Leaderboards, like points and badges, are an unarguably popular convention of games, and the steady march of gamification means we’re seeing them turn up in an increasing number of places. Ranking top users based upon known and agreed upon metrics, leaderboards are an increasingly popular way for offering feedback since they incorporate a performance measure (“how am I doing?”) and make it social by allowing easy comparison with others (“how do I stack up against the competition?”). But there is a subtlety to leaderboards which is often forgotten by the gamefiers of the world. When done well, a leaderboard can increase engagement – the sense of competition they bring can encourage users to get better at things they care about. The mass-adoption of leaderboards comes with many pitfalls, however, that not only disincentivize users but irritate the hell out of them as well.
Relevancy is the name of the game when it comes to feedback, the more relevant your leaderboard is to a specific user the more engaging it will be. Here are 3 things you can do to make better, more relevant leaderboards:
Leaderboards have been around as long as games like Chess and Go, but they reached general notoriety via the arcade. Durning the boom of pinball machines and on through arcade video games, leaderboards served as a mechanic to not only encourage players to pony up extra quarters, but as a way to connect players as a community. Playing your local Donkey Kong machine was a test of your skill against your peers. Highscorers on an arcade machines were big fish in little ponds, since the number of people attempting the highscores were limited by location of the arcade and community foot-traffic. The leaderboard is relevant since players are likely to see and know their competition; it tracks the drama of wins and losses in the local community.
The advent of the web expanded leaderboards globally. Where it might have once been difficult to hold the top spot in your local arcade it became nearly impossible to become the best in the world. While increasing competition, global leaderboards can serve as a disincentive by setting the bar for success too high. Thinking of your leaderboards as small communities rather than global ones can help make your board more relevant and engaging. An easy place to start is by using Facebook to keep communities small and relevant, encouraging players to ask "how do I rank within my group of friend?" Facebook is just the beginning, however. There are always other interesting options for creating small and relevant communities.
Any site, experience or game possesses a myriad of different trackable elements. Games by their very nature assign different points to different actions. In Donkey Kong, to keep our arcade examples coming, a player receives points for jumping over barrels, smashing barrels, and finishing a level (among other actions). These points add up to a total score which in turn gives a player a spot on the leaderboard.
Today's more complex games and web experiences offer a greater range of trackable actions. Players can be ranked not only by their total score but their time spent playing, the number of contests they’ve played, and myriad other metrics. Rather than having a single board, imagine leaderboards that track users across multiple relevant metrics. This allows for more users to appear on the leaderboard, encouraging and rewarding multiple styles of play and reaching out to a variety of players.
Having small and diverse leaderboards are not enough on their own. A leaderboard is not motivational unless the metrics are meaningful and desirable for players. Besides cutting data in different ways to create multiple leaderboards, it's important to remember that a leaderboard can take many forms, shapes, and sizes. Custom metrics need to be created to engage specific types of motivational behaviors. User and players engage with your game or experience for a many different reasons. By understanding these reasons you can motivate them to explore and try harder at the things which they care about. A Donkey Kong player could be motivated by finishing a specific level or beating their last score, but not care about how many barrels they have smashed. Not all players are driven to play or compete in the same times of ways and by giving them a meaningful mirror to hold up to their performance they will continue to engage and grow at your system.
Leaderboards like all forms of feedback work best when they provide hyper-relevant information to the user. Discovering what users are looking for allows custom feedback systems to be created and increase engagement, participation and playtime.