On May 14, 2012, PhD candidate in Computer Science at UCSC, database developer and gamification expert, Chris Lewis came onto Gamers on Game to talk about his studies in the Software Introspection Group and his thesis on “Retention Engineering”.

“Retention Engineering” the software designs that motivate users to return to software again and again. This is a concept invented by Chris and his PhD adviser, Jim Whitehead. Chris researches what it is about certain pieces of software that cause you to return to them over and over, using video games as the prototypical example. Why is it so easy to put off work — which pays you real, tangible money — to head off to a virtual world and spend hours making fake money, instead? Why can we not avoid checking our email incessantly, or popping on to Facebook “just for five minutes”, instead of writing that essay due tomorrow? Why do we keep playing Farmville, even though it doesn’t seem all that fun?

Chris’ research delves into the psychology literature of motivation theory, to try and find the answers to these questions, and help software designers to make more engaging software. In the process, he’s learning about when “gamification” works and when it doesn’t, and what it means to create software where getting a task done is less important than ensuring that the user comes back tomorrow.

Previously, Chris has interned at Google, and worked as a database developer in New Zealand.

If you missed any part of our Gamers on Game broadcast, please click the gray ‘play’ button below: [haiku url=”http://miljkovic.org/old_public_html/nada/gog51412.mp3″ title=”Chris Lewis” graphical=”true”]


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  • […] Chris‘s thesis, Motivational Design, presents his understanding into a framework and library of twenty-seven {motivational design patterns}, under the categories of gameful, social, interface and information. Theories and experimental results from motivational psychology, behavioral psychology and behavioral economics are used to explain the power of different design patterns and suggest optimal implementations. Additionally, a set of eight dark patterns are presented. These patterns promise short-term gains, but at the expense of long-term motivational harm, and strategies to avoid their use are proposed. […]

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