Game Theory for Designers: Effectively Incentivizing User Behavior within Digital Experiences

10 hours over 3 segments

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    Who’s teaching and what they’ll cover

    Game Theory for Designers: Effectively Incentivizing User Behavior within Digital Experiences

    with Daniel J. Rosenberg
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    Game theory can be distilled into a powerful practice that allows interaction designers to direct user behavior toward an intended goal. This is important for designers, because it leads to a pivotal question: how can designers build systems that users will trust? Success or failure in building and maintaining this trust determines whether the user’s relationship with the experience you provide will be empathetic or hostile.

    User experiences are never neutral! They always guide user behavior in a direction influenced by the system owner’s goals. Effectively guiding human behavior with software requires convincing the user to trust technology. Success or failure in building and maintaining this trust determines whether the user’s relationship with the experience you provide will be empathetic or hostile. When the user experience is required to manipulate, direct or steer user behavior, applying game theory within the interaction design is one of the most powerful techniques available.

    Who should attend

    This course is intended for designers and developers of all levels of experience. Others who might benefit: Product managers, data scientists and development managers.

    What you’ll learn

    Today, software technology has elevated interactive behavioral guidance to a science with far greater reach and accuracy than its pre-digital predecessors. From targeted advertising to personal fitness tracking, AI combined with Big Data has enabled the possibility of invasive user manipulation in every software domain. Incentivizing a patient to maintain a complex medication regime is undoubtedly a beneficial behavioral manipulation. At other times, perhaps the majority, the major benefit accrues to the system owner often at the expense of the consumer’s capital and privacy.

    The science behind behavioral manipulation is not new. Before computers existed, governments incentivized citizen behavior through tax policy to encourage home ownership, population growth and market investment.

    Similarly, customer loyalty programs dating back to the 1960’s incentivized consumer spending toward a particular brand. Another classic organizational manipulation is the reward of achievement badges to motivate competition and instill social status norms. The Boy Scouts of America have been motivating children this way since 1910.
    What do these historical examples of proactively incentivizing human behavior have in common? They all utilize game theory to guide, manipulate and motivate their targeted audience.

    All interaction designs actively guide the user in two ways:

    • Implicitly through task prioritization and flow sequence
    • Explicitly by offering or withholding real and virtual rewards

    This workshop will first introduce the full range of game theory concepts applicable for interaction design. Then with each additional session explain how these principles and practices are used inside the 3 major applied flavors of Gamification, Captology (persuasive design) and Gameful Design. Each flavor uses a subset of the full theory portfolio with differing user and commercial objectives.


    Applied IxD Game Theory overview (90 min)

    • Course schedule introduction
    • Instruction introduction
    • Class member quick introduction to establish background and professional training
    • Core gaming theory lecture
    • Ethics discussion
    • Review and Q&A
    • Short break 

    Session 1b: Gamification part 1 (110 minutes)

    • Gamification definition and overview
    • Motivation and mechanics selection
    • Game the game theory in class exercise – to identify motivators and mechanics in action in in real apps and evaluate if they are working well
    • Review students game analysis results
    • Q&A for day 1

    Session 2a: Gamification part 2 (70 min)

    • Review days schedule
    • Behavioral modeling and tracking requirements
    • Business applications and variations of Gamification
    • The difference between the gamification UX design cycle and the full theory – applicable subset
    • Q&A for second half of gamification topic
    • Short break 

    Session 2b: Captology (130 min)

    • The origins, definition and application of Persuasive Design
    • Motivation and different mechanics than gamification
    • In class exercise – Game to evaluate different uses of Captology in eCommerce, health and enterprise apps
    • The difference between the Captology UX design cycle and the full theory – applicable subset
    • Review and Q&A

    Session 3: Gameful Design (180 min)

      • Review days schedule
      • The conceptual differences between gameful design and gamification
      • How motivators and mechanic are different from the other game flavors
      • In class gameful design creation exercise
      • Short break
      • Present and review your game in class with the instructor
      • The difference between the gameful design UX cycle and the full theory – applicable subset
      • Q&A on Gameful design topic
      • Q&A on the entire workshop and how these flavors can be integrated into one IxD
      • Wrap-up and farewell

    About the instructor

    Daniel Rosenberg is a well-known UX designer, author and educator, whose design career has spanned over 4 decades. He is currently a professor at San Jose State in the Human Factors Engineering program where he specializes in teaching IxD. In 2019 Dan received the ACM SigCHI Lifetime Practice award for his numerous educational, technical and leadership contributions to the HCI field. He is credited with inventing many of the common design patterns used in GUI’s today. In 1990 he published Human Factors in Product Design, the first textbook to bring Human Factors Engineering to the consumer market. He is also the author of UX Magic, which extends the practice of conceptual models into the visualization, flow, game theory and graphic design dimensions of IxD practice. In addition, for over 18 years Dan was the global UX “design executive” at two of the world’s largest software companies, Oracle and SAP so he has a great deal of experience applying different design techniques in the real world. More info can be found at


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  • Schedule

    Wednesday, January 26: 8-11:30am PT
    Thursday, January 27: 8-11:30am PT
    Friday, January 28: 8-11am PT

    Check your time zone here.


    $845 early bird, sales end December 14, 2021
    $895 regular, sales end January 11, 2022
    $995 last minute after January 11, 2022

    10% off for groups of more than 3

    If you work in government, education, or for a not-for-profit organization, all individual ticket prices are discounted by 25%. Enter code DISCOUNT25 during registration. Register using a .gov, .org, or .edu email address.


    Virtual: We’ve designed this workshop specifically for remote attendees; learn more from our FAQ.

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