The heart of tech is coming to the heart of the Mediterranean. Join TNW in València this March 🇪🇸

This article was published on March 22, 2010

Why Is Every App A Game? The Badgeification Of The Internet

Why Is Every App A Game? The Badgeification Of The Internet
Alex Wilhelm
Story by

Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

Have you heard of the startup Gravity? It’s in the same space as  Zaang, a company that we have covered before.

I was researching the application to get some background on it, perhaps to do a comparison piece, give away some invites, or give it some straight up coverage. The company is going to be saddened that this is the post that they get, but so be it.

I have become in the last six months quite the little gamer, and all of it by accident. I logged into Gravity and what did I see? This:

I was confused. When did I start collecting badges on Gravity, why did I need more, and why did I have to spam my friends to get a badge that I did not even know the name of? The game has changed, pun intended.

I began to wonder, what does Gravity, a startup focused on creating conversations on around specific niche topics, have to do with gaming? Think about the other games that you are part of. Zaang. Foursquare. Glue. Gowalla. The list goes on, and on.

What the heck is going on here? It’s actually pretty obvious. Every web company wants to be “sticky.” They want people coming back again, and again, and again. Everyday, if they can finagle it. What is a dead simple way to get people to come back? Make the product into a game.

Made ten comments? Have a badge. If you write twenty-five comments, your badge changes color! Don’t get me wrong, I treat my Guru status on Glue of Metallica like people treat the mayorship of their favorite nightclub. I get why it works. But it has downsides.

If you turn to a game to make your application sticky, the application itself might not be. That is, games are a simple (I would even say cheap) way to get people to come back, even if they do not really want to use your service. If your mayorship was not on the line, would you really check in every time you went to your favorite Starbucks? I bet not.

Make it a game and you are hooked. At least for now.

So yes, it may cover some holes in your product, but if it works, it works. I can live with that. Games do have another problem however, one that gameless applications that are sticky all on their own do not have: people tire of games quickly. Much more quickly than great applications.

Time you spend building a game inside of your product is time that you do not spend making your app great. Let’s keep using Fouraquare as the example, as it is one of the largest games out there. I got over the game part of Foursquare in around a day. I realized that people were going out of their way to check in places, and that I would have to do the same to become the mayor of just about anywhere. Done, not point for me to get into the game.

Take away the game aspect and Foursquare is a heck of a lot less appealing to me. Sure, Foursquare introduced sixteen new badges for SXSW, but did they really do anything else but a website redesign? You get it, the lack of new features.

So yes, games can be useful. And I must say, in the case of Foursquare, brilliant, but they are just games. Games come and go, and do not make great applications. People who are looking to make their applications better cannot just turn to a game component and expect magic to flow. It can help, but it cannot be more than 10% of your product. If it is, your focus is off.

Do you really want to be a game developer? Probably not.

So I am going to back of my use of applications that are game heavy and new, I just cannot worry about one other website where my badges are in danger of  being threatened by other users. One or two are enough.

After all, I did not join up on Gravity to play a game, or garner badges. I assumed that I was there to talk about things, as the product is intended. Focus is something that we all appreciate.

What do you think about games? Worth the time? A waste of energy?