Retention: Choose badges over leaderboards


In the first post of Sanya Weathers’ weekly “Retention” series, she discussed the importance of comparative ranking systems – rank everyone and everything.  Achievement, respect and a sense that time spent on your product is not wasted can be checked off with leaderboards, but a rapidly evolving media space requires fresh games to kick it new school.

And in the new school, it’s all about the achievements. Achievements, or badges, reward individual steps along the way to gamer domination. Did a user defeat a particularly nasty dragon in under five minutes? Give them a badge. Has one of your users spent over 50 hours logged in to your game? Give them a badge. Heck, has a user been brave enough to venture beyond the starting area? For god’s sake, get that user a badge!

Like rankings, badges are meant to be displayed as a sign of status and satisfy player’s desire for comparison. Beyond that, they can be utilized to satisfy other areas of a game that rankings cannot.

Constant Engagement

So your product starts out small and your active community is around 2,500. Leaderboards work OK because you can compete well, relative to the number of actives. But, your product is going to attract hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users to the experience. On their path to greatness, new users are going to be daunted by the giant ladder they’ll have to climb to the top. A badge system, however, rewards players from their baby steps to dragon-slaying awesomeness – keeping a constant stream of engagement and reward.


Let your players see most, if not all, of the badges available and tell them what they need to do in order to unlock them. You can be as straightforward or cryptic as you want, but give them a goal to shoot for. Badges give your users clear objectives for mastering their online experience. Also, throwing in a few hidden achievements can  make for a pleasant surprise!


Rankings can feel too arbitrary for users. Aside from the select few who make it to the top, what is the difference between 4,125th place and being 4,968th? Each individual achievement creates lasting value to the experience. Grinding through a difficult dungeon won’t satisfy a player if they only gained a few notches in the rankings, but a trophy to put on the metaphorical mantle will.

Each badge earned represents a specific accomplishment by the player in contrast to an arbitrary ranking number. Ultimately, it gives value to a player’s accomplishments whether large or small. Rather than discouraging a player who is still in 4000th place, you reward them with a show of accomplishment. Since the end goal is to make sure your users are happy, this system creates more value over what a player has done as opposed to what they haven’t done.

Don’t let it distract

One challenge that faces developers who use these systems is making sure that badge achievement does not interfere with the natural flow of a game. Stopping gameplay to award a badge can end up taking the user out of the experience. When designing these systems, take this into consideration – you want it to enhance, not detract.