Home > Design, Gadgets, Ideas > Panini Sticker Books: A Prototypical ‘Achievements’ Model

Panini Sticker Books: A Prototypical ‘Achievements’ Model

September 27th, 2010

In case you don’t already lust after Foursquare badges and spend hours trying to kill every zombie possible in Dead Rising long after you’ve beat the actual game, I’ll let you in on a secret — achievements are the next big thing in game design. Started quietly on the Xbox as a way to rack up your Gamer Score (translation: how badass of a video gamer you are), achievements were basically extra mini puzzles that you could solve just by playing the game a certain way. They weren’t a necessary part of the game, they were just there to award you for, say, playing long enough to kill 100,000 zombies.

Well, as it turns out, these little awards resulted almost immediately in a marked increase in the amount of time gamers spent playing a game. Without doing anything, really, game designers had managed to make their games many times more engaging to the player. Result: now you’ll find achievements everywhere.

In the location-based check-in application FourSquare, achievements such as the “I’m On A Boat” badge are awarded for, what else, checking into a location that happens to be a boat. Foursquare users actually will seek out certain locations just so they are awarded the badge. These badges don’t get the user anything except for whatever feeling of pride that comes with cultivating a collection of colorful badges. Yet, take them away and FourSquare loses a big part of its charm. Genius.

However, as with most things new under the sun — this same concept has been used before as a way to raise consumer consumption of a product. I refer, of course, to Panini Sticker Books — the addiction of my youth.

Panini stickers were sold in packs like baseball cards, except they came in practically every flavor of game and children’s movie franchise known to man. The special thing about these sticker cards, though, was that you were also supposed to buy a special book in which you pasted the stickers you collected. For each card in the set, an empty box with a description of the missing sticker taunted you until you managed to serendipitously purchase the sticker to fill it. You would keep buying these stupid little packs of stickers long after it started being repetitive and the fun was drained from the whole endeavor just so that you could fill all the empty spots in your book. As you see below, there were even large empty spaces that required you to find multiple stickers that added up to make a complete picture. This is the Panini equivalent of unlocking special levels in your video game after filling your badge collection.

Adding a compelling structure to inane and often repetitive collecting is basically ‘achievements’ in a nutshell.

What is questionable is that now achievements are being hailed as a legitimate way to gamify the world. Simple game mechanics like scoring and achievements are being tacked on to everything from websites to brushing your teeth (watch this great video of Jesse Schell at the DICE conference). There’s no question that it works, but it does start to seem psychologically manipulative. It might be the cheapest possible route to engagement, and, as such, is ripe for abuse. Experience designers should make sure that there are adequate rewards for engagement beyond obsessive collecting, or I think we risk creating disillusioned users and a real loss of fun. Time with our websites, apps, and devices is real time in real people’s lives that we’re borrowing to make a dollar. We should be careful we’re not imprisoning people inside the outmoded and lame parts of human nature.

If only we could get Foursquare badges to add up to a giant picture of Megatron… then we’d be just rosy.

Design, Gadgets, Ideas

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