Social games blew up in a big way last year, with the explosion of Farmville, but game designers had been poring over the formula for years prior. What’s was the fruits of their labour, and one of the biggest secrets to social gaming success? Badges. Achievements. Accomplishments. Whatever you want to call them, they’re one of the most important elements in gaming and a new crop of services are now bringing badges to regular websites and rewarding people for things like “browsing to 5 pages” and “staying on the site for 10 minutes”. I’m wondering if there’s anyone else out there who’s been getting a laugh at the overuse of the trend, and I look at 5 reasons why you shouldn’t just add badges to any old website or game.
While this is meant to be a fun list, I’m really excited for the comments that are going to point out things like “if you don’t like badges, then don’t use them”. Thanks in advance for that insight, and a double thanks for understanding the embellished nature of the post. Despite your protests, I’m still going to go ahead and make a recommendation to some game makers and website designers about how using badges can be kind of pointless in some situations.
1) Offering badges on non-interactive websites is like giving people points for breathing
It’s really berating to savvy users when they get achievements for things like “viewing the homepage”. I’ve seen a few sites that are starting to implement badge systems that are meant to entice people to view every page, and they pretty much give away a badge for every page viewed. People are going to quickly recognize that these badges have zero value, and some will go even farther and start extending that feeling towards your site itself. You don’t need badges on your non-interactive website.
2) If you’re just offering achievements for reaching certain points milestones, don’t bother.
I’ve seen achievement systems on games, where players just get achievements for their point totals. This, to me, feels like a misuse of what achievements are meant to be. I want to be rewarded for some sort of creative play or secret bonuses, with achievement badges that I can show off to demonstrate my prowess. If my badge just says “10,000 points”, it’s a little less exciting. I say, just make a top scores board and be done with it.
3) If every action in your game offers a badge, then don’t call them badges!
Unless your game is called “badge-catcher”, you don’t want your game to be offering badges for every single action. Even genius games like foursquare, that rely on badges, don’t offer them for every action.Â You need to do special tasks like becoming a mayor of an area for the first time to get your badges. A lot of games and services are now copying foursquare to offer badges for actions, and in their rush to get ahead they are offering badges earlier and more often, to make players feel more rewarded. As a reviewer, I play with these services every day and now feel as if a badge has zero positive value, and is just an annoyance. I have a feeling users are going to start having a similar backlash as badges make their way into each and every action on every site and game on the web!
4) If you don’t know how to stagger badges, don’t add them to your game.
I played a game a few weeks ago that, unfortunately, bombarded me with badges the first second I gained my first level. After just a few clicks here and there, I found myself waiting while 14 badges were presented, in order, while the game continued on in the background. Who’d have thought I could achieve the “Junior Level Ghoul” AND the “Intermediate Level Ghoul” achievement by killing two zombies? I think it might have been better to stagger those so they aren’t awarded to me at the same time, as I hit level 2.
5) If you think badges are going to be a quick fix for your site’s low engagement, think again!
During my time on the production side of things in the social gaming industry, I saw a certain trend of thinking begin to emerge. As people started to grasp ‘social’, they became enamoured by all the social elements available to their game. Then, instead of thinking about game mechanics first, people kind of assumed that as long as it was on Facebook, used notifications, challenges and achievements, that the game would engage users and go viral.
That kind of thinking is still prevailing, and the success of badge-based games like foursquare mean that a whole slew of ‘check-in’ services are appearing and offering badges without having the key element that makes foursquare good: fun. My advice to game makers and website makers is to make sure your site or game is engaging and entertaining before considering things like badges, and you’ll make a better product.