The Taco Bell Unlock the Box contest has picked up significant media attention because of the frustration it has apparently caused “winners.” I won’t over-hash the drama, you can read it here, here, and here. But, long story short, it looks like someone tried to game the system resulting in multiple “false winners.” Whatever the case, gaming, tampering, and otherwise messing with online challenges is a very real problem. Some challenge designs are more susceptible to it than others. Contests that are “instant win” without a vetting process, like Unlock the Box, are susceptible to hacking and hacking people off because there is not a significant interstitial step between entry and award. In this case, its likely that no one is validating the winner except a computer via an algorithm and/or database, and it’s doing so instantly. So if the technology gets messed up in any way, the entrants are immediately affected. Designing a contest with immediate results is very appealing. Taco Bell has apparently gotten a lot of people logging on through this effort and probably increased brand awareness. But the majority of the press about the contest has been about it not working, which is always unfortunate. When designing a contest it’s vital to know if you need a step between the entering and winning in order to keep entrants, sponsors, and yourself happy.