Game of Cults email 29 of 45: Before the game starts

In the following email, I will shift to part three, where we will do a deep dive into gamification and how to design your game.

Back in email eight, “This Changes Everything,” I talked about the game versus the playground. That email resulted in a lot of replies and thank-yous.

I thought the ideas were powerful, and you validated their merit.

So let’s take it to the next level. Let’s design your game as a cult-building game where players play themselves into fanaticism. The game will be set up to filter for ideal players and then create a scaffolding system that onboards, indoctrinates, and gets them to an end game experience they find satisfying.

This Game of Cults is a method of getting people to adopt new behaviors, change old ones, and encourage the spread of a complex contagion—a cumulative advantage engine.

This goes back to Centola’s ideas. His latest book, Change, further investigates the ideas between influence, virality, and complex behavior change.

Centola shares an example of getting Malawi farmers to adopt a new method of planting.

The most successful method for adoption was to focus on getting a few respected farmers to adopt the practice. In most cases, this was just two in each village. They could support each other in adopting this new behavior, while others were skeptical and waited to see the results.

Here’s the part that gets overlooked in these studies. While the results were 400% better than other methods, it took time. Other methods looked more promising but eventually fizzled.

The adoption took years. First off, there was the fact that the practice was tied to the farming cycle, and therefore needed a season to prove to the community that it was better than other farming methods. Consequently, it wasn’t until season three that adoption took off.

On the other hand, around this same time, the other virality-based practices began to lose momentum. Sudden exponential growth resulted from a slow compounding of adopters in the peer method.

I know you are excited to dive into the game building. We couldn’t start there because we needed to explore the building blocks of the individual and the group.

The path to market influence begins with the individual and then the formation of your group.

Two messaging systems are essential. You need to have an individual connection to get the reader to associate their identity with the brand. Then we need to create a shared group ethos and sentiment that we can use to collect and coordinate these individuals into a force big enough to influence the market.

Finally, the market amplifies what we send it. Doing this well and repeatedly will send sales platforms a coherent signal that results in above-average conversion. Machine learning and latent marketing will amplify those results.

So, let’s review what we’ve learned about cults, propaganda, and groupthink and contrast that with the objective of connecting with the individual.

  • Messaging to the individual and group has nothing to do with copywriting or selling a product.
  • The strongest message you send is the reading experience that solidifies the emotional connection and the value of the experience by the individual.
  • Your pre-book-purchasing messaging is all about winning the viewer’s trust and attention, so that they will want to take the risk of reading one of your books. Remember, this has very little to do with the book’s price. The highest cost is time. Unless you can overcome that risk, you’ll never have someone pick up your book, even if it’s free.
  • After reading your book, the focus on continued reading and building of connection between your story world and the reader’s identity is vital. Offer an ongoing experience where, along the way, you attach the reader’s identity to your characters and world. If they feel part of it, they will attach value beyond what you charge.
  • Offer readers places where they can go to hang out with other fans, folk like them. This won’t be for everyone, but exclusively for those that are attached to the brand.
  • Just like with politics, the majority of us are in the middle and not too interested. What makes the news and noise are the most dedicated of the base. We use them to influence others.
  • You need to be deliberate in building out what is your group sentiment. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Understand that ideal reader you seek and stay laser-focused on sending that signal. This contradicts everything you hear about traffic. Over time, we want to build the purest signal, and that means sacrificing quantity for quality.

The game you build needs all these parts. This is the systems thinking used to automate audience building.

  • Get individuals to read your book
  • Get readers to invest more time and attach value to your characters and story world, becoming fans
  • Get fans to see themselves as a group
  • Get that group to have a common sentiment
  • Use that sentiment to engage and activate the group when a new product is available
  • Collect new entrants who find your brand
  • Indoctrinate them into the system
  • Retain your audience

If the game is designed to do this automatically at the pace of your reader, then the system will scale on its own.

Thank you for your attention,


One More Thing…

It may be worth the time to review the last twenty-eight emails. We’ve covered a lot of material, and as we move into the third phase, you should be thinking about how you project a brand to the individual and group.

Can you, in one sentence, describe your connection with the individual?


Can you capture your sentiment in a verb-noun phrase?

Email 30 of 45