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Im in a tricky situation.

We are creating a page with a live video stream that in order for the user to view it they need to sign up for an account. I created a page where there is a clear action to sign up, using a button with an overlay. I can't share with you the actual designs but here is an abstracted version of it:

First step: The user is prompted to sign up or log in, the thumbnail of the video has an overlay The user is promted to sign up or log in, the thumbnail of the video has an overlay

Second step: The user having either registered or signed in can now play the video: The user having either registered or signed in can now play the video

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However the stakeholders for this project wants the process to start with a play button, like this:

First Step: The user clicks the play button in order to view the video

The user clicks the play button in order to view the video

Second Step: The user then needs to complete a login or registration process in order to view the video

The user then needs to complete a login or registration process in order to view the video

One of the main arguments for this is that the button is smaller and less obstructive to the thumbnail beneath it, which makes for a more visually engaging page. And i get that.

However, it strikes me that this might be a dark pattern, clicking a play button should just start the video, not prompt a registration process. However i have noticed other very established sites use this pattern. Here is an example from the BBC iPlayer:

enter image description here

enter image description here

This BBC example is being used to push through this change but i feel that this might be a dark pattern.

So should I speak up? is this a dark pattern? If so how serious is it?

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  • How likely is it that users will be signed in when they want to view the video? – Nash Jun 25 '20 at 14:46
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    This looks like a nice AB-test case to see which design has the highest conversion rate. Is that somehting you can do? – jazZRo Jun 25 '20 at 15:36
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    It lures people into something they don't expect. Even when they are alright with registering, it's not what they wanted to do or even think about when they clicked "Play". It's a misleading design that only benefits the owner. Yes, I would consider that a dark pattern. – jazZRo Jun 25 '20 at 16:28
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    This is a little bit like the "hidden costs" dark pattern. You get almost to the end of a process and then it tells you "sorry you have to pay more than we said" (in this case, with your personal data) – user253751 Jun 26 '20 at 13:57
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    Having a play button ask you to sign up is reminiscent of virus-ridden internet days before adblockers were common. It simply leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I would opt to just present the user with "You must be logged in to view this video" right away so that they can consciously engage in that behavior instead of being tricked into it. You might also opt to provide the option to view a 5 second preview just to better entice them. Offer incentive not apprehension. – MonkeyZeus Jun 30 '20 at 17:39
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Placing the login modal after the user clicks Play is going to be very irritating to your users for a few reasons:

  • It interrupts the flow of what they're intending to do (nobody likes this)
  • It breaks the pattern that they're used to seeing on other video sites, where the user is informed that authentication is necessary before they engage with the video
  • If they don't have an account, they have to go through the nightmare of creating one, and what does that look like? Will they have to validate an email address? Will they be returned to this particular video at the end of the process, or somewhere else?

If your stakeholders are really pushing for this, see if A/B testing is an option. Run the authentication modal before the play button can be clicked (A) and after (B) and see which version results in more sign-ups and engagement with the video.

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  • Thanks Stacy, i've had an A/B test suggested a few times now and I might push for that. It's so tricky to convince others (or even myself) that this is a dark pattern when sites like the BBC uses it. – bestfriendsforever Jun 26 '20 at 8:10
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Is there a problem adding the message in the first screen together with the play button?

The play button can be visible but disabled, if the user click on it an alert pop up can appear to advice about the bottom steps. A way to simulate the forcing action because all the steps are shown at first.

enter image description here

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  • Thanks for the suggestion, that's an interesting solution but i dont think it will work. I dont want to "disable" the play button, not likely to get any engagement that way. The main argument for the play button is that it's a minimal element that we can easily add on top of the thumbnail and it wont obstruct it. Our thumbnails are quite a bit busier than the example i have created for demonstration purposes here. They look more like youtube thumbnails with faces and text in them, the faces are a particular draw for our audience, hence why we want to avoid obscuring them. – bestfriendsforever Jun 25 '20 at 15:52
  • Even i agree with you @bestfriendsforever about not to disabling the play button, you may still have the "Sign up" and "Login" buttons when play button hovered as above. This way you're both bypassing the action of play button and giving the user to comprehend the logging necessity. Additionally you may think about showing a modal when play button clicked explaining why users can't continue without signing up/logging in. – Erhan Yaşar Jun 25 '20 at 21:27
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I can't see any trick to force user registration. It is clearly displayed if want to see video, one need to login.which is with maximum contrast in message and background. So no dark pattern.

Displaying play sign initially will help user to recognize there is playable content like video or audio.

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  • Good point! Perhaps this pattern isn't as dark as i had originally thought. I still feel like it's not quite right, as a play button has an expected behaviour, which is "click this to play media", not "click to sign in/register and then go through that process and then click the play button again". But perhaps in the larger scheme of things this is quite benign. – bestfriendsforever Jun 26 '20 at 8:16
  • 🙏, the play button will play the video only after authentication. – Codesigner Jun 26 '20 at 12:18

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