Backlinks or Badges: Should you Gamify Your Blog?

I don’t think adding “experience points” and badges to your blog will increase readership for the average blogger. On popular blogs, game mechanics might cause frequent readers to try and leave more short comments just to appear on a leader board  – but I doubt it will bring new readers.

Game mechanics (the psychological triggers, design elements, and workflows used in games) are currently a hot area of research. New mobile and social games like Farmville and Foursquare have caught the attention of software developers because of their uncanny ability to incentivize user behaviors. Non-game application developers want to inspire their users with some of the great aspects games offer. Aspects like fun, a feeling of empowerment or escape, learning, and most of all – loyalty and addiction.

Recently, 47 examples of specific game mechanics were leaked from the company SCVNGR, creating an excellent resource. Some other key figures leading the research are Amy Jo Kim, Jane McGonigal, and Jesse Schell.

A new startup called BigDoor has even launched a service to let any Web site developer attach game mechanics to (or gamify) their Web site. And, to make it quick and easy to get started, they’ve launched a WordPress Gamification Plugin to, well, gamify your WordPress blog.

Once a blogger installs the plug-in, blog readers earn points by commenting and “checking in” by clicking a special button. BigDoor claims this will bring users back to your blog frequently, building traffic and participation. Collectively, a reader’s activity earns them “experience points” (XP). As a visitor’s points accumulate they level up and collect new badges.

gamify wordpress blog plugin

On the surface, this seems like a brilliant way to spread the BigDoor service around the web. But I have to question whether simply adding game mechanics to a blog will really encourage more long term readership and community.

As a software designer, you can incorporate game mechanics in your web site in a very explicit, obvious, and external way (as with the BigDoor WordPress plug-in). Or, you can integrate game mechanics in a more subtle and natural way. For example, the number of Twitter followers you have, or your Ebay rating could be considered scores and levels. As you collect Twitter followers or blog comments, the thumbnail images are themselves award badges in a way.

Another way to explain this is to understand what are intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. A blog reader wants to read interesting content, perhaps participate in a discussion with the author and other visitors, and share the content. When they do those things, they feel an intrinsic reward. When they do those things in order to earn points, they are doing it for the extrinsic reward.

I made my blog “dofollow”  for a year or two and saw a huge (easily 10x) increase in blog comments. More people stopped by because they knew that by commenting they would receive a backlink to their own blog. The classic “Comment Luv” or other “top commenter” plugins also provide similar intrinsic (and I think more natural) rewards. These directly reward commenters with recognition on leader boards for how many times they’ve commented (not blog “experience points”).

Hopefully BigDoor’s WordPress badges correlate in some way with visiting, reading, and commenting. I’m not sure, I haven’t seen anything but the “newbie” badge so far. However, my overriding sense is that the experience points and badges will be too tangential to the reader’s goals. I think simple leader boards for top commenters, and rewarding good commenters with dofollow links are a much better way to go.

17 thoughts on “Backlinks or Badges: Should you Gamify Your Blog?”

  1. As part of another company also providing game mechanics as a service, I found the WordPress implementation interesting. I think there is a problem with blogs in that they are not really that participatory by nature usually. This makes it harder to add game mechanics in a meaningful way. I think it can be done – but I’d like to see something a little more engaging.

  2. Hi Adam,

    I do agree with you that just adding badges and points is not exactly going to compel your users to do more of a certain action. It’s been frustrating for people to believe that Gamifying a site simply entails adding badges.

    That being said, game mechanics are some of the strongest persuasive design elements. Badges, points, and leaderboards are simply tools to help you design the game experience. It’s how you implement them that matters.

    That’s one of the reasons my goal with Reputely, was to make it as simple as possible for developers to get started adding game mechanics to their applications, where they could quickly iterate based on feedback and metrics of how their users were interacting with the site. A lot of game-design is trial-and-error.

    Cheers,

    Dru

  3. Adam great blog post. You touched on a big passion area for me. Big Door is a great idea. I have been following Amy Jo Kim’s work for a while. Thanks for putting this all together.

  4. It’s a very important distinction to keep in mind.

    I know it’s dangerous to generalize based on my own experience, especially because I’m a bit weird, but I tend to be motivated by and participate in “game mechanics” when they are integrated dully into the task at hand, and not when Rey are tangential.

    For example, I find the “game mechanics” in world of Warcraft to be very effective and fun, in part because accomplishing the rewards in-game is really the major reason I’m playing, whereas even with Foursquare, probably one of the most direct-integrated game mechanic services out there, I felt compelled to participate not because of it’s game ness but because of the ability to connect with people in real life (when you have real time location data on yourfriwnds in your city).

    Anyways I’m rambling. The point is: I’m not yet convinced that game mechanics bolted on for the sake of game mechanics is a good idea.

  5. Hmfp I see a similar spam behavior @ startupmonkeys.com I believe you’re accurate in that a once you get on a “list” for “dofollow” its just spam comments and not true contributions. I would love disqus to figure this problem out, I initially used them to disuade this behavior, but its not hard to create an “account” on it and spam on multiple properties with it. Are you moderating every post to get around it? Are you getting anything scalable other than “nofollow”?

  6. Adam great blog post. You touched on a big passion area for me. Big Door is a great idea. I have been following Amy Jo Kim’s work for a while. Thanks for putting this all together.

  7. Certainly, there is no way that badges like this are going to bring in traffic to your blog. Comments are basically used in blogs to encourage reader partnership. They should not be used as a bait to encourage commentators for commenting on your blog. In my opinion, the only thing they can do at most is to increase your page load time and promote spam, which is already way beyond control.

  8. Nice post Adam. I do agree with you that just adding badges and points is not exactly going to compel your users to do more of a certain action.

  9. Great post, Adam. I completely agree that game mechanics can either be incorporated in a “very explicit, obvious, and external way” or in a more subtle and natural way. I believe the real challenge with using gamification successfully is finding a way to incorporate game mechanics in seamless way so that users do not feel as though their experience is being externally gamified.
    I’m currently working with a few others on an open source gamification platform that is set to be released soon. We are aiming to provide a platform that can be incorporated into websites and mobile platforms in the subtle, natural way you mentioned above. If you wish, check it out at CloudCaptive.com or check out our code page at http://code.google.com/p/userinfuser/
    Thanks again for your insight into the growing trend of gamification.

  10. I’m thinking about gamifying my site but the success probably lies in not going bonkers with the rewards for every little thing they do. I might concentrate on G+,Likes and Twitter clicks as it gives me exposure and i’d like to reward people for that. Maybe adding rewards for Guest Blogs when sent in or something. Do any of you have sites with Gamefy effects in them?

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