Game of Cults: A Step-By-Step Guide to Designing Alluring Game Paths


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Let me take a few moments to touch on the items inside the phases before I dive into the steps to build your Game of Cults recipe.

I’m sure we will discover more inflection points as we collectively explore this model. I want to talk about the ones I’ve identified so far.

Barrier to entry/exit

The idea is simple.

If you could get everyone in the world to read your free book and then decide yes or no on buying future books, you would become a billionaire.

Most people would say no.

If only 3.4% of English readers said yes and bought just one book for $3.99, you would earn a billion dollars.

The obstacle is getting them to read and decide.

The act of getting them to read has the potential of turning the barrier of entry into a barrier to exit.

So you face a three-phase decision-making tree where the first is getting your product visible.

If it’s visible, is it appealing?

The appeal decision is emotional and quick and only gets you to that second decision-making stage if the book meets their definition of quality. Only then might it get a read.

Only after your book is fully experienced does it have value to the reader. They understand that you will deliver enough reward to offset investing the time it takes to read your book over another author’s, watch Netflix, or scroll social media.

This game path will determine how fast your community will build. New ways to get visibility will come and go. The part in your control is a methodology to convert the reader.

I’m seeing much better results when a prospect is first brought to a platform in your control—bringing a reader to a sales page that you can track and target.​​​​​​​

If you remember a few articles back when I shared the secret, there was a landing page that I sent you to visit.

Here is a heat map of that page. If you click it, you’ll see the actual map and statistics.

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What does this have to do with the barrier to entry?

If we are in the process of earning attention, then we need ways to understand if we are winning it.

In every marketing and sales methodology, there needs to be time to warm up interesting leads before selling. This is best done on your website and newsletter, where you have total control and visibility.

Remember, you sell an experienced product, so make the platform about pulling readers into your story experience.

Once you know you’ve got readers, no matter how small that list is, you can send them to where they can buy future books.

Crossing the chasm

The next inflection point is shifting from early adopters to early majority readers. You need early adopters to attract the early majority.

From the research I’ve shared, we know that these people act differently and have different motivations. By creating different game paths that cater to early adopters versus early and late majority, you’ll be able to identify and communicate differently with each group.

At the start of your career, your messaging should attract these early adopters. There are two types that I’ve seen in books: the low-purchase free readers and the voracious exploratory readers.

Those free readers won’t buy a book, so what do you need them for? They will help you form the initial community and get feedback. Remember, this is a long game; we are working over time and space to collect the right customers.

Building the bridge

Research shows that to support behavior change, the community must have strong ties to influence and support peers. We seek complex contagion spread. Design game paths that address this need to create stronger links between multiple peers.

Like Edward Bernays, you can think of grassroots movements and look to build smaller clusters around specific traits, like reader moms, hometowns, and hobbies, then connect those groups.

The community will require deliberate game paths that build community and let people self-select the type of participation they seek.

All of this is to deepen the emotional connection and push your brand deeper into the center of each individual’s self-map.

A note here about community: we are all the center of our own universes. When coming to a group, we think all the focus is on us, good and bad. If we are self-conscious, we worry that everyone is looking at us, and when we do decide to dive in, we want it to be all about us. Design your game paths with this consideration in mind.

Activating the community

What makes for a great launch?

Shared social enthusiasm. Not gimmicky or “going viral,” but real people excited about a new prospect coming to market.

A community-focused celebration of your story world growing is far different from sales promotion and hard calls to action.

Applying gamification methods, like epic meaning and glowing choices, incentivizes participation to guide a player through the initial steps.

The issue that you may have is the how of all the theories we’ve discussed. That’s what this sheet and those nine steps provide.

This is the big kahuna of inflection points. We are doing all this work to set up systems that create a positive feedback loop to feed a growing audience that buys when we launch. This group comprises individuals who come in on their own and, for the most part, will be remote from the group. But we don’t want them to feel that way. We want them to be personally interested in what happens next with your characters and story world. We want them to be waiting for the next experience you deliver.

Now, let’s get into the steps that will help us design good game paths.

Step one: define brand promise

There needs to be an overall theme. This is your brand promise.

If you can’t articulate your brand promise, then how can others?

Get clear on what you deliver in your books so that your game has the same sentiment and is on-brand.

The sentiment of your marketing will be the first touch. The better you demonstrate your brand ethos in your marketing, the more likely they will be curious to see if you deliver it in your book.

Small wins lead to bigger wins for you and your reader.

But where are we guiding them to?

Step two: define business goals to set game objective(s)

Systems thinking tells us everything must support the primary goals of the business.

While profit is a clear indicator of success, profit can take time, as can sales, so why not look at what causes sales?

The point of this step is to give you guidance as to where readers need to go. If the goal is selling more books, then there are some logical steps that should have game paths associated with them:

  • Buying their first book
  • Completing a series of books
  • Reading all of your books published to date

As a customer of your brand, what happens if I do the above?

Here are some guides you can regularly measure that correlate to success, sales, and profit. It helps if you get a baseline and then track averages. I’m a big fan of the trailing three- and twelve-month average to show short- and long-term trending.

  • Increased site visits
  • Increased book sales
  • Size of your list – Is it growing?
  • Percentage of a list that participates – Identify good participation and track it. Is it page visits from email surveys? Do you have clicks?
  • Net Promoter Score – Use a survey like Net Promoter to quantify your audience’s willingness to talk about your products
  • Reader depth – How far are readers going into your series?
  • How much of your audience has read all of your work?
  • If you sell directly to your readers, you will have clear data on your exact number of customers

Identify a few endgame objectives and think through how this can become a win-state for a player. In the next step, we will define player types and think through a win-state for each player.

Step three: define user types (players)

As I stated earlier, the audience isn’t homogenous. Various user types will have different needs and wants and, therefore, different outcomes to be satisfied. A great game brings all different types of people into the cult, and they prize the cult identity above any other conflicting identity traits they value.

Maybe you’re looking to build a Kickstarter strategy where you launch books first. In that case, you would create a sub-group of your community that funds Kickstarters. This differs from a group of readers that get your book in KU. Identify and cater to separate audiences.

Identify your ideal customer and begin serving them. If, after coming up with several potential avatars, you are not sure who they are, look for the 4%—the 20% of the 20%—as they will deliver 64% of your benefit.

Another part of understanding the player is the type of person they are. Are they competitors or collaborators? Are they achievers or creators? Knowing the type of person will influence the motivations you select next.

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Step four: select motivation

Aligning a human given and a related gaming tactic becomes the method for motivating people.

Remember the work of BJ Fogg?

Getting a habit to take hold involves combining motivation, ability, and trigger. Motivation is a huge variable and mostly out of our control. What we look to do is to get motivations associated with the human givens and aligned with the player type.

I have started populating this table with methods that align with human givens. Let’s take meaning and purpose as an example. We all seek meaning in what we and others do, and we want our lives to have a purpose.

Early in the process, we want to make that call and get prospects to see the brand and game as having a deeper purpose and the player achieving a more meaningful life through the act of playing. The overall narrative and how it ties to your story world is a great way to share meaning.

Each area has some suggestions for methods to deliver that humans are given. Some could hit more than one area. For example, while a quest list can provide a player with choice and autonomy for the action, the fact that some quests are group quests gives a way to pull them into belonging.

Loners who are high achievers may cave into the pressure to complete the list of activities and join a group to complete a group quest.

Step five: define desired actions

I’ll go back to some simple examples of rewarding desired behavior. Many authors assume that they will win over a reader with generosity. Their sequence delivers free book after free book, then goes to a hard sell with a quick dump-off to a newsletter.

Let’s say you wish to give away two or three free novellas.

The only way I should get novella two is if I complete reading novella one.


Remember the glowing path. With minimal effort on your part, reward the desired behavior of reading the emails and, more importantly, reading the novella. Then the reader gets the desired reward—and you get the reader actions you’re looking for.

Be sure you understand how these activities link to behaviors you seek to build, not just create busywork for readers. The game must be real and have appropriate rewards.

Define the desired actions by phase as well. Have different desired activities for a cold prospect than for an organic reader.

Step six: define the trigger

Trigger design isn’t just about what triggers the act but the timing and purpose.

As you build your game, you’ll see that some steps must happen first to give the player the prerequisite knowledge or skill to keep playing.

Take a loyalty program, for example. If I implemented one, I could say, “Sign up, and you get points when you buy direct.”

Some will sign up.

But what if I work through a series of emails and quick wins with early rewards for key steps like the first purchase or a repeat purchase?

You may think you have to have a direct site to do this.

Going direct does make this process easier, but selling on other platforms doesn’t preclude you from rewarding loyalty. It just becomes more complicated.

Ideas like collections and keeping the streak alive can be methods to influence behavior. What improvements to backlist consumption would be achieved if you rewarded readers who completed a series and offered further rewards for completing all of your work?

Step seven: define feedback mechanisms

Players need immediate feedback that they are completing the desired actions.

By using monitoring tools to track page visits or email opens, you can trigger an automation to adjust the status and send rewards.

Remember, your customers like to read, and much of what you can use as incentives is stuff for them to read.

Step eight: define incentives and rewards

How do you reward your readers?

Leverage people’s interest in status. It could be as simple as a different email header reminding VIPs that they have that status and thus access to swag and unique benefits.

I’ll provide an example from my site.

I offer free membership with a ton of content on building an email marketing system based on Advantage. To access it, I have several pages of content to read. I guess you could scroll and click a few times and finally get to the sign-up, but I’m relying on people to either read and get more curious, or disagree with the premise, get bored, and leave.

It helps filter out those who won’t find the material helpful.

It’s complex and requires thinking, thus reducing the number of sign-ups I get.

I don’t want a big list; I want the right list.

Once you sign up there, you get a series of emails and access to the membership area.

There is a lot of content, and I believe it is better than most courses you would pay for from email gurus.

Why is it free?

Because it’s a reward and a place to build trust and credibility, those who apply the methods and become successful will reach out to me when they are ready to go to the next level.

Note that while I have the email addresses of participants in the program, I don’t automatically put them on my newsletter or use that list unless I think it’s appropriate to send them something.

I would use that list as a seed for a look-a-like audience if I were planning on advertising to get more participants, but I wouldn’t send that list and offer to buy a book on Amazon because they haven’t shown that intent.

If you notice, I always ask for another opt-in. Why? Because while the list is smaller, the intent is higher.

The next step is asking, “Would you be interested in my paid newsletter?”

Those who say yes by clicking would receive another sequence to help them decide if the newsletter was right for them.

Only then would I ask to offer them the paid subscription.

If I were planning on a launch on Amazon (an amplifier), I would ensure I used a list of the highest potential buyers, not the most traffic.

But I digress…

The point of this section is to have clear incentives and rewards that aren’t tied to buying things. We look to reward behavior like a reading streak with a new series. Again, the reward can always be more content.

I’m going to save step nine for the following article. This is where the puzzle pieces need to come together to make sense for the reader to follow.

Read: Create a Game Path that Boosts Reader Engagement