use Tweetie without ever noticing this feature, but I’m guessing very few did because once it was discovered, people wanted to share it. It didn’t hurt that Tweetie was a great app, but pull to refresh became its hallmark feature.

This is the second reason I like Easter Eggs, people will share them because discovery feels like an accomplishment, something you want to brag about discovering and show your friends.

Some gestures are like this. The iPhone has always been a pick-up-and-use device, by design, so many gesture features aren’t obvious. Find a gesture-based action accidentally? Share it. For example, swipe to delete individual message in iOS Mail has existed for many releases, but you don’t need it to use the app.

The designer in me dislikes features with no affordances, but the player in me likes to discover new ways to do things.

Another great example is shake to report feedback in Google Maps. Facebook is said to have used this in their internal, employee-only builds of Facebook for Android.

I love this because it taps the human emotion of frustration. Phone isn’t working right? Shake that sucker and teach it a lesson. I wonder how many people found that accidentally.

Most recently, enabling the developer options in Android 4.2 is a nice Easter Egg. To be fair, I didn’t find this on my own; I had to search for it. I’m not alone. The post I did on this has been the leading traffic driver recently, which tells me that a lot of people got Nexus devices for the holidays.

Google does a nice job by adding a message, counting the taps and then declaring that you are now an Android developer, as if it were that easy.

These are just a few examples, but I’d include stuff like custom 404 pages and Konami code extras as well.

As with any game mechanic, you run a risk if you inject discovery into the wrong process, but adding Easter Eggs is a relatively low cost, high gain method. Of course, once you do, you can layer on more traditional mechanics like questing.

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