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Have you gamified your community?

Hi All,

Gamification has become an increasingly popular topic in the community management world. Has anyone explored it in their communities, and if so, what were the results?

I would love to hear stories of good or bad experiences here. :slight_smile:

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A first (very small) foray into gamification happened by chance when we launched a Q&A site powered by Askbot (http://askbot.org/), which has integrated “badges”. The badges aren’t particularly inventive, but did seem to encourage first-time contributors to go on and do more.

In other learnings, we found the default badge triggers are probably too low for our particular community. For example “50 views” for a “Famous Question” means that about a third of our questions are “famous” :wink:

After users have a collection of the badges, interest appears to die off (perhaps there’s only so much you can do when the badges are algorithmically awarded), and focus (if any) goes to the overall “karma” score.

In Askbot the “karma” score is also used to award privileges on the site, based on activity: very active contributors gain moderator abilities and so on. However, there’s also some oddities. We found that a new user was disallowed from posting a link in their post - even if they were answering a question, due to default karma restrictions. This was designed to combat spam, of course, but we found it severely inhibited new contributors in this Q&A site context.

To summarise:

  • gamification did not get in the way of our launch of a Q&A site, and probably helped a little to get new contributors to become active contributors
  • if you’re deploying something with in-buiilt gamification, do change the default values for karma and badge thresholds to size your community

As for the future of gamification - looking forward to discussing again at CLS14 before making any giant leaps :smile: It comes up every now and again on the mailing list, but making something meaningful across our community would need significant work.

Thanks for sharing, @fifieldt!

I agree. It seems the spread of badges needs to be carefully chosen. When I set up Ubuntu Accomplishments, we decided badges based upon developing new skills as opposed to consumption. So for example, we had a badge for filing your first bug, but no badge for filing ten bugs. The latter approach makes the system more gamable.

Interesting. I wonder if badge lethargy is a phenomen in gamification?

I have always been cautious of karma points. I think invariably it points to a weighted number that many users are typically suspicious of. It also often numberically grades very different things (e.g. giving points for planning work such as a manager does, compared to fixing a bug that an engineer does).

Any other thoughts and feedback from folks?

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"Interesting. I wonder is badge lethargy is a phenomenon in gamification?

Absolutely. while badges are a great way to entice new users, the drive to collect badges quickly wanes to somewhere around 1%-5% of a community over time. The use of badges to continue engagement should also involve other mechanics, and should be very sensitive to flow.

I’m most partial to badges as an onramp, and potentially the use of badges could combine with “unexpected surprise and delight”. There is a balance to consider of discoverability and uniqueness.

Badges also are heavily dependent on the social aspects. If you have badges and no one knows, they are worthless. Similar things occur in badge proliferation (see Foursquare).

Would really enjoy digging into this a bit deeper. Comments on karma points upcoming.

This is an interesting statistic. I would have imagined that the decline in badge lust would differ in different communities. As an example, I would expect gamers to be much more into it than some other communities.

I agree, but this is where I think there needs to be delicate balance. One thing I discovered years back when we ran the Ubuntu Hall Of Fame project (we aggregated the top performers in the community) is that the social recognition of some was seen as ignoring others. It ended up become rather demotivating for some.

As such, I think showcasing badges in a way that doesn’t demoralize the wider base is key.

As a side note, @davemc, have you played with Mozilla Open Badges at all? Would be keen to hear what you think of it.

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I particularly like the way AskUbuntu (StackExchange) handles this, instead of a meaningless indication of status, your reputation points can be offered as a bounty on questions you want answered. This gives your points some actual utility, and instead of hoarding them you benefit the most by making them available for others to acquire.

I have played around with OpenBadges a bit, and loved the idea…it is just unfortunate you have to use Mozilla Persona to login (I dislike the lack of options for my login). I am not sure if this is something they plan on changing eventually. At one point I had it working with Shibboleth (SSO that a lot of Higher Eds use), but due to my lack of knowledge in Node.JS I was unable to keep it going through the code updates. I would definitely suggest getting it setup if you want to give it a try, but also realize that your Application (such as your Forum, or whatever else) needs to know how to ‘Bake’ badges that will fit into the OpenBadges framework.

In my limited experience with Gamification (Coursera and a few books) Badges to me aren’t ‘Gamification’. In my opinion, Badges are more of a mechanism for Feedback, which is one of the core principals of Gamification. That being said, any system that relies solely on Badges will eventually become a boring process to many of the users, and as @mhall119 has said, almost becomes a meaningless sense of status. Once any item of Feedback or Awards become too abundant and/or easy to get in the system, members of that system start to have less motivation to pursue the feedback/awards. So the reason that StackExchange and their reputation works is because of the system the developed around the feedback you receive…where as systems that just give you Karma, or Badges typically don’t last. @davemc also has some great valid points on the use of badges, it is just unfortunate that since Gamification and Badges are such Buzzwords people throw Badges around like it will solve every issue they are having without really thinking about how they fit in the system.

Once again…I am just a System Admin so I have limited experience in Community Leadership or growing a Community in general…so I hope my post/opinion isn’t too far off the subject. I really value any feedback or comments to continue evolving my opinion and gaining knowledge on the subject though!

I like very much q&a platform like stack or askbot or quota. Push people to help each other and to give clear and effective answer.

Thanks @jbkc85 for the feedback. A few questions for you (or anyone else with OpenBadges experience):

  • Ideally I would want my users to achieve badges when they accomplish new skills and thus would need a badge to be generated when some system detects that a new skill has been executed. I did this when I wrote Ubuntu Accomplishments by having scripts that can detect accomplishments - is there a similar framework in OpenBadges to have something that can listen to a server/system and generate a badge?
  • Can you set a chain of dependencies? E.g. to achieve badge 2 you must unlock badge 1 first.
  • How do people browse and view badges - do you have to go to a Mozilla site or can they be embedded into existing infrastructure?
  • How do I define badges? Is it some kind of standard schema or something?


From what I understand, it actually is up to your Application that uses OpenBadges on how when and how to award the badges to the users of your system. OpenBadges just requires that you authorize the Application to use the ‘Backpack’, and then the Application uses the APIs to bake (which is applying Metadata to images for Badges), display and issues badges to the backpack.

Yup. Once again, this is up to your Application. There is a particular piece of metadata in a badge called ‘Evidence’. The Evidence is basically a URL back to a page in your Application to show how the user was awarded the badge. Once again, I don’t believe OpenBadges has the functionality to limit an awarded Badge, as it is really just a place to issue/display/bake. Therefore your Application is what needs to award the badges based on the criteria you have established.

There is an API call to a OpenBadges backpack called ‘display’. This will display all badges for a particular user of a particular backpack, as long as their badges are marked as public. http://openbadges.org/display/

Also, keep in mind that numerous applications I have seen have actually kept a local record of badges issued in their own application so they do not solely rely on OpenBadges. One particular application is a learning management system know as Moodle.

That is basically how. Its much easier to read it all the way through than to hear my takes on it!

Thanks for the follow up - apologies for the delay, I was on vacation last week. :slight_smile:

Ahhh, so the backpack is your badge collection I assume? Is this a centralized Mozilla service?

Interesting. As a related note, how does OpenBadges protect against people faking badges?

Yes. The backpack is your collection of badges from multiple sites. As stated before, a single site can display their badges any way they want (once again, I bring up Moodle as an example) but the Mozilla OpenBadges Backpack is where a user can store all their badges for displaying. The backpack is in fact open source, so its not centralized to Mozilla. However, it does use Persona as the login right now…which IS Mozilla. I am going to OSCON right after CLS so if there is a Mozilla OpenBadges techy handy I will ask them more about this!

I believe so. Though any application can create a badge, your application can use Verification steps to ensure that the user does not display a badge on your site that is not ‘verified’. I am a little sketchy on this part. The reason the verification comes into play is that someone can actually simply Upload a baked badge to their OpenBadges backpack. At some point they were discussion putting some type of SSL cert/key reference in a badge to verify that the badge was actually made by what the badge says it was made by, but I have not had time to continue looking into this project as I once did. Here is some more info on that:


I apologize about the gaps in answers, I have lost track of some of this project due to my other priorities at work, so I need to catch up with the Community talk and whatnot!

What’s been said here about badges is important and interesting, but I think there’s some other aspects of gamification that hold a lot of value and could be discussed.

Allowing users to become moderators via karma and/or badges is a brilliant idea. Not only does it spread around the work of maintaining the site (and I have to believe there’s a fair bit of maintenance cost – @fifieldt or someone else who’s run such a site, maybe you could discuss that?), but it also gives the die-hard users a greater stake in the community. With great power comes great responsibility.

And then there’s the actual end-product. For most Stack Exchange sites in the tech world, they become tech support or knowledge base sites. We considered starting one for Yorba primarily for tech support, in fact. I’m curious what other applications people have considered for gamiification in the community. Building wikis, for example, or patrolling open-soruce ticket systems are ripe for fresh approaches.

Discourse (what powers this site) is a great example of many of the concepts @jnelson describes above. Moderators can be chosen through actions, and the platform also has a badge system built-in (and improving weekly). Of course, Discourse is in part work of Jeff Atwood previously of Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange “fame”, so this shouldn’t be too surprising.

@downey Can you better explaint that? i dont’ know deeply discourse

For details on trust levels and badges in Discourse, see https://meta.discourse.org/t/trust-levels-2-implemented-scope-of-roles-defined/8161?u=downey and https://meta.discourse.org/t/initial-discourse-badge-design-spec/13088?u=downey and probably some other related topics on the Discourse “meta” site.

Thank you :slight_smile: I see that for now it’s only an idea… not implemented yet

It seems that at the core of gamification is the notion of rewarding lasting contributions. Conceivably this could be applied to any and all types of contribution. The challenge here is not just optimizing a community for contributions but protecting against gaming. This is one of the reasons why I think gamification should be used to reward skills not individual contributions, otherwise you risk people gaming the system.

I can see gfamification used for writing docs, software, organizing events, performing advocacy, and any number of other things too.

As a side note, we discussed gamification in the most recent episode of the podcast I do called Bad Voltage.

You can get it at http://www.badvoltage.org/2014/06/12/1x18/

We have toyed with the idea of gamification for various infrastructure, especially our development tools, to encourage contribution and collaboration. The biggest problem we came across is to come up meaningful rewards. There is a lot of research about gamification that suggests that “extrinsic” rewards (like badges, prices, leader boards, money) only gets you that far if you’re trying to encourage complicated tasks that require creativity, that’s what others have described as badge fatigue here.

I think what you want to encourage in a FOSS community is intrinsic motivation that comes from within yourself. Like the feeling that you are getting better at something, that you control the progress you make, that what you achieve is matching your values. Also that you belong to something bigger, more important than yourself.

And here is where gamification for communities gets complicated. To reward people’s intrinsic motivations you have to make your automated (software driven) rewards appear human and unexpected and they need to include direct feedback to what you issue them for, personalized for the individual that receives them. That’s hard to do.

There is also a lot of research that using extrinsic motivators like badges, prizes and leader boards discourages the weakest part of your FOSS community: Beginners. Most beginners are shy and think their contribution isn’t worth much compared to your communities rock stars. Of course extrinsic motivators amplify this feeling. Another group of people where research shows that extrinsic motivators are hurtful are Women, most Women are just to social-intelligent to be show-offs :slight_smile:

And motivation is even the very beginning of things you have to consider before you go ahead and implement gamification features for communities. Implementation wise, for instance, you have to offer rewards that matter to the action you reward them for (e.g. compulsion loops). If you don’t they are meaningless to the recipient. Watch Stephanie Morgan’s talk Gamification Sucks for a nice summary about this.

So in the end @openSUSE we all liked the idea but failed to come up with meaningful rewards for the actions we wanted to encourage. But that might have only be us being unimaginative…

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