Game of Cults: Create a Game Path that Boosts Reader Engagement

We left off at the last step, which is to build a game path. In this article, I’ll pull together the pieces to give an example of a single game path.

Game paths are building blocks to create the greater game. A game path could be as simple as a single email or as complex as you can imagine.

Remember that each path gets a player to move forward in the game toward an end state.

For more complex activities that require more commitment and complexity, break them down and use the process to level up a player into the behavior or action you seek.

Step nine: build the game path

Let’s start with a simple game path. I’ll then discuss how to improve it over time once you begin to get feedback.

If we were to start building a path, the steps to complete the course are:

(6) Trigger desired action

(4) Motivation

(5) Desired action

(7-8) Feedback incentive, reward

(2) Endgame win-state

This game path is an email that is designed to deepen the relationship. It could be part of your indoctrination sequence or a separate broadcast you do annually.

The trigger is the email where you ask the reader about their favorite three shows or movies. You ask them just to hit reply and tell you their list. Of course, you could capture this in a Google form, but we have designed this to meet an end goal of higher email engagement.

The motivation is giving attention, intimacy, and establishing belonging.

Next is the desired action. You seek to have them reply to your email—a simple reply with the list.

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There are stages to go through for feedback and reward based on where you are in your career. If you’re starting, I recommend replying to every email. The purpose is to make them feel you are giving them attention so they will reciprocate. When making the big bucks, have an assistant reply and collect responses.

This is where you can become more sophisticated over time as answers accumulate. If you see a common trend in one or two movies, use quotes, memes, and references to those shows to build affinity. You can also make a reader group “top ten” list that you send out to reward those who reply.

You could mention people in your newsletter or group who suggest movies you watch and think are cool. Give them status and recognition.

Just like Amazon, you should use data to improve results. This becomes a feedback loop that will concentrate on your best customers with shared traits. Use game paths to do the same and help the community see they have more in common than they think.

The endgame is higher engagement. Getting more people to reply is the single best signal to you that your emails are getting through and the best way to teach email clients that your emails are valuable to the recipient.

It makes sense to place this path in the discovery or indoctrination phase before or after the barrier to entry.

As a Gamemaster, design the game to make selling superfluous. Construct game paths connecting the desired action to an endgame or another game path if they level up a reader.

There is a different tone in “Hey, buy the next book!” versus “It looks like you are only three books from completing the series and getting membership into the small town series completion group where elite members get added perks and a different story that no one else gets. Just click the link at the end of the next book to qualify.”

You can list more sales as a win-state, but the endgame should result in players having an experience that changes their sentiment and delivers your brand near the center of their self-map.

Always put yourself in the player’s shoes to see and feel what you’re asking them to do.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is.

I get it. You didn’t sign up to build a brand cult and act as its leader. You’re an author. You want to hang out in the story kitchen and cook up tales to tell.

Or maybe this recipe isn’t detailed enough. You want every single game path written for you so you can copy them.

But you will have to get your hands dirty with this marketing stuff.

This isn’t only a how. It’s a why and who issue.

When was the last time someone visited your home?

When guests visit, what do you do to prepare ahead of time?

What do you do to be a good host?

How you entertain depends on who the guest is that is visiting. Not all guests are the same. How you and I entertain is different. So you will have to think about the various experiences you want to deliver and build them, one by one.

It’s been a long time since we’ve talked about Yellow Kid Weil or Amarillo Slim, and we can’t leave without touching on how, as masters in the craft of manipulation, they took the time to do the work.

If you crossed their paths, there were so many webs woven that you were apt to get caught in one of them. Both con artists were always laying the groundwork for the next mark.

Amarillo was cut from the same cloth as the Kid, but he wasn’t out to slaughter sheep. He was the apex predator looking to eat others who thought they were the wolves.

The Kid was going to prey on anyone with a bit of greed and the feeling they were owed a deal too good to be true.

In their prime, both were architects of an endless city of tricks. They just sat back and let the sucker walk down the most alluring alley, then sprung the trap.

Think about the work involved to make this chicanery profitable. The Yellow Kid tells a story of one of his scams where he would go into a bar and ask someone at the bar to go down to the pawnshop with a diamond pin to get a loan.

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He would do this several times, repaying the loan every time. The idea is that the bartender, having cash on hand, would understand the value of the stickpin and Weil’s trustworthiness in paying it back.

Then, on a day when the pawnshops were closed, he would look to get money for the pin.

Eventually, a bartender would get greedy and see this as a chance to get some interest on a loan to Weil, but instead, he would skip out because the pin was a fake this time.

You’ll need to build an elaborate system that brings people together and earns their trust enough for them to read, buy, and repeatedly purchase.

Imagine this not as a massive marketing undertaking but as crafting a story experience around your brand that happens to help you sell more books.

One more thing…

This week, take your most and least successful audience retention methods and break them down into game paths.​​​​​​​

Identify the pieces—or the lack of pieces—to bring a critical eye to your existing business.

Read: The Artificial Culture Markets and the Big Con