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The 4 Secrets to Gamification


Eugene Gan - published on 09/24/13

With all that understood, let’s take a look at a few common gamification elements: Badges, Leaderboards, Points, and Onboarding.

Badges(or ribbons, or patches) These gamification elements mark the completion of goals, and can be interpreted as ‘status’ symbols or achievement levels attained. With badges, you have the opportunity to create designs that tie in to and reinforce the overall design and theme of your website. I can already see badges that showcase the saints, or sacramentals, or virtues practiced – just be careful, as too many badges can get confusing quickly, not to mention run the risk of reducing the value of each badge earned if there is a whole screen of them displayed.

Leaderboards This gamification element is handy for making simple comparisons, commonly used to see who the top scorers are. There are many ways to do this. For example, you can make comparisons locally, globally, or between people who know or have chosen to link, follow, or friend one other. The advantage to top-scorer leaderboards is that they are intuitive: they clearly and simply, without any explanations necessary, display the top players. The disadvantage to such a system is that it appeals more to competitive types (studies suggest that these comprise a minority of players, relatively speaking) rather than to the majority of players who play to socialize and not to compete per se. Moreover, with regard to social media websites, top-scorer leaderboards can actually become a disincentive. Why? Because top-scorer leaderboards can easily create the idea that since you’ll never reach those top levels anyway, why even bother trying? A better approach might be to position the player right in the middle, and then show the player two ‘lower’ and two ‘higher’ friends. This relative (as opposed to literal) ranking has two distinct advantages: it provides the player with smaller, doable steps to take to reach the next goal or level, while at the same time, if set up rightly, encourages the player to help the two players who follow closely behind with completing their goals.

Points You’re probably already familiar with this one: you earn points for achievements, completing tasks, or reaching goals. Points also help you understand how your players are interacting within your created environment by quantifying their subjective experience of your website or social media. This in turn helps you design or modify a player’s experience of your site. The key here is that points need to point to something. What do they represent? How might they be used, redeemed, or applied? For example, experience points and reputation points are useful for building trust (e.g., eBay, Amazon, various forums), while skill or achievement points earned for completing tasks or reaching goals can be redeemed for physical or virtual goods.

Onboarding This refers to a player’s first minute of interaction with your website. This is a critical experience that must be consciously and carefully thought through. For better or worse, the modern attention span is short, and another site is but a click away. The first minute needs to strike a fine balance: welcome and bring players in without overwhelming them, yet at the same time, provide plenty of options that would meet the needs and expectations of different players. Experience, not explanation, is the name of the game here. Let your players experience your site. Don’t describe it, especially not with massive amounts of text – pictures help, but even better these days is a short video or animated clip if you must explain something (keep it to a minute if you can, three minutes tops). The ideal onboarding scenario is to let players experience a small part of the whole.

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