The Sisyphean tasks of Pinduoduo’s gamification – Part 2: Collecting beans and earning a fortune


Sisyphus, a king In Greek mythology, was punished for cheating death. In the underworld he had to roll a large boulder up a hill. Every time he almost reached the top of the hill the boulder would roll down again. Sisyphus was cursed to repeat the same task every day. That’s what it felt like when I spend a few days trying out the gamifications inside the popular Chinese e-commerce app Pinduoduo…

In the first part in this series I’ve described the process of ‘shake money’ with hong bao, virtual red envelopes that hand out ‘lucky money’ in the Pinduoduo app. As soon as your collected total reaches 100 RMB you can transfer it to WeChat Pay. But getting to that amount in the required 24 hours gets progressively difficult and requires you opening the app multiple times a day and getting a lot of friends involved. For Pinduoduo (PDD) it is clearly a way to stimulate user retention and cheap customer acquisition.

But this was only the beginning. In this second part I will describe two more games that have me open the app frequently and scroll through products: Sign-in Beans and Duo Duo earn a fortune.

Sign-in Beans

In PDD’s main screen a yellow button takes me to daily sign-in (签到, qiān dào). When opening this item, I receive a hong bao but when I opened it, I’m told that my phone has already signed in today. Still, upon closing the pop-up I am notified that I have collected 890 ‘sign-in beans’ (签到豆, qiān dào dòu). What?! After the cash and coins I have been chasing the previous 15 minutes I can also collect beans?! And as if this wasn’t enough, I am also given a 2 RMB (€0.28) discount coupon for purchases within PDD.

The value of one bean turns out to be 0.01 RMB (€0.0014) and I can use them to buy products. According to the rules of this game a user will lose all his collected beans if he doesn’t sign-in for two weeks.

The top of the page shows me 5 drawings of hong bao. Clicking on those I am told I can transfer 30 RMB, 50 RMB or a random amount to my WeChat Pay account in exchange for collected beans. Of course, for the first two options I would need 3.000 and 5.000 beans. So instead, I choose the random amount. Doing so reduces my beans by 5 and gave me 0.05 RMB (€0.0014 Euro) in WeChat Pay. 

The transfer is immediately followed by a wheel of fortune game in which I can win more direct cash withdrawals to WeChat. I spin the wheel. I’m told I have to return the coming 5 days to claim more cash. But if I don’t sign in the next day, this offer will be lost.

Under the five hong bao a banner with the WeChat Pay logo is displayed. It tells me that every day I sign in I will get a hong bao. Clicking on it gives me another 0.01 RMB. 

Beans can be used as discounts when buying certain products. So how can I get more beans? A button below my number of collected beans shows ‘receive 3 hong bao’. Clicking on it takes me to a menu showing me all the things I can earn. A banner shows me I can get 50-100 beans by checking in every day. I can also get 3 more hong bao

Under the banner I see four buttons. The first button is a ‘timed hong bao’ that becomes available in the app after a certain time (same as with the Shake Money game). Clicking on it gives me 12 beans (€0,017). Afterwards the menu shows me that a new hong bao with beans will be available after 4 hours. As with the Shake Money game this incentivizes me to open the app multiple times a day.

The second button tells me I can earn beans by scrolling the product assortment page for 60 seconds. While I scroll around a timer at the top of the screen is counting down. But as soon as I stop scrolling the timer stops to. It forces me to look at products if I want my beans.

While browsing a pop-up tells me that I can earn extra beans by actually ordering one of those products. A red button under each product tells me how many beans I can earn when buying it. Let me get this straight: to earn beans to exchange for free products I need to buy other products. This basically is a point scheme that rewards return usage of the app and purchasing behaviour. On top of the already cheap prices in PDD it gives me another reason to actually make a purchase.

When the countdown timer reaches zero, I receive 2 beans; I’ve been paid €0,017 for looking at PDD’s stuff for a minute.

The third button takes me to another screen with products for which I can get a discount refund after purchasing. There’s a maximum of one order per day with this offer. In case I’m not convinced yet it offers me an extra coupon I can use when I join group-buying for a product.

With the fourth button I can invite/remind my friends – the ones I have left after pestering everybody with PDD-related requests – to check in and earn beans. Doing so gives me a message with a code that I need to paste in a WeChat chat. The message tells my friends ‘No matter how busy you are, don’t forget to sign in at Pinduoduo’. They will be so pleased…

And then suddenly, after I had almost gotten used to all the hong bao, coins and beans, a hong bao with a cat appears on my screen. The app has sent me a ‘lucky cat’ and it retrieves a hong bao for me. Opening the hong bao takes me to a new screen with one of those waving cats you often see at Chinese restaurants. Clicking on the hong bao gives me 32 beans (a whopping €0,044).

Once I feed the cat 1000 grams of food, I can open its hong bao! I can get 20 grams of cat food it I return here tomorrow and up to 2000 grams if I return here every day. Seemingly I needed to feed the cat for 95.1% more to get the hong bao.

A pop-up tells me that the more I feed the cat today, the more food I will get tomorrow. Another pop-up tells me that if I browse products for 60 seconds, I can get 400 grams more cat food. The next time I visit Sign-In I get offered both beans and cat food for doing little tasks or buying products.

In the lower part of the Sign-In screen three buttons can be seen. The first one promises a coupon of maximum 100 RMB ‘Free cash.’ It gives me a lottery ticket. I need to check in the next day to see if I won something. Of course…

The second button takes me to the products for which I can get up to 97% discount by using my beans (discount percentages in China show the remaining amount). The third button takes me back to the lucky cat.

I’ve been on PDD for half an hour now and my head is spinning thinking about all the coins, hong bao, beans and cat food that I’m now chasing. I decide to forget about them for a while and return to the PDD home screen.

Duo Duo Earn a Fortune

In the main menu an icon of a piggy bank takes me to Duo Duo Earn a Fortune (多多赚大钱, duō duō zhuàn dà qián). That sounds tempting but of course I should have known better… Clicking on the icon shows me a message telling me I have received ‘free premium benefits’ worth 115 RMB (€16). Again, this turns out to be a game where I need to return multiple days to collect and eventually withdraw gifts.

In case I don’t know how to get back here tomorrow a ‘quiz’ gives me two options:

A – Open Pinduoduo’s home screen and click on ‘Dou Dou Earn a Fortune’

B – I don’t know.

(Well duh!)

I decide to tease PDD a bit and click on B. A message tells me ‘Wrong! Please choose again!’ When I click the correct answer, I’m giving a WeChat hong bao of 0.01 RMB (oh yes!) … arriving tomorrow (oh no!). The app suggests reminding me with a notification to return tomorrow.

Next is another wheel of fortune as we’ve seen before.

I win ‘6 free orders! But I must order them within 10 minutes. While I try to make the most of my 10 minutes the app keeps opening pop-ups to remind me I have the right to those 100% free orders.

I decide to give it a try and order some mangos. Since Pinduoduo is a group buying app, we need to team up with another buyer and the app suggest we find someone through various social media like WeChat or QQ. 

After putting the mangos in my shopping basket, the app shows me that I need to place 5 more orders to get our reward. I decide not to do this. Getting to 6 products in 10 minutes would simply result in me buying too much useless crap. Elsewhere we noticed that even though I was promised 6 free orders, the maximum refund is 50 RMB.

The main screen of Duo Duo Earn a Fortune shows a notification. Clicking on it I’m told that I can get notified that I can get a 50 RMB cash-back in WeChat if I place an order. I’m getting a headache … how does this relate to the 6 free orders? 

The Duo Duo Earn a Fortune screen had a lot more options and is quite frankly rather overwhelming. I decided not to try them all. The mechanics of the games and rewards tends to be the same across the app and there is a lot of overlap with Shake Money and Sign-in Beans.

I put my phone aside, telling myself I will continue my exploration tomorrow. That night I dream of cats, hong bao, beans, coins and cat food. But despite these warnings of a near mental breakdown I would be back on the app the next day, growing trees and raising cows. We’ll tell you all about it in the next part in this series.