Stormtrooper likeness copyrighted in USA by Lucasfilm

Stormtrooper likeness copyrighted in USA by Lucasfilm

Although I was really excited about badges when I started creating the game for my class, I soon discovered that after the initial enthusiasm, there was little interest in the badges (with one exception, that I’ll discuss below).  Initially, I wondered about this, but soon put it aside in the constant flow of what was working well, and forgot it until recently.

What brought it back to mind was a series of posts I ran across over the last week.  First, I was reminded about a couple of posts I’d read before but hadn’t put together well before:

In the former, Andrzej explores several reasons why badges can fall flat on their faces, as mine did.  For me, the essence of his message is that badges should be tied directly to an accomplishment the player is already striving to achieve.  Otherwise, they celebrate something the user doesn’t care about and thus, fail to be valuable.  This is an exact description of the problem with over half of the badges I created.  My intention to build badges to encourage and celebrate players who engage in helping behavior, explored, and so on failed because the badge by itself is nothing but a little picture.  Certainly nothing that a player would be motivated to achieve…on its own.  The key is making it represent something the player cares about achieving.

The second article reiterates this point (and refers to Andrzej’s post) and expands on it with specific strategies to make badges work, including tying to achievements, aesthetics, linking them to social interactions / status, and making some revokable.  My take-away here was that in addition to tying directly to achievements, I could improve my badge use by linking them into social conversations, making them more visible, and other actions that link the badges into the social interactions in the class and the game.

Finally, today I was the recipient of a gift from Dan Slaughter (tho he didn’t know he was giving me a gift 😉 when he posted in detail about certain aspects of the game he’s created for a unit in his business class.  In particular, he describes how he will be using badges in his class.  He’s done exactly what Andrzej described by building the badges as marks of achievement of various quests, as well as assigning an XP value to each quest.  I expect that he’ll find his badges work well and am eager to hear how they are perceived by the students.

In my games, I don’t feel putting a badge on each quest is sustainable (I plan to include a large variety of quests, to allow students to choose a path that suits them).  However, I see them working well in a few different capacities:

  1. Some will continue to be used from the current class.  These are the badges that denote the level a player has achieved.  In these specific cases, the badges in my class have been consistently well perceived and appreciated.  (Given that they’re the only ones tied to a specific achievement the players are seeking, this makes good sense.)
  2. I’m going to introduce some side-quests next year, to include aspects or goals I feel are worthwhile, but not valuable enough to build into the main path of the game.  These will add variety and choice for the players.  Some of these, especially ones with significant but tangential importance, will have badges associated with completion.
  3. Some badges will celebrate a certain number of quests, or a level of variety, or depth within a certain strand, and other achievements that will celebrate aspects players are already achieving but may not have thought to celebrate, on their own.  In this, I’ll be following in the steps of other gamified platforms, such as Adobe Education Exchange, Farmville, Trade Nations, and many, many more.

Finally, I’m planning to make sure the badges are much more visible this year.  They’ll appear on the leaderboard (if I can manage that – technical details to work out, still), player profiles, notices celebrating achievement on the main site news, etc.  Each badge will link to a description of what it is and why/when it is awarded (again, pending technical implementation) in order to facilitate discovery and urge others to earn it, too.

Hopefully, all this will substantially increase the engagement factor of badge use in my game next year.  One more aspect to help make it fun for some students (some, like me, will tend to ignore any badges, no matter what).

Have you had successes or failures with badges?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.