A few weeks ago I attended Playful, a day of cross disciplinary frolicking, or in other words a great day of talks about gaming. The conference began with host and organiser Toby Barnes lamenting that game mechanics (with a special mention for virtual badges) were now rife and that the word playful was becoming dirty and soiled by the application of mechanics to just about every form of interaction. To hammer home the point that playfulness had reached epidemic levels and how everything was becoming playful Toby stated ‘No one wants a playful bank’. As a bank employee this was a great start to the day…but I digress, back to badge proliferation. My favourite presentation of the day was by Sebastian Deterding whose talk, entitled Pawned, gave a dizzying amount of badge collection examples. From geolocation social networks, such as Foursquare, to less obvious services such as Google’s Power Meter where you can earn virtual badges for good behaviour with your electricity usage.
I don’t really want to go into the argument on whether badge collecting mechanics work, whether they are overused. What I am more interested in is the value of these badges/achievements outside of the systems they were designed/earned within.
The system I actively collect badges, or achievements as they are better known, in most often is Xbox Live. I currently have 614 Xbox achievements collected via 59 games earning me a Microsoft Gamerscore of 11,699 over a period of about 14 months. These badges can affect the way I play games. There will be badges on the critical path of completing the game i.e. as you progress you earn. Some of these achievements can only be earned via very specific and sometimes obscure behaviour and a large number of achievements require you to replay the game once complete. I have collected a all kinds of achievements just for the reward of a badge and a handful of points. So the mechanics of collection certainly affect the way I play these games. But what does this mean outside the system of Xbox Live? How does the fact I earned 31 out of 50 achievements on Lego Indiana Jones affect my life outside of Xbox live land?
I can broadcast the fact I have earned these badges on my social networks of choice (I love posting my achievements to Facebook via Raptr as it annoys lots of my friends) but this is ultimately meaningless with limited social value over and above ‘Ooh Aden plays Xbox and he is average at Lego Indiana Jones’. The obvious value could be around marketing/shopping e.g. If I share my Xbox live achievements with Amazon might they suggest games I would like. How about offering me a discount on Lego Indiana Jones 2 if I unlock the ‘I step on fortune cookie’ achievement in the first game? This marketing focus might drive the change required to link achievements with external systems but it feels a bit basic and does everything have to be about buying more shit?
It is getting late and I am running out of steam so this post is more questions than answers but it is out of my head now. ‘Dull blogpost about badges’ badge successfully unlocked.