‘Badges’, ‘Rewards’ and ‘Loyalty’ ‘Games’

Everywhere you look these days, there’s another site offering you the chance to collect ‘badges’ in ‘reward’ for using their services and applications or from playing a ‘game’. Foursquare (notable pioneers) and Gowalla with their location-based ‘check-in’ systems, GetGlue and Yelp with their reviews and opinions of ‘things’ and ‘places’, and coming soon ‘OneTrueFan‘ and others doing the same for websites. There are many more sites out there doing it too.

Today, Martin from TheNextWeb ponders on whether we will see an element of ‘badge fatigue’ by next year.

I got fatigued about this quite a while ago when I first saw them. I really have never seen the ‘gaming’ element in these ‘badges’, nor the ‘reward’.

Where’s the ‘game’ in this apart from the site or system itself ‘gaming’ the intelligence of its users? (Don’t get me started on so-called ‘virtual gifts’ : small jpeg/gif images of flowers, teddy bears or treasure chests which some people buy for other people to put on some site profile or other. Maybe it’s just not for me.

The same goes for the ‘virtual’ object pickups and drops in places like Gowalla. Ermm.. what?? I just don’t see the point at all. I check in at home and have the ability to ‘drop’ a teddy bear and ‘pick up’ a guitar. I’m sorry, but WTF?

Am I alone in finding it really strange that ‘mostly adult’ 20- or 30-somethings (and over/under) actually take some pride in ‘collecting’ these images for their various site profiles? I could understand I bit more if it was children with ‘webkins’ or ‘moshi monsters’ etc. doing a similar thing as many did with football/baseball cards, to collect full sets, but adults?

Am I totally missing something? Have I become too cynical after being in the web for over 15 years? Is there maybe some irony which escapes me?

I understand the reward in possibly getting a discount from a real-life product in a real-life store/cafe/etc. from being the person who has checked in the most and become the ‘mayor’ of an establishment. Incidentally, I am the ‘mayor’ of the local pub down the road here in Somerset, but if I was to tell the landlord this fact and ask for a free pint, I think I’d find myself stuffed in to a cider barrel and rolled down the lane before you could shout “village idiot!”.

I’m building a few sites at the moment, some location-based, some requiring creativity and expression and some (apparent) utter wastes of time (surely a winner! ;p) which could, if I wanted to, have ‘badges’ as a part of the system, to lure users back to use the site and offer them the thrill of ‘unlocking’ features in thanks to using (or testing) a site more than another user. I can see the ‘reward’ in unlocking extra features.

But just another sticker-like image on my profile page? I just don’t get it yet.

Could someone please explain it to me. I am open to being convinced of the value to the users, I can see the value for the site owners, for sure.

But I can’t just see the ‘fun’ in it. Yet.

ps: Yes, I know this post is ‘littered’ with ‘quotes’. Just do an ‘air quote’ with your fingers each time you see one. Or drink. It’s a lot of ‘fun’. ;p