Evolving the engagement loop

A basic building block for your consumer mobile app is the engagement loop. This is that signal-work-reward loop that the user is going to churn through again and again and again. In Clash of Clans, for example, one of the engagement loops is something like this:

  1. Tap to start upgrade of a building
  2. Wait
  3. Building is ready, now you can use its new capacities

But what’s super important about this loop is that it evolves as the user passes through it in successive turns. Specifically, the user will have to do more work at each successive pass, though the size of the reward isn’t necessarily getting any bigger.

In Clash of Clans, your first upgrade for a given building will take 10 seconds. The next time it’ll take 30 seconds. Then 1 minute. Then 2 minutes. The next time it’ll take 15 minutes. Then 1 hour. Then 8 hours. Then 1 day. Then 2 days. Then 4 days. Until eventually, the player is willing to wait — and keep track of the status — 7 or more days for his building to finish upgrading.

This is what a habit looks like: the behavior is insensitive to short-term changes in the strength of contingency between the behavior and the outcome. That is, you can make the reward come less reliably from the work, and if it’s habitual, the behavior will continue.

One of the reasons you evolve your engagement loop is that you want to be creating pull which will extend into the player’s out-of-app time. Another reason is that you want to lighten the amount of content you have to create and stuff into your app. By getting 6 days of retention out of an asset rather than 1 day, you’ve just gotten a lot more bang for your development buck.

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