Case Study: Google’s Motivational Trick or Treat

Join us for a spooky evening of trick or treating!Google is famous for its Doodles, the time-relevant interactive features it posts on its search page for holidays and historic events and anniversaries. They’ve used Doodles to commemorate events as diverse as Sally Ride’s 64th birthday, American Independence Day on July 4, and the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express. Last week, naturally, the Doodle celebrated Halloween with the Global Candy Cup, a simple video game that was not only cute and timely, but motivationally sound.

Very spooky!
Very spooky!

The Global Candy Cup is a great example of how a technological tool can be straightforward and unpretentious, yet harness motivational principles. It supports all three of the fundamental human needs as described by self-determination theory.

Autonomy

The game starts by giving players a choice: You can join any one of four global teams, represented by a different color witch with a unique bio.

Choose your team, and recruit your friends!
Choose your team, and recruit your friends!

Naturally, I chose the green witch. Not only is my blog theme color green, but she’s a bookworm like me:

Go Team Green!
Go Team Green!

Kicking off the experience with a choice is a great way to give users a feeling of control.

Relatedness

The sense of relatedness kicks in simultaneously with the choice of teams I just described. Did you notice how you can easily recruit friends to join your team of choice? That’s a way to weave a social element into the game experience.

The game designers also foster a sense of relatedness between users and themselves by identifying the development teams who affiliated with each colored witch:

Members of the Google Development team are playing alongside you.
Members of the Google Development team are playing alongside you.

You’re also able to get a sense of where other players hail from globally:

People all around the world are participating in the Global Candy Cup.
People all around the world are participating in the Global Candy Cup.

Even if you’re sitting alone in a basement playing the Global Candy Cup, the design ensures you have a sense that you’re not truly playing it alone.

Competence

One of the best ways to support a sense of competence is through feedback, and the Global Candy Cup offers it in abundance. Consistent with best practices, Google gives feedback at multiple levels. The most proximal feedback shows when you have been successful at collecting pieces of candy for your team:

Watch the candy tally climb (in the upper right corner).
Watch the candy tally climb (in the upper right corner).

You are also immediately made aware of the penalties caused by bumping into a baddie (bats and ghosts):

Ouch!
Ouch!

At the conclusion of the round, you receive overall feedback on your performance. First, your cumulative candy count:

Taking screenshots while playing really hurts a girl's candy count.
Taking screenshots while playing really hurts a girl’s candy count.

You are also able to see how your team performed against the other three teams:

Team Green is only low because we are too busy educating and entertaining ourselves to worry about this silly candy collection thing.
Team Green is only low because we are too busy educating and entertaining ourselves to worry about this silly candy collection thing.

The team feedback also helps support a sense of relatedness, demonstrating how the same design features might support multiple user needs.

As Google demonstrates, your product doesn’t have to have tons of unnecessary bells and whistles to engage your users and support their fundamental needs. Thoughtful design can yield a simple yet motivating experience.

Now, I’m off to improve my candy collection total and help Team Green win this thing!