The term leaderboard is often used in the video gaming industry to signify rank among people who play various titles. Players can be ranked against other players based on their number of kills (most common), items collected, or some other metric. Overall, leaderboards can provide an incentive for players to improve as they give many a sense of superiority or accomplishment.
Games like StarCraft 2, which is an RTS, have leaderboards for ranking players based on how many games they have won. Games like Call of Duty, a first-person shooter, have leaderboards for ranking players based on how many kills they have achieved during each match. Other games, like World of Warcraft, an MMORPG, have leaderboards for many categories, including number of bosses killed, number of pets collected, and number of "achievements" earned.
Goal-setting theory was offered as an explanatory framework for leaderboards.
An experiment found addition of a leaderboard on a task increased performance.
Leaderboards performed similarly to traditional difficult and impossible goals.
Individual goal commitment moderated the success of leaderboards as with goals.
Goal-setting and other psychological theories should be explored in gamification.
The use of leaderboards is a common approach to the gamification of employee performance, but little is known about the specific mechanisms and mediating processes by which leaderboards actually affect employee behavior. Given the lack of research in this domain, this study proposes goal-setting theory, one of the most well-established motivational theories in psychology, as a framework by which to understand these effects. In this study, a classic brainstorming task is gamified with a leaderboard in order to explore this. Participants were randomly assigned to four classic levels of goal-setting (do-your-best, easy, difficult and impossible goals) plus a leaderboard populated with initials and scores representing identical goal-setting conditions. The presence of a leaderboard was successful in motivating participants to performance levels similar to that of difficult and impossible goal-setting, suggesting participants implicitly set goals at or near the top of the leaderboard without any prompting to do so. Goal commitment, a common individual difference moderator in goal-setting theory, was also assessed and behaved similarly in the presence of the leaderboard as when traditional goals were provided. From these results, we conclude that goal-setting theory is valuable to understand the success of leaderboards, and we recommend further exploration of existing psychological theories, including goal-setting, to better explain the effects of gamification.