Points, Badges, and Leaderboards – Do they really work?
Over the past several months I’ve been playing around with different Gamification widgets and platforms to experiment with a Points, Badges, and Leaderboard (PBL) system for this blog.
Now, as I’ve described many times before, even though PBLs aren’t the greatest thing ever (my upcoming books titled “Actionable Gamification – Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards.” Go figure.), they have an important place in Gamification. What makes them particularly tricky is that, depending on how its designed, the PBL game can be encouraging or insulting to users.
A Good PBL system can Engage the User
A good PBL game encourages the user to engage and dive deeper into content, seek out relevant information, and connect with and ultimately return to the host site (i.e., like my blog).
Take Khan Academy for an example. Their new ‘Learning Dashboard’ entices users to take a series of lessons on a range of topics, gaining skill progress points, and achievement awards for completing challenges, while amassing energy points for having watched tutorials and completed quizzes. All of these mechanics ultimately encourages the user to learn math, science, etc.
My goal is similar: educate and engage users on human-focused design and gamification techniques. To transform a regular visitor into a bona fide gamification aficionado takes some time. A well designed PBL game would certainly add some cachet for the visitor to keep on reading my articles, watching my videos, and engaging in conversation with yours truly (something I definitely take a lot of enjoyment in and garners many PBL points).
Why I Chose the Captain Up Platform
And so, after having looked into various PBL platforms, I finally settled on Captain Up, an Israeli startup that rewards users for exploring your site and sharing it with your friends. Using a customizable selection of badges and point awards, the platform tracks which users are engaging most within the community and broadcasts their standing via a leadership board.
Why did I choose Captain Up over other alternatives?
Well, on top of having nifty designs, they have a lot of things I can customize – levels, points, achievements, and actions. I can even reward people for interacting with specific elements on any page- a very important mechanism as I seek to draw visitors’ attention to my Octalysis Framework and tutorial vids (both of which provide a solid grounding in the core drives and mechanics of Gamification).
As a gamification designer, I really like to customize my own system, instead of an out-of-the-box-no-tweaking system. I can even create new badges or levels based on images I upload myself!
I’ve been experimenting with different game design concepts and ideas these past few months, and so far, the most recent PBL design (found on the right hand side of the page) has been working very well with a test group of a couple hundred readers signed up to play and are now regularly engaging in my site’s content.
Dangers of a Gamified PBL System: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
Since the topic of Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation is one of the most common ones in the field, I won’t go into too much detail about them. But basically, the risk of many PBLs systems is that it shifts motivation from Intrinsic (I want to learn about Octalysis and other great gamification content!) to Extrinsic (I want to level up and earn that badge!).
Eventually, people could be doing it just for the points, and whereas they would love to read more about gamification to begin with, if I suddenly removed the PBL system that they are attached to, they might lose interest of reading this content altogether.
There are many ways to prevent something like that from happening, but there are thousands of ways to get it wrong – which is what many companies don’t understand right now.
How to Design an Engaging Game
The default setting rewarded a few points for watching a video and commenting on my blog posts, and a lot more for tweeting and sharing the post on Facebook. The platform is generally sound, especially since I indeed get more value when my readers are sharing my content to others. However, I felt the default points/rewards economy was not optimized.
The first thing I changed, was making commenting on my blog worth 100 points, and watching a video worth 40 points. Facebook Liking and Tweeting were only worth 25 and 10 points.
When I changed my system around, the kind folks in Captain Up asked me, “Isn’t 100 points way too much for just commenting?”
Communicating a Game Worth Playing
During the Discovery and Onboarding Phases of a Player’s Journey (the beginning two phases) the first thing you want to communicate to users is whether this is “a game worth playing?”
With the rules you set, you are establishing an interaction with the user and communicating your values.
If you give people a bunch of points just to do marketing for you, or reward them virtual items for every little stupid thing, users will feel like the game is shallow – this is not a game worth playing. Users have no interest in a game if they know the game designer is just trying to benefit himself instead of caring about his users.
For instance, if there are points, progress bars, and badges for “How much money you donated to the site owner,” people will feel insulted by your lame attempt to use them for solely personal gains.
People know that sharing on Twitter/Facebook mostly benefits me, and so I don’t want to tell them that my game is about sharing. When I state that commenting on my site is worth more than anything else, I’m expressing that I value interacting *with you* more than anything else. I want to communicate with you, and that is what I value.
And if you don’t want to talk to me, at least watch my videos so you can learn something! And of course, if you are willing to share my content with your friends and family, I would be very grateful too, but I’m not going to use that as a large carrot in my site.
This tells users that the key of this game is “engagement.” I want you to be engaged, learn a lot, and participate in a community. THIS becomes a game worth playing.