What do I mean by that? Badges and other gaming elements seem to be everywhere at the moment. Foursquare led the way with its successful use of badges, mayorships and leaderboards to get users hooked.
Anecdotally, it seems many users lose interest in the game side of the service after a while, but stick around because they enjoy the social side of checking into locations and seeing where their friends are.
It’s the gaming element that gets people using Foursquare first and that’s led to lots of other online services adopting the idea. Check-in services are leading the charge; Gowalla has items to collect, Yelp has various levels of royalty to attain, Get Glue has stickers and Miso has points.
Browse the web, get points, win prizes
Now the idea is spreading from apps to the Web itself. Badgeville, Mojo and OneTrueFan all bring the idea of earning rewards (virtual or real) for performing tasks to websites. These services are all at an early stage of adoption but if they take off it’s easy to imagine the Web of 2011 being awash with websites that want to “reward” you for interacting with them by giving you badges, points and prizes.
Why publishers will want to add gaming elements to their websites
It’s easy to see why website publishers will want to adopt gaming elements. Badgeville, for example, allows websites to customise what they reward users for and how. Want a chart of the people who Digg your posts the most, with badge for the winner each week? No problem. If you want to reward comments, sharing, page views – it’s all possible with detailed analytics to see how well it’s working. For increasing engagement with your website it’s a seductively powerful proposition.
Avoiding Badge Fatigue
The problem is that while a gaming element is fun, it’s not a silver bullet for getting people to devote time to your online service. It’s a novel concept now but it won’t be when everyone’s doing it. Those fun games that are so innovative now will quickly become a chore for users if their website browsing is frequently interrupted by ‘incentives’ to earn points and badges when all they want to do is read an article or watch a video.
Don’t get me wrong, as a content creator I love the potential power of gaming services for websites. Badgeville, for example, is truly one of the most exciting and original startup products I’ve seen this year and we use it here at The Next Web. The problem is that as usage of gaming elements increases in websites, developers and publishers are going to have to tread carefully if they want to avoid users getting “Badge Fatigue”.
My advice if you’re planning on adding a gaming element to your website or service? Don’t just copy others in the way you implement it. Be imaginative and don’t force it on users and that way you might well avoid the ire of users who tire of yet another game and would take simplicity over winning another badge.