The Evolution of Leaderboards by Mario Herger.

Leaderboards are one of the most popular game design elements that gamification designers have in their toolset. Ranking players by their achievements is something that we are all familiar with, as it has been used in most sports to showcase the winners and losers. But leaderboards are not just isolated. They build on other game design elements, such as points or medals to be functioning.

 While leaderboards (and points) are extrinsic motivators that come from outside an individual, they need to be connected to intrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators including epic meaning, learning, or relationships benefit from the quantitative aspect of leaderboards. Short-term extrinsic combined with the long-term effect of intrinsic motivators make a gamification design strong and engaging.

Choosing a leaderboarad

When choosing a leaderboard as a design element, a gamification practitioner needs to make sure that it plays its part for the long-term goal. Leaderboards alone tend to encourage competition, which may be counter to the goal of collaboration in an organization. After all, that’s why we create companies, because together we can accomplish more than as individuals. For short-term and occasional initiatives a leaderboard may be perfectly fine. It may give the necessary energy boost to an organization and de-emphasizing the competitive aspect can help improve metrics. Use it to drive sales, but only do so occasional. Excessive use may lead to unethical behaviors, as the ranking may dominate over the real benefits that a customer may get.

Leaderboards designs

Leaderboard designs changed over the years. Arcade games displayed the top players, which – if you were not a top player – was pretty demotivating. You would never be amongst the top 10 and thus your name never appear in the list. This changed and newer designs do not rank players against everyone in an organization or network, but only show your rank amongst friends and team members. In fact, your own rank is in the center, and those of the players that are before and behind you. Seeing a difference of 3 points to your next competitor is more actionable than seeing the large difference of 100 points to the first ranked player.

enterprise gamificationThe evolution continues

But the evolution of leaderboards doesn’t stop here. More and more designs include multiple parameters. Think of the medal ranking at the Olympic Games. Gold, Silver, and Bronze are listed and influence the ranking. Or sports leagues display games won, tied, and lost. Or even scored goals and other factors.

Companies have taken cues from those areas and leaderboards today don’t look much anymore than in the Arcade game days. First, the leaderboards may not even compare players to others, but to their own past performance. This way both a new hire and an experienced employee can get value out of a leaderboard. It displays how they did and can improve. And not just for one factor. Nowadays multiple parameters are included, showing the strengths and weaknesses that the employee has to work on. Such leaderboard designs may come in circular shapes displaying historical data and the progress in the skills.

Think of parameters such as deals closed vs. leads, deal amounts, negotiation skills, travel expenses etc. displayed and your improvement over several periods. Seeing progress there motivates and players would be more willing to share their tricks with others. In the end everyone profits: the players and the company.

Leaderboards are certainly one of the most powerful elements in the arsenal of a gamification designer, and the evolution of it combined with other design elements will make for powerful gamification designs.


Mario Herger

Founder & Partner

Enterprise Gamification Consultancy