Sunday, October 13, 2013

Leaderboards: A Social Game Element

Leaderboards are one of the most popular game elements that are used in gamified systems, along with points, badges or achievements (see How Gamification Can Drive Behavioural Change). Essentially they appeal to extrinsic motivation and are a means to give feedback to the players. Badges are probably at the top of this list. They are used in many systems and recently, Moodle's latest version also includes badges (see All About Badges and Open Badges). There is a lot of information, blog posts and academic papers about how to use badges and there are even MOOCs on badges.

On the other hand, leaderboards are less mentioned although they are also common in gamified systems. Applications like Leaderboarded can be used to easily create leaderbords. Gamified systems in the education sector do not use leaderboards so often, probably because they appeal to competition.

A recent paper presented at Gamification 2013 (see this other post), Reimagining Leaderboards: Towards Gamifying Competency Models through Social Game Mechanics, discusses how to use leaderboards as social game mechanic. Leaderboards are game elements that can be collaborative and qualitative and not only quantitative and competetive. In this way, leaderboards are a social game element. The paper proposes a framework that uses a prosocial leaderboards. Prosocial interactions occur when individuals act in the interest of others.

The paper defines social gamification as "... an emerging subgenre of gamified systems that use game mechanics and elements from social games, which feature interactions designed for close peers and direct ties to social networking systems , in which they are often embedded". It then cites one of our previous works, A Social Gamification Framework for a K-6 Learning Platform, mentioning that in our proposal, game elements were taken directly from social games. We also have our own definition of social gamification: the use of design elements from social games in non-game contexts to drive game like engagement in order to promote desired behaviours

In the Gamification 2013 paper, leaderbords are defined as "... a performance comparison game element". They can be single or mutiplayer. Single player leaderboards compare the players latest score to the previous scores. Multiplayer leaderboards can display rankings of near performing peers (a usual approach in social games) or rankings of high performing peers (where players with lower score may not be present, leading to demotivation, which is a drawback for this kind of leaderboards).

An example of a multiplayer leaderboard of high performing peers is the Gamification Gurus Leaderboard built with Leaderboarded:

The prosocial learderboard approach uses elements like status, scarcity, karma points and group leaderboard. These elements are used to encourage prosocial behaviours. In this prosocial approach all users must benefit and social interaction is achieved through altruism, sharing, reciprocity and gratitude. The concept is being applied in a competency-based assessment system for medical education.

Leaderboards, that at first are nothing more than an extrinsic motivator can, in this approach, be used to promote social interaction and to foster intrinsic motivation. It appeals to relatedeness and to a feeling of doing something not just for our own sake but for the sake of our group or community.


Seaborn, K., Pennefather, P., Fels, D. (2013). Reimagining Leaderboards: Towards Gamifying Competency Models through Social Game Mechanics, Proceedings of Gamification 2013, Stratford, Ontario, Canada, 107-110

Simões, J., Redondo, R. D., Vilas, A. F. (2013). A Social Gamification Framework for a K-6 Learning Platform. Advanced Human-Computer Interaction 29, 2, 345–353.

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