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Gamification of User Generated Content

Posted by Jayson Ambrose on 16.08.11

Gamification of user generated content

Aug 02, 2011, Toronto - Recently, there has been an increase in demand for adding a game layer to our user-generated content applications. Gamification – most widely recognized in applications such as Foursquare and SCVNGR – uses points, levels, leaderboards and the awarding of badges to increase engagement. If you think virtual rewards aren’t enough to motivate participation, then you haven’t heard of Farmville.

We do in fact, need badges.

The overall business goal for our clients is to drive awareness and participation in the their campaigns. The website goal is to convert inactive and spectator users into joiners, commenters and event creators. Our interactive websites include uploading photos and videos, commenting, rating, checking in via mobile devices, creating events and many other activities. The game mechanics, meant to increase engagement will include awarding badges for performing actions and completing goals within the community.

Our approach is to not award points, which is different than most current game systems.

Why not points?

Points are generally used to maintain motivation to perform mundane tasks. Also, points are much more interesting and valuable if they can be exchanged for virtual goods. In a role-playing game, an example would be sending your peons to dig for gold so that you can buy a shiny new sword.

In the case of our UGC applications, we are not trying to reward mundane tasks. We are trying to encourage high-value behaviour such as uploading content and sharing. Since many of our clients award real-world prizes for participation in the campaign, we much be wary of people gaming the game.

In a recent campaign, our client is encouraging people to host their own events and post them to the website and therefore, this is high-value behaviour. If we were to clearly show that the user was awarded a high number of points, users will quickly learn that the best way to get large point values is to create more events. This likely will result in many fake events. Moderators will filter out the clearly fake events (maybe), but this is more work for moderators for little value. As events are denied, gamers will move on to other “gold” – commenting, and sharing. Also subject to moderation, but harder to judge, the result will be a flood of superfluous comments such as “I like this!” and “Awesome!”. This is not the behaviour we are trying to encourage.

Another example of this type of bad behaviour is a contest where the vote counts are visible. I always implore our clients to hide the actual vote counts. If a user realizes they can log fraudulent votes (via fake emails for example) and immediately see they are successful, this encourages the cheater to continue. Although the contest rules expressly permit the contest host to choose a winner, the damage is done through people complaining via social media and other channels.


Our approach is to base the game on earning badges for a variety of combined actions. This will keep people interested and facilitate more high-value activities. To continue the example of real-world events across the country, here are some potential “challenges” that require several game activities to be completed to gain an award:

• Comment on your own event
• Comment on another event
• Comment on 5 events, 10 events
• Upload to your own event
• Upload a photo, a video and an audio file
• Upload to 5 events
• Check into event
• Check into 2 events in 2 cities
• Check into 2 events in 2 states
• Create events in 2 cities
• Attend an event with 100 people
• Etc…

The first three examples may sound the same as simply awarding points for commenting, but the key difference is that the user doesn’t know what it takes to get badges. If the user is simply awarded 5 points for commenting, he can assume that commenting 100 times will give him 500 points and the resulting real-world prize. If he receives a badge for commenting once on his own event and then a second for commenting on another event, but no reward for commenting repeatedly, the correct behaviour is driven: find more stuff to do.

Another element of rewarding badges for many different accomplishments is the element of surprise. Our community members aren’t explicitly told what badges can be won, so when a badge is presented, a little bit of endorphin goes a long way to keeping that user engaged.

Via the leaderboard and user profiles, newer users can explore the types of badges that are available. While the specific action that earned the badge isn’t exposed, the name of the badge suggests what was accomplished. For example, a badge might be called “National Promoter”, but the actual accomplishment (created event in every province) is a secret.

Tip: Since many of these awards are based on actions that are subject to moderation, if the item associated with earning the badge is denied, that badge will be removed. Moderation emails should include this information.

Written by Product Manager: Jayson Ambrose

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