I often get asked what my favorite gamification element or elements are, but no one ever asks what ones I dislike!
So I thought I would ask you guys the question and offer my own answer.
That’s right, one of the mainstays of gamification, leaderboards are my least favorite element in gamification.
Don’t get me wrong, they have their place and when used well they can be a great asset to a gamified system. The problem is, they are so infrequently used well and normally are there for a “quick fix”.
“We need to drive some productivity guys, what should we do?”
“Let’s give them all feedback on how they are doing and show them how they can improve”
“Yeah, I know, a leaderboard. That will give them some feedback AND create a really fun competition”
“Dude, that sounds awesome, I love leaderboards in Call of Duty, I’m like 8 millionth in the world and it really motivates me to do better, I love Call of Duty…”
You see, leaderboards often create competition where there did not need to be any, and worse, they can drive some very negative behaviors. Overjustification effect could have been written about leaderboards! You do something because you love it, then someone creates a leaderboard and suddenly you are behaving out of character because you feel you need to stay at the top. The joy quickly fades as you feel a need to compete rather than a desire to enjoy. You start to do things just because they maintain your position. And that is just if you are at the top.
If you are at the bottom and it is a leaderboard that measures something that you don’t enjoy, it just has no motivational effect on you at all, in fact, it may well demotivate you.
In Call of Duty, you play because it is fun unless you are professional, but that is different! In work, you are there for a specific purpose. If you suddenly find that every move you make is being recorded and displayed to everyone, that is hardly cause for celebration, it just becomes monitoring.
Again, in specific well-designed situations, that can all be designed in and can be created sympathetically to the environment and with the collaboration of those involved.
Sadly, so many just slap a leaderboard on and hope for the best! This leads to unbalanced competition, where those at the top stay there and those at the bottom never have a fair chance to win. This is why competitive sports have leagues! You don’t just have one leaderboard for every football team in the country, from Sunday Dads to Chelsea. There is no direct comparison there at all!
Let me know your least favorite game elements in the comments 😀
Also published on Medium.