Atlanta, ruby, startups, Technology

Why I created Badgy

Saturday afternoon, I announced the creation of Badgy at http://bad.gy/.  Simply put, Badgy is intended to be a social game for Twitter (@BadgyApp) that fits naturally with how people already use Twitter.  I’ve referred to it as a “native” app, which means that it’s written around the capabilities of Twitter, not copied from some other game that worked on Facebook.

If you haven’t used Badgy yet, just mention “badgy” on Twitter to get started and get some context for the rest of this post.

Initial feedback has been somewhat mixed but overall encouraging.  Some users disagreed with the retweet required to earn the second badge.  Some people just don’t get it.

It seems helpful at this moment to reflect on why I created Badgy, and why it’s built the way it is:

  • Fred Wilson wants gamesin a recent blog post, New York VC and Twitter investor Fred Wilson reflected on the state of the Twitter platform and what sort of apps might succeed on Twitter.  Many of these areas, such as enterprise, discovery, and analytics represent areas where Twitter could either create or acquire a single company to cover the gap, but he also mentioned social games.  The problem with social games on Twitter is that…
  • Current Twitter Games Suck – “popular” games like Spymaster motivate you to follow people you aren’t friends with and tweet things your friends don’t care about.  In essence, they are Mafia Wars clones that are too invasive and render your Twitter account useless.  Fun!  A proper Twitter game should be compatible with how people already use Twitter.  (FourSquare doesn’t count as a Twitter game – it is a mobile app game that uses Twitter as a promo channel.)  Although ever so slightly intrusive, asking users to mention “badgy” on Twitter to begin playing is totally native and much less awkward than going to a web site to join a Twitter game.
  • People Love Badges – Look at FourSquare badges, Facebook game bragging opportunities, or achievement systems in console games and you’ll see that people LOVE to feel like they’ve earned something and can brag about it.  Using badges as the basis of a Twitter game seemed totally natural.  Someone I follow on Twitter once said that they wished Twitter would give them some recognition for tweeting exactly 140 characters.  I’ve often felt the same way.  Something like Badgy can do that, and recognize many other interesting Twitter actions that are totally natural to Twitter but still fun to recognize.
  • Twitter Integration – I wanted to learn how to integrate with Twitter.  The combination of the tweetstream and twitter Ruby gems made this easy.  The ease and power of Twittter’s APIs gives me new respect for Twitter’s platform team.  It takes literally 3 lines of Ruby code to receive near real-time notification of every Tweet matching a set of keywords, leading to a fast…
  • Fast Minimum Viable Product – it was relatively easy to find people who mentioned “badgy” and reply to them, giving them a badge.  It was not easy to check the Tweets of a bunch of individual users and see what else they said, which is why the Square One badge is given when you retweet the message giving you the Badgy badge.  Sure, the retweet promotes badgy, but it was also easy to search for that unique phrase, retweeted, rather than starting to follow individual users.  The badge requiring a retweet is a bit intrusive, and will not be a key pattern for future Badgy badges.
  • To learn – Game mechanics and basic motivation tactics aren’t just part of games, they are a useful ingredient for almost any software.  Badgy itself may become a vibrant game, or it may serve to teach lessons that make other games and applications I write better.  If nothing else, Badgy provides an avenue to rapidly test and measure theories about what does and does not work in social games on Twitter.
  • Fun – It’s fun to make games and watch people react to them
  • Potential Business – on top of all of the other reasons, there are actually some interesting applications of the technology that would be needed to fully build out Badgy.  Time will tell.

A couple of obvious questions have been asked:

  • Why nag people to retweet their first badge? – This decision was part technical compromise, part promotional decision, and part social experiment.  It’s difficult to rapidly scale following individual users.  It’s easy to track keywords.  This decision helped launch Badgy sooner.  I was also curious what types of Twitter user would be willing to retweet our Tweets to their audience to get a virtual badge.
  • Why only 2 badges? – It’s enough to prove the idea.  Get people to “sign up” by mentioning the fairly unique keyword “Badgy” on Twitter, and see how many people would respond to a request to retweet to earn another badge.  Some people are willing to incorporate Badgy into their Twitter behavior.  Badge #3 will be less obtrusive.

I hope that you will give Badgy a try and give feedback and suggestions on what you’d like to see next.  I hope we see more Twitter games that don’t suck.

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4 thoughts on “Why I created Badgy

  1. Badgy, really? That’s the best you could come up with for a game? Personally, I disagree that people really like to collect badges, I think they only do that when they are told that they should, and other people who like to judge (micromanage them) think it’s a good idea. I think the most creative work comes out of intrinsically motivated activities, as in when people are in the “flow”. I bet you didn’t get a “badge” or gold star from anyone for creating Badgy, but did it because you wanted to. Sure some people want to get a gold medal and the recognition, but just collecting a lot of badges, not so exciting. Although I do like the mocking of merit badge cultural convention via the hipster, physical merit badges some have created to keep up with the times: http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2009/03/09/learning-electronics-merit-badges-from-adafruit-industries/ and http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2009/01/female_merit_badges.html
    I alos think that Foursquare is a fad and will need to find something more exciting than naming people mayor, like maybe some valuable content – I see more of a future in Yelp.com, Angieslist.com, add some web 2.0 location services and you have something. maybe Yelp and Angie can add some badges and keep everyone happy.

  2. @D – I never said it was the best I could come up with for a game. In watching friends interact with FourSquare, I’ve actually been amazed how much people will modify their travel patterns to get a simple badge. I wanted to explore what a game could look like that mostly fed off of how people already use Twitter, and in some cases would slightly incent them to modify their behavior.

    Gowalla has some interesting, deeper gameplay around locations with their picking up and dropping items.

    I’m interested in Badgy as a case study in social dynamics. Yesterday, I randomly awarded a badge to 100 people who tweeted that they received a Foursquare badge, asking them to retweet that message to get another badge. Over 25 of them have retweeted that so far. There’s something interesting going on there.

    On a deeper level, I want to explore the problem of achievement systems. They make a nice addition to many applications, but it’s difficult to handle that level of processing. I’m interested in building an app that has that problem in order to see if there’s a generalizable solution.

  3. Rob, very interesting project. I saw a couple of these badges floating around the Atlanta Twitter scene (@sanjay, @amro, etc.) and thought “hmmmm, what am I missing out on here?”. I fell victim to the game dynamic. Great job!

    I fumbled around for a bit trying to figure out what I had to tweet (@badgyapp vs badgy) because I didn’t believe it was that simple. May I suggest pre-populating your link to Twitter on your site?

    http://twitter.com/home?status=@badgyapp Give me that Badgy badge sucka! http://bad.gy/

    This might help your user acquisition a bit. I think its totally fair and not intrusive to ask folks to retweet to get a badge. Fred Wilson is big on making the app its own best marketing tool and this technique works. Hey, if they want a badge, they’ll have to retweet.

    I think at some point the badges have to be valuable to the user agreeing with the previous comment. Perhaps create a widget (wordpress, Facebook, etc) to display my badges and a way for businesses to reward their supporters with badges (or even coupons) and it could get interesting!

    We need to catch up sometime soon! Been too long:)

    YITB,
    Joe

  4. @Joe – good point on the pre-populated link to Twitter. Seems like a simple enough update with a nice payoff.

    I also “get” the embedding aspect, as well as the need to provide value to the user.

    Badgy is very, VERY early in development, so I love all of the feedback and suggestions. The next 2 badges will probably be more focused on learning more about what motivates people and what types of badge people will pursue, but after that, I think I’ll be able to expand in more ways that are valuable to people.

    Let’s definitely catch up. You know where to find me.

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