A friend of mine pestered me to join a new site about a month ago. I had heard of it. From what I had heard, it was a new dating site with the worst name: iminlikewithyou (iilwy). As in “I’m not in love with you but maybe I’m in like with you.” The name alone had been a turn-off and I was also confused on why my friend was on it since she was already spoken for. I myself was also not really looking at the time but was convinced to sign up anyways.
As it turns out, iilwy is a fascinating site in terms of its experience design. There’s a lot of interesting aspects of the site I could discuss but I’ll focus on three:
- creating a barrier such that it takes effort to have social contact
- the emergent behaviour of an open system
- using a points system on a social site
It Takes Effort
The premise of iilwy is that dating sites are full of crap to wade through – especially if you’re a hot girl. I don’t have any personal experience of sites like Match.com but my understanding is that for a monthly fee, you earn the “right” to message x number of people a month. So as month’s end approaches, guys will feel that to get their money’s worth, they should contact as many people as they can.
The end result is that popular people on Match end up with the equivalent of spam or as founder Dan Albritton says, like every guy at a bar hitting on a girl without shame.
Iilwy is based on “games” each person creates. Players use the in game point system to “bid” on games. The top 5 bidders at the end of the game are eligible to be picked as the winner by the game owner and the winner and game owner are subsequently contacts who can contact each other through the site messaging system.
This filter puts the power back in the hands of each individual, no matter how popular. They can pick and choose who they actually want to be able to have contact them effectively creating effort to have somebody in your contact list. Not surprisingly, that jives extremely well with Dan’s “hittng on a girl at a bar” analogy.
As my coworker Sarah Cooper at Yahoo! mentioned recently, social network “friends bins” are terrible analogies of the real world. You don’t make a friend by clicking a single button. It takes effort, communication and most of all interaction to get to know someone.
Iilwy’s game system is actually a great system for meeting and filtering new people well beyond just the dating realm. In this case, a barrier that makes doing something harder is desired and very deliberate in its design.
Emergent Game Behaviour
The move away from just being another dating site is actually fairly pronounced on iilwy. The subtitle of the site is: “find. flirt. bid.” Dan Albritton says that they don’t encourage the games people create to focus on resulting in a date but that’s not reflected in the site. When you start a new game, there are a number of suggested games such as:
“I want to learn the merengue”
“Let’s go see some standup”
“Looking for a running partner”
All of these suggest the winner of the game will be picked for some sort of activity. Luckily, iilwy abides by a common design principle of late: leave it open, see how the users use it. Twitter is a great example of this. Twitter has but one box with a prompt, “what are you doing?” Many people new to Twitter take this literally and only update to answer that question – which can get dull pretty quickly.
But because there was no defined syntax, nor rules, Twitter became a soapbox for just about anything. People could express their opinions, tell people where the party is, ask for help or even use it to announce engagements.
In much the same manner, iilwy has evolved and the definition of “game” on the site has become more and more broad. The games are much more creative now, ranging from basic “what’s your favourite movie?” to intricate “haiku challenge” games to even more demanding “video dares“. Some, instead of offering a promise of a date, offer something in return such as a drawing or a greeting card.
As an experiment, I created a game that crossed the boundary between points and actual US currency.
There are a lot of inherent dangers of setting up any community with a points or scoring system that’s explicit but also a lot of inherent benefits. Obviously, one can incent their users to participate in certain activities by dangling points on a stick and equally, users can be dissuaded from other activities when the cost is prohibitive.
I’ve been playing MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft since ’98, including numerous betas. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of parallels in the design of a persistent world’s economy and in game point systems like iilwy.
One problem that many of them face is the crossover into real world wealth. Games attempt to design such that the economy is self contained and is not affected by how much “real” money a player has. In WoW, this has become a rampant issue as many sites (mostly operating in China) are offering “farming” services where you pay them to make you in game gold.
Currency, even in a game, requires time and effort. Time is worth money. So my experimental game was to see what kind of exchange rate I could set for the points in iilwy. Instead of paying for the points directly, however, I put the money towards charity. The result? One of the highest scoring games I’d seen on the system at 2060.
Another issue commonly faced by these games is the issue of inflation. In the real world, economics is defined as the science of unlimited wants and limited resources to fulfill those wants. Games inherently have unlimited resources, however and so artificial “money sinks” are necessary to compensate. In WoW, new “features” were introduced specifically to deal with such issues – armour and weapons went through decay and would have to be repaired and higher level spells required reagants to cast. Each of these sinks forced players to spend money in such a way that they were essentially removed from the world – no player reaped the benefits of the money spent.
This issue is one I think iilwy is going to find themselves facing. There are very few money sinks within the site at the moment: inviting a player to create a game costs 200 point, selecting a winner only yields 90% of the points bid, and adding someone to your watch list costs 10 points. But logging into the system daily yields 50 points each time and even with the cut, bidding on other players is still transferring 90% of your bids to another player, keeping the wealth inside the game.
Already, there’s evidence of inflation. Initially, inviting a user to create a game cost 10 points but this amount was too little and presumably, people were still getting spammed with invitations. As time progresses, the overall pool of points within the site will continue to increase. Unless iilwy sets up new ways to spend points that take the points out of the economy entirely, they’ll find themselves with an inflation problem and will need to increase the price of inviting users to create games over and over – making it prohibitive for new players to even consider doing so.
Overall, iilwy is incredibly well designed in its interaction. It’s not rich in features but chooses to do each little thing in a very distinct and deliberate manner. I shouldn’t be surprised that one of the better designed point systems was implemented in what’s essentially a dating site but I am. Hopefully, other sites that decide to incorporate game mechanics are taking notes.