The BigDoor team has grown again, and I’d like to take a moment to introduce one of the newest members of our team, Darren Brady. Darren was hired as an account manager a few weeks ago. He is a recent graduate of WSU with a passion for football. His enthusiasm for gamification and all its various parts made him the perfect person to talk a little bit about the BigDoor view on the overuse of “badge-only” gamification.
Let’s have a candid talk about badges. A badge is a virtual representation of having accomplished an activity. The activity itself can be anything: Watching a video, posting a Facebook status update about eating a donut, or creating a given number of posts on a message board. In traditional game design, a badge may also be referred to as an achievement. How do badges work within the gamification framework?
- Reward desired, repeated activity.
- Provide visual representation of users status on leader-boards and profiles.
Badges seem to be everywhere online today, and for good reason: websites know that people like to display their achievements. The obvious example is Foursquare. Users are rewarded with badges for all kinds of activities, such as checking in at stores, destinations, and restaurants. Specific badges, such as Gym Rat (for attending a gym multiple times in a week), or even NASA Explorer (visiting the International Space Station), are awarded for specific activities. Badges seem to have become the champion of gamification reward systems. When used correctly, badges are a great way to provide intangible rewards: users are driven through content that publishers want them to be exposed to, as well as receive praise, status, and progression. But when used poorly, they can turn off users and drive them away from participation.
What are some reasons badges are popular with users?
- Social Influence/Power: Individuals enjoy having status. Badges that are displayable to other users (along with leaderboards) are a good example of this. Simply being in front of another person or comparatively “better” through a score is an intangible reward.
- Gratification/Praise: Individuals enjoy being praised. Be it by a circled “A+” on an 8th grade science paper, or an “Employee of the Month” plaque, being praised is an affirmation of good behavior. Users like to feel like they are doing the right thing.
- Progression: Measured progression and achievement is extremely important in game mechanics. A badge can signify a user’s progress through levels, goals, or targets, adding value to the users overall experience.
While providing some intangible benefit for online users, just badges are not enough to create a robust and effective customer loyalty solution. Many sites are missing out on the full benefits of rewarding their most loyal users with tangible rewards that the user can more easily comprehend as valuable. The reality is that for many B2C companies, badges by themselves are essentially valueless to the user. Furthermore, badges don’t have a very long shelf life: the novelty of earning/collecting badges wears off and leaves nothing to propel the user to continue to engage. While badges do praise a user’s progression and mastery, this effect is often not enough to create tangible value from a user’s perspective. What real-world value do virtual badges have outside of the site they’re awarded from? If a companies goal is to increase loyalty, social activity and user engagement, it is clear to us, that badges are not the main tactic sites should be using.
At BigDoor, we’re wholly focused on the user experience. If users in one of our loyalty implementations isn’t able to quantify the value of his/her time online, we’ve failed. We’ve discovered that the value of game rewards can be better understood by the user if intangible rewards (badges) are offered in addition to a virtual currency and a redemption system. A user’s value on the site (indicated in part by badges) is then transformed into value off the site in the form of tangible rewards such as coupons, physical items, and sweepstakes. Instead of just awarding social standing, praise, and progression, a virtual currency and redemption system adds tangible value and additional brand touch-points for the user. Examples of a virtual currency and redemption system include exchanging earned coins for additional paint colors in the popular mobile/tablet game Draw Something, and the NFL’s Fan Rewards program, where users earn coins to “spend” on anything from a t-shirt, to 15% off coupons, or even a chance to for a trip to the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
Badges and their role in customer loyalty solutions aren’t going anywhere. Badges are an integral part of a healthy game-mechanics breakfast. But for many consumer facing implementations badges just don’t offer the same kind of measurable value and appreciation for their users as tangible rewards do.
Keep in mind that there is no single mix of game mechanics that fits the needs of every business. When used, badges need to have contextual meaning to be valuable to any user, within any context. Badges are a low cost way for gamified sites to reward their users for participating in desired tasks; but for those who choose to prioritize user satisfaction and engagement, badges should be accompanied by other reward types, virtual and tangible, to foster further user loyalty.
What do you think? Do you think that the role of badges changes depending on the gamification implementation? Are badges overused? We’d love to hear your thoughts!