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.