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4 More Insights Revealed by the Gamification Spectrum

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Spectrum Insight 350px.pngWelcome back for another deeper exploration of the gamification spectrum. In my previous post, we described 3 patterns in the operational properties of gamification tools. However, the gamification spectrum is far more useful that just that. So this time we will show you 4 more insights we can glean from this spectrum.


Again, since the content of this post requires a deep understanding of the previous posts on the gamification spectrum, I recommend revisiting the following posts if you miss any of them:

  1. The Gamification Spectrum—A Unified Organization of Gamification Tools
  2. The True Power of the Gamification Spectrum


Now, let’s start where we left off last time.

g-spectrum pat3.png


Pattern 4: Ideal Visibility and Scope of Feedback

Although gamified apps (e.g. FourSquare) often show off badges collected by their players, the tools with short feedback timescales (i.e. points and badges) are not ideal for public display. Why? Since tools on the far left of the spectrum use metrics that are cumulative, they tend to be biased in favor of those who have been playing for a longer time. So tools like points and badges are not really a fair comparison among the players. Making these tools publicly visible may actually demotivate the new players. Instead, tools with short feedback timescale are actually more suitable as feedback to the player himself. So it should only be visible privately to the player himself.


However, as we move to the right of the spectrum, the metrics become less biased and less susceptible to gaming. For example the use of time-bound metrics in leaderboards eliminates the bias that favors early players. Consequently, feedback and rewards from tools in this part of the spectrum are a more fair and accurate reflection of the player’s true ability. As such, they are more appropriate for public display within the community of players. On the far right of the spectrum, the achievements awarded from those tools are even suitable for display beyond the community of players.

g-spectrum pat4.png



Insight: Points and badges are biased in favor of long-time players, so they are not really a fair comparison of people’s skills (or abilities). Points and badges are primarily a feedback to the players themselves (not blatantly visible to the public). Showing off people’s points and badges publically may actually demotivate majority of the population.


Pattern 5: Value of Rewards

If we examine the rewards (i.e. feedback) of gamification tools, we can also see a pattern as we move across the spectrum. Because tools on the left of the spectrum only provide feedback to the players on their own performance data, the rewards from these tools are purely extrinsic. Moreover, because the gamified behavior is so simple—one action from the player, there is little uncertainty or mystery in the reward because they are either completely transparent or easily predictable.


As we move to the right, the rewards become less predictable, because a reward is triggered only when all the gamified actions are above a certain threshold. No reward is given even if only one—any one—of the gamified actions did not meet the criterion while all others are well above their respective thresholds. This makes the precise reward criteria harder to predict, and adds more mystery and uncertainty to the “game.” Such mystery not only creates entertainment value, it also serves as an anticipatory motivator for the players.


Tools on the far right of the spectrum reward their players based on the actions of other players—reciprocity or collaborative actions. This social element makes rewards from tools on the far right of the spectrum more meaningful and valuable to the players. Hence, rewards from these tools are more intrinsically motivating.

g-spectrum pat5.png 


Insight: The rewards offered by points and badges are purely extrinsic. It simply tells the players what they’ve done transparently. Trying to add mysteries in these simple gamification tools may actually confuses new players early on. Mystery should be used later with tools on the middle and right side of the spectrum, where the rewards are more intrinsic.


Pattern 6: Sustainability

Naturally, tools on the left of the gamification spectrum are not sustainable, because the rewards they provide are purely extrinsic and have little long-term value to the players. Eventually the players will realize this fact and get bored quickly. On the contrary, tools on the right of the spectrum are sustainable, because the rewards they offer are intrinsic, more meaningful, and have greater value to the players.

g-spectrum pat6.png


Insight: Points, badges and leaderboards are great starter tools for implementing gamification. They work well in the short-term, and drive results quickly, but it’s not sustainable long term. If you want to gamify a behavior for long-term (years) you need to use gamification tools on the right of the spectrum.


Pattern 7: Implementation

At last, from an implementation and deployment perspective, tools on the left side of the spectrum tend to be much easier to build, implement, and deploy. That is precisely why so many tools on the market are basically variants of points, badges and leaderboards. On the other end of the spectrum, the tools are harder to implement because not only do they need to track more complex behaviors, they also need to capture different types of behaviors and perform sophisticated analytics to understand these behaviors. As a result, many tools on the right end of the spectrums are custom built. They also require a substantial amount of time and effort to tune and configure, so they are generally not turn-key solutions out-of-the-box.


Insight: Points, badges and leaderboards are easy to build. Companies having engineering resource can easily build their own system for tracking points, awarding badges and showing off people on the leaderboard. These simple tools are also readily available from vendors. However, more sophisticated gamification tools on the right of the spectrum must be designed specifically for your use case and audience in order to be effective. As such they are rarely available out-of-the-box.


Although I’ve developed the gamification spectrum as framework to help me organize the thousands of gamification tools on the market, it’s more than an organizing framework. We can glean a lot of insights from studying the gamification spectrum. And this time we’ve reveal 4 more insights in addition to the 3 we’ve discussed previously. So the spectrum is quite information rich now.


g-spectrum pat7.png


In the next blog I will discuss 2 very important patterns. Because these 2 patterns have profound implications in the business applications of gamification, I am going to devote an entire post to them!


In the meantime, can you discover more patterns, progressions, and insights from this spectrum? Feel free to discuss what you find here.


About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.
Honored Contributor Honored Contributor
Honored Contributor

Cracking read, i can see the makings of volume 3 in the works Smiley Happy 

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @Fellsteruk


Thank you for the kind comment.

When you say volume 3 do you mean "science of social 3"? If so, there are some discussion around that, but I'm way too busy for that now. It may have to wait a bit... But I'd certainly entertain the idea.  ;-)


Thanks again for the comment and see you next time.


Honored Contributor Honored Contributor
Honored Contributor

Yeah Volume 3 of Science of Social. I can only imagine how much time it must take to draft them and go through the initiration before publishing however they are a great read and in my opinion a great size both in terms of being concise and not being 600 pages but also small enough that you can carry it around with you and read it in snippests... That's said i should be advocating the e-book version in our digital age.

Im sure lots would love to see the next addition and all the better if dedicated to gamification Smiley Happy

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @Fellsteruk,


Thx again for the support.


It does take a lot of time, but at least I don't have to start from scratch. Both SoS and SoS2 are based on the content of my blog. They just have to be re-written for a less technical business audience. We deliberately left out all the big data stuff, thinking that maybe SoS3 can be on big data/data science. So there are definitely raw materials for SoS3, but I just never got time to re-write it.


I've since written more on gamification, and more generally on behavior design. So maybe SoS3 can be big data and gamification. Not sure when I'll get to that though. Since then I've also revamped an old customer experience (CX) framework that I've developed a while back. It's pretty well received. I've been planning to write about that CX framework. 


Anyway, I'll just have to make some tough tradeoff about what I'll do in the near future to crank out SoS3. But your words are very encouraging. It definitely got me thinking more about it.


Thx and see you again soon.


New Commentator

"Pattern 7" is the gold in here for me -- it elucidates the possibilities on the right-hand side of the scale.  Even the notional examples are fairly simple, but discussion of the need for custom-defined and custom-developed reward mechanisms made me think more about how broad a range of behaviors and metrics one could use.


I have some quibbles in other areas, however. 


In "Pattern 4", the discussion of bias against newer players is a bit misleading, or "gamed".  ;-)  When implemented in their basic form, which is cumulative measurement, ALL rewards and metrics are biased against newer players -- that's not just a characteristic of the simple measures on the left of the spectrum, as you imply.  When you start discussing learderboards, you slip in a very important concept -- time-bounding.  The paragraph might lead readers to think that leaderboards are less biased than badges, for instance, although I think in an earlier blog post you commented that it can take a long time to get on a leaderboard, which means it's inherently biased against new players.


The time-bounding concept is important across the whole spectrum -- in fact, it BREAKS the time-scale spectrum.  Points earned EVER is biased; points earned in the last week is not.  Reputation (total kudos EVER) is biased against new players; reputation this month is not.  When it's desireable, time-bounding allows you to collaps or crumple the timescale (not just compress it), effectively stacking all of the "spectrum" examples on top of each other: everything has a timescale of, say, a week or a month.


In "Pattern 5" I would suggest a caveat and a caution.  CAVEAT:  multi-factor rewards don't HAVE to implement hard thresholds on each factor, at least not burdensome ones.  In the real world, few people do well in all things; they have strengths and weaknesses, and as long as their strengths outweigh their weaknesses, they will achieve good things.  (i.e. an *integrated* or *holistic* model, versus a *piecemeal* multi-factor score.)  That would be be my recommendation for implementing such rewards -- if someone is REALLY good in three out of four things, and only so-so in the fourth, they're still probably way above average and deserve recognition.


Not taking this integrated or holistic approach leads to my CAUTION: being a stickler for every aspect of a multi-factor reward can make the game appear petty or even dumb.  In various situations, not all actions are equally valuable or sensible.  If a player has to spend time or other resources doing something that is not useful for him/her in the long term, or doesn't make sense in their particular circumstances, the game becomes frustrating and literally looks like the people who designed it didn't think it through well enough.  That negates the supposed intrinsic rewards, and can harm the reputation of whatever has been gamified that way.  Since the game designer can't anticipate EVERYONE'S specific circumstances and relative values, avoiding harsh thresholds and using an integrated/holistic reward measure builds in some flexibility to avoid negative player reactions.


Lastly, a note on "mystery" ("Pattern 5"):  In general I think a sense of mystery is important in life.  However, in a game, people like to know the rules.  Mystery in a game, as you've described it, can lead to frustration and a feeling that the game is arbitrary.  As I read read that paragraph, I first thought of the card game Captain Kirk used to baffle some captors ("Fizzbin" -- I had to look it up to remember the name:, and then thought of all the games that Calvin used to invent in the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip, where the rules were made up as he went.  The common characteristic of those games, which had loads of "mystery", was that they annoyed the hell out of everyone else who had to play them (other than the inventor).

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello @rsteer 


Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

I’m glad that you find pattern 7 useful.


You are right that time bounding is a concept that can be apply throughout the spectrum. It is basically what’s call a "mission"—time bounded achievement of certain metrics. I haven’t cover that yet, but will probably do that later, since you brought it up. As you said, it can be apply to points—get 100 point by the end of the week. Or badges, get 3 different kinds of badges in 1 month. Or leaderboard, stay on the leaderboard for 5 weeks in a row, etc.


However, these are no longer just points, badges or leaderboards as they are designed. They are time-bounded points and badges, etc., which are different from plain points and badges. You don’t lose badges, but you can lose time-bounded badges. They are different tools. Like I said, there are thousands of tools (maybe even more considering all the possible variants and different designs one could come up), but they all have their feedback timescale that fits somewhere along the spectrum. That is why the spectrum is a continuum, and the 7 tools I listed are simply the representatives with that feedback timescale.


But you are right, not all variants of badges are biased, but plain badges is. Time bounded badges is not, but time-bounded badges is a different tool (that is why it's call a time-bounded badge, and not badge) that has different timescale from just plain badges.


The multi factor rewards still include all the cases you described. The If you do good on 3 but not the 4th, you get one kind of trophy, and if you do good and all 4, you get an even more rare trophy. These are different tools that have different feedback timescale.


So your caution is well taken. That is why the precise factors and criteria that goes into each trophy and rank has to be inform from data, so we don’t end up making the players do useless things. Trying to pull factors and set criteria out of a hat is a formula for disaster.


You are right again about mystery. It can be frustrating. But only for novices and beginners who have not master the game yet. For people who have more skills, it does help add to the challenge by not knowing all the rule and have them discover them as they play more. The key is to use it at the right point in time for the player’s familiarity. Too much mystery at too early of a stage will definitely lead to frustration.


Bottom lines is gamification, as well as game design, is a design discipline, not math and physics. There is not hard rules. Everything has some exceptions. You and I can easily create a badge that is so hard to get that its feedback timescale is longer than any portable or team reputation you can imagine. However, saying that there is no rules at all isn’t true either. And it doesn’t help anyone who want to understand the subject at a high level.


The gamification spectrum is meant to offer a general framework to look at the different gamification tools in the market. Like I said, there are thousands of gamification tools. I can’t list them all. When you are using a tool, regardless of what people call it, you have to figure out it’s feedback timescale and see where it fits on the spectrum. The points, badges, leaderboards, etc. are their simplest variant and they are only representatives at that feedback timescale.


You obviously understand this more than the average folks. So thank you for sharing your point of view and experience here.

And I hope to see you again soon.