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How Players Level Up in Gamified Systems

A gamified experience doesn’t employ levels in quite the same way as arcade games. If your goal is to gamify a web forum, players won’t, for example, suddenly see their whole screen change to offer a new set of challenges the moment they level up.

Levels serve two important roles in gamification systems:

  • They indicate progress: Proceeding from one level to the next gives players a sense of satisfaction.

  • They convey status: A player who has reached level 42 of your system can reasonably be considered more expert than someone who has failed to advance beyond level 7.

Gamified systems closely mirror role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, where a level is effectively a rank that corresponds to the player. It’s earned through accomplishments and represents additional privileges or abilities.

In a gamified system, the change in level occurs when the player reaches a set point threshold, indicated by the reward of a new gameplay badge. Or maybe the player gets access to gated content (content not available to the poor schlubs on lower levels) or special privileges (first dibs on new products or access to special sales). In this way, players are encouraged to complete tasks and achieve goals.

Typically, players advance to a new level when they earn a certain number of gameplay points. For example, after a player earns his first 100 experience points, he might be bumped up from the first level to the second, and bumped to the third level after crossing the 250-point threshold.

Whatever approach you take, levels should be logical to the player. They should also be extensible. That is, you should design the gamified system such that additional levels can be added over time.

Rather than advance players to the next level in a linear fashion — every 100 points or whatever — opt for a curvilinear approach in your gamification system. That is, start with 100 points, then go to 250, then bump up to 500, and so on. This helps keep players engaged and endows each new level with even more significance.

In gamified systems, naming levels so that they convey the player’s status to other players in the system is essential. Each player’s level should be displayed, along with a headshot or avatar, throughout the system. If appropriate in your industry, opt for names that are fun — for example, New Kid for new players or Know It All for experienced ones.

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