Leaderboards in Gameful Design: Their effects, types, and guidelines for their correct use


Like the topic of my previous article (badges), leaderboards are also one of the most used elements in gameful design. But despite the prevalence of leaderboards in gamification, few sources explain exactly what role they fulfill in a gameful system, how users interact with them, what is their psychological effect on users, and how to design leaderboards. Although they have been often suggested to promote intrinsic motivation through relatedness or competence, the academic studies that focused on the psychological effects of leaderboards have consistently demonstrated that this is not the case. Instead, leaderboards promote goal setting and social comparison.

My new article summarizes the latest research on how leaderboards work, what psychological effects they have on users, what kind of users prefer to use them, and what are the different types of leaderboard design. Then, I end with the description of nine different types of leaderboards and 12 design guidelines to use them correctly in gameful design.

Here is a preview of some of the design guidelines you will find in the full article:

  1. Use leaderboards as a means to help users compare themselves with others and set goals;
  2. Display the top positions for users in the top ranks;
  3. For users in the mid ranks, display only a few users above and below them;
  4. For users in the lower ranks, it may be better to use other elements instead of leaderboards;
  5. Use leaderboards in contexts where users feel that they have control over how well they perform and they feel they have a fair chance to compete with others;
  6. Avoid leaderboards in contexts where competition is not well received or the tasks are too complex or it is difficult for users to control how they perform.

The complete, 6-page PDF article with a summary of the latest research about leaderboards and 12 design guidelines is available for instant download for all patrons. Become a patron today to read it!

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About Gustavo Tondello

Gustavo is a Gamification Consultant and Scientist at MotiviUX and an Instructional Support Coordinator at the Cheriton School of Computer Science, University of Waterloo, Canada. His main interests include gamification and games for health and learning. His research focuses on the design of gameful applications. He has recently completed a Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction in which he developed new methods for personalized gameful design. Gustavo is also a research lead of the International Gamification Federation and a researcher of Logosophy.

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