Increase Your User Activity with Points, Badges and Status

Jun 10 2010 by Andrew Follett | 28 Comments

User Activity with Points, Badges and Status

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about strategies for engaging your visitors. In it, I expanded on four different techniques to keep visitors to your website engaged and active. One of the strategies was using virtual rewards and status — also known as game mechanics (or funware) — to increase website engagement.

Websites and applications like FourSquare, StackOverflow and Farmville all use game mechanics to attract and retain users. Even not-so-obvious websites like eBay and Yelp! have aspects of game mechanics baked in to the functionality.

Game mechanics is a piece of the website engagement puzzle, providing an incentive to become an active participant when there is no direct, tangible benefit for doing so.

Why Should You Care About Game Mechanics?

Sounds like a gimmick, right? Kind of like the cheap toys they put in cereal boxes or the t-shirts that credit card companies give out to convince you to sign up for a new card.

While it may seem that way at first glance, game mechanics have clear business benefits behind them and oftentimes generate a significant return on investment.

Grow Traffic and Active Users

People talk about things that are different and interesting. Game mechanics create something worth discussing and engaging with.

FourSquare could have just chosen to be a location-based app to find your friends, instead the service introduced a competitive system of badges and status. Probably part of the reason they have been adding up to 10,000 users a day.

Increase Website Activity and Stickiness

Whenever there are points, rewards or status involved, people are going to pay attention. Sometimes it may seem silly, but providing simple incentives can go a long way towards creating an active environment.

Like any game, it can also be addicting, providing users with an incentive to come back.

Cheaper Than a Traditional Loyalty Program

Adding game mechanics to your website is often less expensive to implement and run than developing a full-fledged loyalty program. The system is automatic: it runs itself and minimizes administration costs.

On top of all that, why give out cash or prizes when most users are happy with virtual rewards?

Improve User Satisfaction

Let’s be honest, some websites are just plain boring. Games, competition and rewards provide an added edge which keep people interested.

It’s also good, positive marketing. Most people relate better to companies who aren’t all "business". Fun and games expose your human side and even create trust.

All of these things, traffic growth, increased activity, reduced expenses and improved satisfaction lead to one thing: more revenue.

How Can You Introduce Game Mechanics on Your Website?

So hopefully I’ve convinced you that there can be some real, tangible value behind game mechanics.

The next step is figuring out how you can introduce it on your website. Unfortunately, given the wide range of websites out there, I probably won’t be able to speak to your specific situation, but by providing some examples and techniques, I hope it will at least inspire some new ideas.

I also believe that the principles and techniques behind all of the examples can be applied in a variety of ways and be effective on any website.

Examples of Websites that Use Game Mechanics

Here are some examples of sites that have some sort of game mechanics for user engagement and community-building.

Concept Feedback

The Problem: Getting web designers and developers to actively provide valuable feedback on other websites.

The Solution: Offer points and rank for reviewing, voting and engaging with the site.

Concept Feedback is a website review community I developed for web designers and developers. Members can sign up for free and share feedback on other websites, as well as get feedback on their own.

In order to create an incentive for members to offer free advice, we started awarding points for various actions. Points can be earned actively by submitting or commenting on a review, voting or completing a profile. Points can also be earned passively by having others vote up your reviews or add your concept to their favorites.

Certain actions are worth more points than others. For example, having someone vote up your review is worth more points than voting up a review on your own.

Each activity has a set point value, and we let our users see a running history of their total and how many points each activity contributed to their total score.

Concept Feedback

Once we had a solid point system running, we started ranking each member on a 10-level scale, ranging from "Newbie" to "Elite".

Rank is determined by an algorithm based on a member’s point total and a few other factors.

By tagging each member with a rank, users posting a website can better judge which reviews are the most valuable.

We’ve found that rank creates an environment of friendly competition that leads to more site activity and reviews.

Rank also gives us a tool to filter our best members, not just those who are most active, but the highest quality members, providing a new way for us to monetize our community.

Concept FeedbackThe user page on Concept Feedback displaying top-ranked users.

Stack Overflow

The Problem: Getting programmers to quickly answer programming-related questions posted by other users.

The Solution: Award virtual badges for desired behaviors.

Stack Overflow (which I admit, was a big influence behind Concept Feedback), a question and answer website for programmers, has implemented an excellent game mechanics system.

Like Concept Feedback, Stack Overflow awards points (called "reputation") to members for participating.

How their system works, including which activities earn how many points, is broken down nicely in their FAQ. Stack Overflow has put a number of rules in place to ensure people are not abusing the system, which is run by the users and based entirely on trust (similar to Wikipedia).

The reputation system allows Stack Overflow to be self-sustaining and self-moderated.

In addition to the reputation system, Stack Overflow awards badges. Badges are awarded for specific actions such as the "Fanatic" badge for visiting the site each day for 100 consecutive days.

Each badge is categorized as gold, silver or bronze, with gold badges being the most difficult to earn.

Stack Overflow usersExplanation of how to attain a certain badge on Stack Overflow, including number of badges awarded.

Many Stack Overflow users have thousands of reputation points and hundreds of badges, and with well over 1 million unique visitors each month, they must be doing something right.

Stack OverflowTop users on Stack Overflow.

Dropbox

The Problem: Getting users to try the software and share it with friends.

The Solution: Offer additional storage space for finishing certain tasks.

Dropbox — software for syncing your files online and across multiple computers — uses game mechanics to encourage users to try their product and share it with friends.

By completing a checklist of tasks (like uploading a file or completing the product tour), users are given additional storage space for free.

The checklist is easy to understand, fun to use, and for those of you who are type-A (like me), impossible not to complete.

DropboxA checklist of tasks on Dropbox that awards you more space upon completion.

For web applications, this model is a great way to encourage product use and word of mouth without being overbearing.

By offering an incentive, a fair value exchange (you finish these tasks, we give you free storage) is created, which makes people more likely to participate.

Yelp!

The Problem: Getting consumers to provide in-depth, interesting reviews on local businesses.

The Solution: Creating a status symbol to encourage participation and brand evangelism.

Yelp, for those of you not familiar, is a business review community with millions of users and reviews. Each member has a profile, which includes the number of reviews posted, how many "friends" you have, how many times you’ve been the first to review a business and whether your reviews are funny, useful or cool, among other things.

Every activity is tracked with the intention of creating a more integrated and personal community.

The essence of Yelp! is in its community and in providing easy ways to engage with others on the site is what keeps people engaged and active.

Without some kind of interaction, most reviewers would lose interest.

YelpExample of a user profile on Yelp!.

To take it a step further, Yelp! capitalized on its most dedicated users by allowing them to apply for the Yelp! Elite Squad. This is not much more than an extra profile icon, but it creates a passionate group of brand evangelists who not only provide excellent reviews (for free!), but tell others about your service and how great it is.

Yelp! has successfully been able to leverage status to act as an engine for generating more content and encouraging word of mouth.

Additional Websites and Applications Using Game Mechanics

Hopefully you’ve been inspired by one of these examples to try using game mechanics on your own website. If you still haven’t found something that applies to your specific situation, check out some of the websites below. Each site incorporates some aspect of game mechanics.

More Resources on Game Mechanics

Is there a website you love that uses game mechanics well (there are plenty more), or perhaps something you’ve been doing on your own website to encourage participation? Please share it in the comments below!

Related Content

About the Author

Andrew Follett is the founder and CEO of Concept Feedback, a website feedback community for designers, developers and marketers. Follow Andrew and Concept Feedback on Twitter.

28 Comments

Sakis S.

June 10th, 2010

Superb article! Very helpful and inspiring!

Jordan Walker

June 10th, 2010

Truly remarkable how such a small icon can have a profound effect on human emotion.

Levinson & Axelrod

June 10th, 2010

It was interesting reading about game mechanics. Thanks for the introduction.

Axelrod

June 10th, 2010

It was interesting reading about game mechanics. Thanks a lot for the introduction.

Tschai

June 10th, 2010

Like (almost) every Web 2.0 feature…this also was implemented (default) years ago in all forumsoftware as status/ranks.

It really does help…a bit.

Paul

June 10th, 2010

I wonder if this can be done on a wordpress website

alan

June 10th, 2010

This definitely would make an interesting plug-in idea for WordPress Paul.

Anyone know of any blogs using a system like this yet?

Jason

June 10th, 2010

@Paul, exactly… someone needs to write a “badge” plugin…

Ken

June 10th, 2010

Some great points Andrew and terrific overview – thank you!

Paul, Alan, Jason, check out http://www.bunchball.com – we have a gamification platform that’s made to be quickly and cost-effectively integrated into websites and applications. You can also follow-us for the latest trends:
@bunchball
@kenhartmann

David Wheatley

June 11th, 2010

I love the way Dropbox uses game mechanics to interact with it’s users (me being one of them) and encourage people to use their service, it’s not done in a over bearing or intrusive way, like i have seen on some other sites.

The implementation of these things can be a little difficult depending on what platform you work on. Currently I’ve been using WordPress mostly, which does not really have any built in (or plug-in) options, Drupal is great as it has some very good and easy ways to introduce game mechanics such as star ratings. I think it’s also worth mentioning Magento – with it’s user polls.

Great Article, thanks for posting.

Marko

June 12th, 2010

I use Dropbox but hadn’t notice the feature — will look for it. LinkedIn’s progress bar (“Your Profile is 80% Complete) is a great omnipresent page element that reminds me to further engage with the site features — I think the placement ( / promotion) of this reminder is a key element of success.

I’ve often wondered whether game mechanics used in the “wrong way” may decrease a newbie’s interest in engaging (although wrong for me may be right for someone else). For example, a site that displays heavy users, (with their badges and ranking) prominently across many of it’s pages would deter me from registering, as I’m daunted by the amount of time and energy it would take for me to become part of that community.

The Huffington Posts use of badges plays on that line. It’s also a little distracting (I’m here to read, but I see there’s a competition going on among commenters!). It’s potentially useful for me to filter Comments based on ranking (show me heavy site user’s comments first), but I don’t *trust* the community/badging/ranking enough as a casual user.

I think these subtitles have to be taken into account in order to ward against bandwaggoneering ;)

Ouqz

June 12th, 2010

Themeforest has a lot of badges and statuses to earn too.

Ayman Aboulnasr

June 13th, 2010

Excellent Article, very well done Andrew.

The analysis was really well done with problems and solutions and different styles of game mechanics techniques were presented.

In fact, it has inspired me to apply the game mechanics concept in one of the projects I’m busy with at the moment.

It’s a nice concept to get the users to be more engaged with the website.

Arturs Mednis

June 13th, 2010

Any solution for wordpress blogs?

Satya Prakash

June 14th, 2010

I like to learn about new term and concept – game mechanics.

Jacob

June 15th, 2010

A very interesting article – although as you say, sometimes hard to imagine how we could integrate this into our own sites. The dropbox example is a very good one – I knew they did extra storage based on referrals, I didn’t realise they did it for other things too.

Thanks for sharing.

Tristan Kromer

June 15th, 2010

Don’t forget about OKCupid’s game mechanics. They are brilliant. In particular, only showing you a users answers to personal questions when *you* answer the same question.

Ian Goldsmid

June 15th, 2010

This is the best article on game mechanics I’ve seen – and I’ve been reviewing “everything” about this area for months – thank you !

Valerij Tomarenko

June 20th, 2010

Thanks for the article, didn’t know about Dropbox.

Dupond

June 20th, 2010

Arrgh ! My startup idea is already taken !

Danny Lee

August 9th, 2010

Thanks, the article is really great!

Klaus-Peter Wagenfuehr

September 9th, 2010

Really great and new to me. Thanks

Craig

September 18th, 2010

Very interesting read about game mechanics, and how this can be used to increase user activity. Thanks for the introduction, and this is defintiely a great idea as can be seen by the success of the examples. Will keep this in mind for a future project.

Marco

October 12th, 2010

fantastic! amazing… where i can find some cms like your http://www.conceptfeedback.com ??? or how much cost develop this concept for GEO TAG system with reviews points like foursquare.com ? thanks a lot.

MARCO.

Chase Mann

November 20th, 2010

Ever thought about writing a plug-in for WordPress? I could see people paying a premium for one. I would with a contest website I’m creating.

Raoulinski

December 21st, 2010

Thank you for this really nice article! A good introduction to funware and all this stuff, which was helpful for my study.
cheers and merry christmas days

sarah

February 24th, 2011

hi, is there any plugin about points and rewards out there?

Qtronik Webmaster

November 22nd, 2011

The best of all is the Envato website collection. They implent this badges award on all of ther websites. But i’m searching for soooo long a database design or a algorithm idea for this on professionals devellopper website like: http://conception.developpez.com/ or http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/web/ noting.
Do Ya guys had allready made a post or tutorial in developing a point system ?

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