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The community manager of a large developer community recently mentioned to me that we now have the ability to roll out badges for achievements on the site. These sound similar to Stack Exchange's badges (SE is not the platform); users would gain badges for positive contributions, ranging from a "nice post" badge for a single post that's well-received to badges that recognize good contributions over time. There is not currently a reputation system; the badges would be the only visible gamification, though user profiles link to all their contributions so you can get a sense of how active they've been.

I've heard some people in other professional communities dismiss badges or "achievements" as "gold stars, like in kindergarten", arguing that it's not very professional. I've heard others argue that badges help user engagement and keep people around and active longer. I'm aware of this list of research papers about Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow, on which I found this paper about badges, which talks about badges and reputation. I don't know enough statistics to be able to tease out the badge-only effects from what they report there. And, of course, it may be just plain hard to measure the effects of one reward in a multi-reward system like SE.

How can we evaluate the option of badges, without a scoring system like reputation, for our own community, other than trying it and seeing what happens? Is there any research, or maybe case studies, that could help us predict the effects of introducing badges to our community?

  • The professional communities I know a bit, consider gamifications such as batches rather to be an unneeded or potentially even harmful distraction that takes away attention and effort from the actual topic of the site into "gaming". – just_curious Dec 9 '14 at 13:46
  • On a professional site, introducing batches can be very dangerous, if the level of the content is not strictly hold up too at the same time. It dependes a bit on the nature of the badges, those for good posts might be harmless or even slighly postitive. Conversely, badges given out for a certain number of review/moderation actions have the dangerous potential to attract "badge hunters" who are more interested in playing the game and gaining power than doing good contributions to the topic of the site. – just_curious Dec 9 '14 at 13:54
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    @just_curious that all sounds plausible, but OTOH there are sites (not just gaming ones :-) ) that do this, which is why I'm hoping to improve on gut feelings and anecdotes. Is there anything we can say with a little more support? – Monica Cellio Dec 9 '14 at 13:57
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    @just_curious it sounds like you're trying to write an answer in comments. Could I persuade you to post an answer instead, supporting what you say? Thanks. – Monica Cellio Dec 9 '14 at 14:02
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    I have unfortunately not any systematic quantitative studies in mind, but I have observed an originally rather professional SE site been taken over by non-professional (moderation, review) "badge hunters" which dramatically lowered the level of the content and lead to the site being governed no longer very "professionaly" from a professionals of the site topic point of view, because in the past they suddenly gave up on keeping up the level. @Monica I will think if I can make an answer out of it with a bit additional research. – just_curious Dec 9 '14 at 14:07
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It depends.

Do you think that it is necessary? What is the age of your community? Is your community focused on answering question or hunting achievements then? These are question which you have to answer.

You have to consider that getting badges can result in spam and unprofessional answers. The age of your community is considerable too. Although you can't make a point for all, you can think about it. Is it a young community? Maybe it's useless then since younger participants have a liking to showing off. If they are older, will they even care about it?

Badges are nice but they are just objects. Objects given by a system. I don't think that they are special in any way. I wouldn't ever consider getting badges. Instead of that I try to get something awesome, something really unique. Somewhen I found a really good solution:

Instead of giving them badges, give them something they can alter. I've seen a lot of forums where you could gain an specific subtitle, prefix, or suffix if you've participated a lot. At 1000 posts you even have the opportunity to name yourself as whatever you like, e.g. "The Awesominator", "Big Pizza" and so on. It simply shows off how important the users are. Badges are nothing special, everyone can have them, but your unique subtitle, prefix or suffix is personal to you!

Also, it's considerable to get achievements, or badges, by the administrator personally. You can trick a system so you're getting way too many badges, but you can't trick a person (that easy). It's always a honor to be rewarded by a staff member, trust me. This will really push your users, however it's a lot of work.

Instead of badges you could also introduce user levels. I'm really sure that you have a post counter or something else, so why not extend it to user levels? The higher the level, the better the user. To prevent users spamming around in your forum, the points will be summed up by different factors, e.g. (online-)activity, post counter, rated threads and posts.

In the end, it really depends on your community. Actually, you can run every forum without any kind of gamification. It's not necessary, it's just helpful. You should consider it really carefully, because showing off, spamming, and unprofessional answers will help nobody!

  • Zerotime - it seems like you are giving your personal opinion, but you should be aware that other people will have very different feelings about these aspects of a system. Personally - I love badges, and loathe personal names ("awesomator"? it sounds fun, but is that really professional?). badges and thanks awarded personally by moderators are indeed a great motivator, but by definition take a lot of personal time from any given admin... thus an automated badge system works better for larger communities. – Taryn East Feb 1 '15 at 2:35
  • Likewise, badges have the advantage of letting newbie users know the kinds of things that are do-able in the system, as well as the kinds of activities that are encouraged (if built well). So this is very much a YMMV situation... and some real statistical data beats anybody's individual opinion on the subject. – Taryn East Feb 1 '15 at 2:36
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Introducing achievements can have mixed effects and as said by one of the previous answers, the type of community you have and what goals you have will determine whether it's best to implement an achievement system.

If you're looking for better engagement of your members within the site itself, then achievements are a good way of doing so. While they could be considered like "gold stars", ultimately as humans we enjoy being rewarded and so we do whatever we can to get them. Much on the same basis as to how sites like this work. Stack Exchange rely on this basic human desire to make sure that questions are answered with relevant content etc.

You could experiment with the concept and ask a few of your colleagues what their thoughts are. Ultimately though, an achievement system is a means to an end but is not an end in itself. For example, if you want to only implement such a system to just attract more users, it's likely not going to be successful. However if you implement the system in order to drive activity on your site so that they then help to achieve an end goal then it might be worth doing.

The community site that I participate in has just implemented an achievements system and we've done so in order to increase general discussion within our forums and to encourage users to spend more time on our site looking at other things (such as our news output etc). We didn't launch it though just because we had the capability to do so etc.

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I've found that badges or achievements can produce spam or unnecessary posts that end up clogging the forum. While yes, it can drive your post count, I don't believe it really creates engagement or a positive community experience. I would be careful if you choose to go forward.

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    Hi Nicole, and welcome to the site. If you can flesh this answer out a bit, I'd be happy to give you an upvote. I think this question is asking for - and deserves! - more than a brief opinion. – Air Dec 11 '14 at 16:54

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