How do you feel about chasing internet points, badges and the gamification of everything?

edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y on April 03, 2019

I'll admit up front, I'm chasing the dev.to 16-week streak posting badge and am uncertain whether I'll have an article ready this week. This psyc... [Read Full]
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We try to walk the line in terms of the badges being a fun thing that make contributions to the community feel more rewarding without making it as upfront and 1:1.

Within the badges, we don't want it to feel like grinding, but it definitely seems like you're feeling that way with the streak badge and we'll take that into account. We introduced the streaks for folks who wanted the extra push for mild self-accountability which is why we launched it along with New Years.

We are against displaying follow counts because it seems like that creates some unhealthy comparison and black-hat gamification in a lot of ways. I definitely feel like I'm grinding for followers on other platforms at times. Hopefully the badges are a bit more like bonuses on top of behavior you'd otherwise enjoy doing.

What about the idea of "pausing" your streak for periods so it relieves the pressure? This could be a complicated feature so it wouldn't go in right away, but we're all for keeping this light and healthy.

 

I didn't realize there were streak badges until I got the 8-week one -- somehow I missed the notice for the 4-week one. Obviously they aren't what motivate me to write, but I understand it could motivate others.

It's hard to say where the balance is between a reward, and punishment. I would certainly think a 32-week badge clearly crosses that line though -- since it requires a significant commitment to achieve.

The thing about streaks is that they reset if you fail, making it daunting to achieve again. Compare this to some of the most difficult trophies on PlayStation -- they don't reset, you can always pick up again.

So perhaps pausing might make sense, but then it wouldn't encourage people to write weekly. An option would be to consider the average article count, but then again, not weekly.

Another thing to consider is that badges end up becoming elite as the user-base grows. Those Top7 and Top5 badges I have are increasingly difficult to obtain.

 

Maybe if it instead was "post 3 weeks in a row x amount of times"? And have 4 weeks count as 2, 5 weeks as 3 etc.

That way you would only lose two weeks of progress if you take a break while in a streak.

Could maybe also allow two consecutive week breaks before it breaks the combo. This would allow people to post only once every one, two, or three weeks as they please, but still give incentive to post every week since it makes the combo increase faster.

 

Some less-than-organized thoughts:

  • internet points are currency and once you have internet points you have an economy. Entities are measured and valued based on accrual of internet points: this was a ten-point post, this was a fifty-point post.
  • if internet points can be summed per user, the entities measured and valued this way will include people. That dev.to does not facilitate this is one of the best things about it.
  • the internet point economy works at cross purposes to community formation and health because it encourages participants to view their participation in economic rather than community terms. How many fascinating but niche posts have gone unwritten or unpublished for want of visible returns in that niche? I would hope it's not all that many, but it's a question we should be asking as long as we're doing the internet points thing.
  • badges are an indirect supplement to the internet point economy and can help smooth over some of its quirks. One of my favorites is Stack Overflow's "Unsung Hero", a gold or rare badge you get for having ten or more zero-score accepted answers.
  • the game Crusader Kings II, a medieval grand strategy simulation, has an achievement for things falling out such that there are two simultaneous antipopes. Badges for bizarre, difficult-to-engineer conditions are much more fun than badges for doing something obvious or consistent.
  • rewarding consistent behavior is, by definition, operant conditioning (viz. the Skinner box). Applying it to your userbase is kind of unsavory at best, but it's nonetheless popular. Mobile gaming, for example, is infested with "gacha" games whose core mechanic is already a dopamine drip but which reinforce player engagement/addiction through escalating rewards for daily play.
  • if you're going to condition your users, and you probably shouldn't, you need to make sure that you've defined your parameters thoroughly. Helen mentioned the "streak" badges' unintended consequence of lazy or low-quality posts: that's an example of what happens when you don't think these things through.
  • I think dev.to would be better off in all respects without "streak" badges.
 

I notice a lot of people talking about your point of gamification with regard to a means of retaining users but I wanted to address a different point; "...am I expected to have a lot of badges? Does it affect my legitimacy on this platform?"

Personally, I have to say that I didn't even know about Dev.to badges until about two minutes ago... but I don't think that when you look at another user's profile, you actually think about the (number of) badges that they have.

I mean, in my experience others will only actually notice a large number of badges or points, etc when you have a remarkably large amount of them - so essentially; do you think points or badges normally have a value to people looking at your profile?

 

This is a big part of the pressure to get badges, is the impression they leave, or I think they leave on others.

What are the expectations we have of serious authors? If I see some people with no badges, and then another with a lot, it triggers from internal concern of legitimacy.

Is a user with more badges a "better" member of the community? Is a member without badges just passing by, or disinterested?

This definitely happens with follower counts on other platforms. To the point of creating catch-22's, you don't get followers unless you have followers.

In theory one could run a test. Take a top contributor to dev.to and toggle their badge display on/off for each viewer of their profile and measure the follow rate. If badges have no influence, the follow rate should be the same.

 

This a good point, however, doesn't that remove the value of the actual work? Whether a user has a lot of badges or not, wouldn't well-written posts and engaging authors naturally attract readers and commentors? Are you not proving that by this post alone? You admit yourself you were tempted to write only one line item to prove the post was guided by a badge; yet, being a quality author you couldn't make yourself do that. As a result of that, look at all the engagement and interaction on this post. Not because of any badge, but because you had geniune thoughts and insights into an important topic.

Though it might have some affect on follow rate (sidenote: is that the only measurement of success? What about post reactions/comments/etc?), I still think people in general value quality over quantity. I think at this platform especially it seems that way. I've been here since April, so I can't really back this up with a lot of experience.

wouldn't well-written posts and engaging authors naturally attract readers and commentors?

The answer is unfortunately no. Refer to my article on the internet lottery Were the internet not so punishing, then perhaps the badges might not feel as much like grinding. But for a lot of people the 16-week badge could very well mean 16 articles with zero feedback -- even if the quality is good. :(

On dev.to I've not done the one liner responses, but on other platforms I have. Snark and cynicism is often as rewarded, if not more, than quality content. This is why gamification must be treated carefully, to understand what is really being encouraged.

I'm just providing more thinking points. I'm not really disagreeing with you.

I appreciate that. However, I took a brief peek at that linked article. Doesn't seem like there are actually any sources listed?

 

You make a good point - whilst I would assume the value of badges exponentially decreases with the increase in number, having no badges at all could have a significant effect.

Though another thing that's interesting to consider would be if having a small number of badges is better or worse than having no badges at all.

In any case, I do like the idea of running a test of some kind and I would certainly be interested in the outcome.

 

The way I see it the main premise of gamification is customer retention. We generally have a tendency of getting bored of things and moving on quite fast. Especially since there's always something new on the horizon.

Gamification/points system gives us the inner feeling of accomplishment and the desire for wanting more.

From all the apps and websites I use on a regular basis have some sort of system designed to keep us hooked. I can't think of a popular platform without it. Without it I don't think we'd have great retention rates.

 

It's a system designed to appeal to people's addictive tendencies and insecurities. It's one of the areas of tech where I think we need to step back and have a deep discussion about ethical principles...we've made so many advancements in tech (and that pace isn't going to slow down anytime soon), that we didn't have time to reflect on if all these things are a net positive for the world (or maybe some people did and chose to make money anyways).

 

Is that not an admission that the content itself is not interesting enough to retain users?

It's also a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we get trained to follow the bait, sites not offering those incentives become less interesting.

I think I need a Firefox plugin that blocks internet points. :)

 

This is tricky.

You are absolutely right that it plays on the psychological urge to get things done, to tick another box and move up a level. I sorta love it ... but sort of hate it.

In the context of dev.to I have a sneaky suspicion that it may encourage sup par posts that get lost because they are 'only ok' and get written because of oh-no-I-need-to-get-a-post-up-so-I-get-the-badge. But at the same time, it's the motivation to keep writing from New Year to now that helps people stay on that platform.

 

Yes, about that quality... I was fighting my sardonic tendencies with this post. I was very tempted to leave it as a single line post. Alas, my inner "but but but" voice, won, I attempted to provide something of value.

 

I dislike gamification in general, and try to avoid any service that pushes it too hard.
Once, I put in a question on a forum for my ISP and before the week was out I had received 11 emails, most of which were about me "unlocking new badges!". Including one for visiting my account preferences page, where I'd gone to try to turn off the notifications (and failed).

I understand what these organisations are trying to do, but they've just become noise.

 

If I made a one-word response that consisted solely of #irony, would I be falling into the gamification-trap?

Your story is kinda brutal, though. Sounds like something Cox, Comcast or Verizon would do. :p

 
 

As someone who spends an unhealthy amount of time researching game design and gamification, my feelings on gamification are... conflicted. What it really boils down to, is that gamification is a tool. It can be used for good (incentivizing people to stick to their goals) or evil (addicting people to "games" that are nothing but Skinner boxes).

In regards to Dev.to's badges system... I honestly didn't know it existed until I read this post. I definitely feel like they have a valid purpose, but the concerns over them is understandable. If they were listed next to your name on every post, I think there would be a legitimate concern over your number of badges indicating a sense of validity. But with them only being visible to people who visit your profile page, I think that problem is mostly avoided.

Does the site notify you of badges you can chase, or do you only learn about them via visiting other people's profiles? I don't really agree with the former, since it can cause a sense of obligation that's mentioned in the OP. The latter would mean that you're only really interacting with the badges if you want to. Maybe the first badge you earn should be notified to you, and that notification would include an opt-in to be notified about further badges you earn and can earn?

 

I was informed of the 16-week badge when I got the 8-week one. It was worded to convince me to reach the 16-week streak. It was not voluntary.

I agree where the badges are shown make a difference. I think about Twitter, where if you hover over a name it shows you how many followers they have. People do appear to use that of validity of the opinion.

I think rewards should be designed with a clear purpose, and then followup should be done to see if it's meeting that purpose.

 

If it gave you the option to opt-in before informing you about the 16-week badge (assuming you agreed to opt-in to badge notifications), would you have felt better about it?

I'm really not fond of sites publicly displaying how many people follow you or putting your badges anywhere outside of your profile page. They're both just forms of peacocking that don't actually provide anything positive to the community. If anything, it encourages toxic forms of competition.

I've seen some that allow you to choose a single badge to display alongside your username on posts, I'm relatively okay with that setup. I wouldn't advocate for it though.

That's an interesting point. I think a great solution could be to make streak badges private only! If the point is to encourage writing, just personally seeing this would do so. I have habit apps on my phone that run on similar concepts. I use them because it does actually work. But the world doesn't need to see that info in order for them to encourage action from me.

Some public badges could be community-based type badges. Like the SheCodes one. Or maybe a badge for someone who helped someone else. Or badges for Mentors because that's a really great thing to do.

Things that encourage positive actions towards each other. :)

 

Just shared your post in the Buffer Slack community I'm in! We're talking about the new testing Instagram is doing on making likes on posts private. You have great timing. It's funny that now I'm in a few conversations about this.

 

But if likes are private how will I know what makes me happy in life? 😏

I'm uncertain if hiding them changes the gamification, since an author will still see how many likes they get.

However, it likely impacts The Internet Lottery

 

Haha, I actually am perfectly fine with Instagram how it is. I enjoy the likes. I get out of it exactly what I put into it, and all those things are positive. I think they should have tested it out on April 1st for 24 hours. That would have been really interesting to see, lol.

Yea, you also posted that article on my other comment. I'm not I really if I agree with it, however.

Sorry for spamming you with the same link. You don't need to agree, in fact, go ahead and disagree, and disagree loudly!

...and be sure to link to the original so I can collect more internet points. I'm close to levelling up I think! :)

No worries, I understand. I'm sure you get +50 EXP points for every time you link it.

 

One possible good use of badges/cheevos/etc is to be a guide. If you're starting as a blank slate and wondering what do I do here?, having a set of neatly defined goals can give that void some structure.

That being said, the achievements on a platform often reflect the goals of the platform. If you get a badge for having a certain number of followers or logging on a certain number of days in a row, that shows what the platform is trying to guide you to do. It's reflective in many ways of the site's culture if, say, you get a gold star for having a certain number of followers vs getting a gold star for posting the best comment of the week.

 

For many people, games are fun. It's a way to increase engagement for those who are competitive and like the drive. Competition is not for everyone. That's why I think choice is important. I like the option to participate when I want to, but wouldn't want it to be a requirement.

For example, on here I can write articles and participate in discussions. I have no interest or bandwidth to guarantee an article a week so I don't worry about those badges. However, at certain times when I want to set a goal I love being able to "opt-in" to competitions for accountability. It helps motivate me to keep going.

I tried out (and made it on the team) for basketball in high school and couldn't take the pressure of performing in the games. I was much more confident on a computer keyboard than on a basketball court and I would get so nervous I'd forget plays. It didn't work for me, so I stopped playing. I don't think that means high school should cancel basketball, or that I should take it away as an option from people who thrive doing it, I just had to exercise "I'll do me, you do you."

I see games the same way. Making them available is great as long as they aren't a requirement. Let me opt-in to games here, but don't make it a fundamental part of my experience.

 

I think perhaps that's what caught me off guard here. I didn't expect to be participating in the badge race. I got a random reward for 8 weeks, which was nice I guess, but it then told me about the 16 week badge. It feels like I was being pressured.

So yes, I think this type of thing should be opt-in, but what is the opt-in mechanism. Is it simply being a creator, or an explicit toggle.

I mean, I don't think I was heavily affected, yet enough to get me to write this #discuss entry. I don't know whether that is good or bad -- it seems like the discussion is good, but my motivation to create it, perhaps not.

 

One of the reasons that led me to delete the Headspace app from my smartphone, was to see the community having anxiety attacks for not getting the daily access streak.
This example serves to show that sometimes, the effect of gamification may be adverse.
Good judgment is required in such situations.

Good luck!

 

I feel it really depends on what you want to accomplish, how passionate you are, and your why behind trying to get stronger badges.

If you have a goal for posting to help the community, help solidify your own thoughts, and get better at writing, then the badge itself represents you doing well with your goal :).

Great job!

 

I don't think there's anything wrong with gamification, and if it encourages more people to write more regularly, then that's great! I definitely see how that urge to keep a streak going could hinder some people's decision to even start though. Maybe there's a way that people could "opt out" of writing streaks?

 

There are pros and cons, and it can be used for good or bad, just like any other form of marketing. I think it‘s good as support sometimes, like MyFitnessPal has this day-streak. I‘m not using it for the points, but on harder days it‘s helping to log in and track those calories.

One detail I like about certain forums and also Hackernews is the abundance of profile-images and the names are printed subtly. I almost never care or see who wrote a comment, which isn‘t the case in most comment-sections or communities.

 

There may be a difference between boolean and gradient rewards. Consider that fitness apps track progress over time, and can raise/lower the bar to provide you the motivation you need to continue. It also provides a measure to show that you are improving.

It's also making an untenable thing, your health, into a concrete number. This can keep it real for some people. It's using a parallel domain to assist.

Compare to badges which don't show progress, nor are they individualized. I think these considerations lend a lot to the balance of pros/cons.

If we did wish to encourage regular writing, it mike make sense to show a meter of how many articles you've written in a week/month. Or to provide a goal to enable that sends reminders.

I think each game system needs to be well evaluated for the user's needs. I think the more natural it feels, the more helpful it will be -- though I might need to track down some studies to see if this is true.

 

I'm definitely struggling with the thought of letting go of daily involvement of sites like Khanacademy, Duolingo, FreeCodeCamp, and TypingClub because of the fear of losing "internet points".

For Khanacademy and FreeCodeCamp, they have a grid with colored squares like GitHub to display how often a user goes on the site, so skipping a few days doesn't seem like a big deal to me. But for something like Duolingo, it only keeps up with a daily streak count which makes it REALLY intimidating to skip 1 day. When I came home from my job on a Friday I was so exhausted I stayed off the computer for the rest of the day, completely forgetting about my daily streak on Duolingo. I was mortified the next day when I realized I completely forgot to log in the day before.

Writing this out, it all seems a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? I'm on these sites to learn new subjects or a new language. No one is going to care how many days in a row I studied x or y.

 

It's a problem that gamification has become this successful. I wonder what the psychology of it is, does it actually feed on the same neurons involved in addiction?

 

I hate point-oriented systems. Nothing like some point-whore resurrecting a years-dead thread just to post a comment with less substance than "I (dis)agree". It's like, "really? I got an email notification for activity on a two years' dead post and all you had to contribute was that???"

 

I'm not ashamed to admit that Apple's Health and watch rings gamification has helped me immensely with my fitness goals, humble as they are.

 

I was once a game designer, so I have thought about gamification some. I feel that regardless of everything said and any good/bad ideas, the focus should be on what @ben and the rest of the community want to emulate. In other words, do you want to force collaboration and discussion, are you ok to sacrifice quantity for it happening naturally?

Games typically use mechanics to create feedback loops, which are typically rewards. Same deal as a mouse solving the maze to get the cheese.

I do think rewards are good. They just need to feel worth it, and the player needs to have there time respected.

 

I love badges. I want more. I don't care so much about streaks in terms of writing but like how there can be glided badges hard to earn.

 

I award you the "Badge Aficionado" badge for your comment about badges. :)

 

No. I don't have enough knowledge to post so much. I just post if I think I have something to offer. Usually after I do something and thing, ok, now THAT is worth someone reading about.

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