Leaderboards Aren’t Just for Games: A Pep-talk To Inspire Developers

You undoubtedly are used to computer game leaderboards, where a visual display tracks player scores. But applications can use leaderboards for non-gaming purposes, too. They measure progress, status, and other competitive metrics, and they often encourage participation by using gamification. This short guide helps you brainstorm how you might incorporate these common leaderboard types in your own applications.

If you like games of any kind (board, video, sports, Squid), you understand how often competition can challenge you to be your best and to crush your enemies. Gamification takes the competitive urge up a notch by incorporating gaming aspects into everyday tasks. You’re not just telling the world that you know the murderer was Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick. You’re telling Brad from Sales that you intend to claim his Employee of the Month title.

Gamification is attractive to user experience designers because games are effective drivers of behavior at the early stages of habit forming. “By nature, games are whimsical and playful,” explained Stephanie Cheng, who designed a mobile app for a political campaign a few years ago. Making an experience more fun encourages people to engage with the activity. “Game mechanics provide clear incremental guidance and rewards for nudging behavior.” 

In gamification projects, leaderboards usually are represented by a chart that ranks participants in a comparative endeavor. The leaderboard displays relative achievement or other comparisons, with up-to-the-moment timeliness. The visual component makes information easy to understand, allowing people to compete against their peers (and sometimes themselves). The winner is displayed at the top of the chart.

Leaderboards are more than names and numbers on a page, according to Austin Rolling, founder, and CEO of gaming CRM Outfield, which specializes in sales gamification. “There’s an aspect of game theory and psychology,” he says. Leaderboards help you make decisions in response to external stimuli, that is, your competition. In other words, a leaderboard “makes you want to become more competitive.”

Our emphasis in this blog post is on leaderboards for business applications, but it’s probably easiest to grasp the concept from current entertainment. There are leaderboards in the Disney+ Star Wars series Andor. When the anti-hero Cassian is imprisoned, he soon learns that manual labor is competitive. His shift manager keeps a watchful eye on the leaderboard’s highs and lows. The slowest team in the room receives painful shocks to their bare feet. The winners receive flavoring with their food. This is possibly a better outcome than your own sales meetings.

Some leaderboards are more useful than others. If you are contemplating incorporating one into the software you’re creating, you might as well design one that blows all others out of the water. To help you achieve that goal, here are a few examples of leaderboards that may inspire your creativity – beyond game leaderboards.  And because they’re leaderboards, we rank them in terms of usefulness too. Now, all we need is to write more of these articles, so we can rank them as well. Rank-ception!

Educational systems leaderboards

Educational systems like Duolingo, a popular app for teaching human languages, let you learn at your own pace. To help move you along, Duolingo ranks users based on the number of lessons they completed and students’ success at learning language skills. Leading the leaderboards gives you gems and lingots–currency used to purchase digital items from Duolingo’s shop–as well as a je ne sais quoi that you can define now that you know French.

Leaderboard design takeaway: Consider the purpose and the user persona when you design a leaderboard. To make learning less stressful, educational leaderboards tend to be colorful and friendly. At first glance, they say, “I’m at the top, and I’m happy to be here.” Unlike sales leaderboards, they don’t say, “I’m at the top, and I’m happy to be here because I’ve beat my competitors.”

Music leaderboards

Billboard’s famous leaderboard sorts the best-selling music singles and albums of the week from 200 territories worldwide by sales figures. The music that’s tracked includes country, dance/electronica, soundtrack, and more. Each place on the leaderboard represents thousands of sales or more. You can dance to those songs all the way to the bank.

Leaderboard design takeaway: Comparing one genre of music to another is akin to comparing apples to diamonds. They’re both made of the same building blocks (carbon/musical notes), but that’s about it. But Billboard’s leaderboards sort music within the same genre. This means a pop song’s sales are never measured against a genre like Deathgrass, for instance. When designing a leaderboard, keep in mind you may have to design more than one. 

Another thing to keep in mind: leaderboards are meant to be broken.

Travel leaderboards

You may not think of it this way, but you see a leaderboard every time you visit a train station or airport. Your ticket to ride is ranked by departure times. If your conveyance is late, it remains atop the board with a “Delayed” notice next to it–or worse, pushed down to the bottom of the list. 

You may think being stuck at a terminal is like Hell, but you would be wrong. It’s more like being in Purgatory because you’re continually watching other people leave for a better place.

Leaderboard design takeaway: You don’t need a lot of database fields to make a useful leaderboard. Here, the only metrics used are location, departure time, flight number, gate number, and gate status (boarding, departing on time, etc.). It’s a rather non-competitive leaderboard in that everyone who leaves on time wins.

Financial systems leaderboards

Financial systems have leaderboards that track stock market fluctuations and subsequent wealth. 

For most of us, these financial leaderboards exist as a “what if” exercise, where we can imagine a life where money is no object, and television shows may feature Lifestyles of the Rich and [Insert Name Here]. But for the several dozen billionaires who occupy the Fortune 500 leaderboard, this comes with bragging rights over other billionaires, where the winners get to look down on Warren Buffet.

Leaderboard design takeaway:  Consider interactivity. Forbes’s leaderboard lets you watch, in real-time, as some of the world’s wealthiest people passively earn yet another superyacht filled to the brim with Bugattis. “In real-time” is a key element, because the data has to be up-to-date or it’s useless; that adds performance requirements to your development tools shopping list.

In order to get this info, leaderboards rely on APIs to pull information from multiple, disparate sources. Consider sharpening your API skills. Those skills may not land you on the Forbes list, but they may get you on the Company Promotions leaderboard.

Sports leaderboards

A good leaderboard provides statistics, such as how many points you make when you hit a stick with a ball and people wearing the same clothes as you run around a diamond circle. In some cases, teams or individual athletes are stacked against people in other countries, so when you’re not at the top, this humiliation is shared with the entire world. Isn’t sports fun?

Leaderboard design takeaway: Sabermetrics quantifies every aspect of a sport (most popularly baseball, but with inroads made in U.S. football and UK football), from the amount of time spent touching the puck in hockey to a pitcher’s winning percentage. Any action a player takes during gameplay is measured and calculated. Thanks to sabermetrics, you always have a wealth of stats to populate a leaderboard. In other words, when it comes to statistics, think inside the box. Or, in this case, the whole stadium.

Reviews leaderboards

Review sites such as Consumer Reports allow you to sort items – say, washing machines – and rank them by Consumer Reports exacting standards. Other sites, such as the movie-centric IMDB, allow users to chime in. After people rate a film or TV show, IMDB ranks the movie by average score. It isn’t a static list; IMDB lets users toggle metrics, including release date and the number of reviews. 

Leaderboard design takeaway: IMDB isn’t a good leaderboard: It’s two good leaderboards. One focuses on reviews, and the other specializes in box office take. The leaderboard display of box office take is further broken down by location, year, genre, brands, franchises, and the fabulous showdown.

If you have a great deal of information to present and can’t find a way to integrate it onto one page, consider other ways to present the information. That might be more than one leaderboard or perhaps a drop-down menu that lets users sort by more than one metric.

Sales leaderboards

Salespeople often have a base salary that is beefed up by a bonus with each sale and additional benefits accruing from a top spot in the quarterly sales leaderboard. Salespeople are competitive by nature, so their tools often include points to measure achievements and give rewards. A sales leaderboard can showcase metrics in a rank, card, multi-metric, or most-improved fashion to provide visibility into individual and team performance. 

Leaderboard design takeaway: Sales leaderboards track many metrics, such as the region with the most sales, which campaign is getting the most leads, and how much revenue they rake in. Because of this, some leaderboards keep track of these many factors. In one column, Alice may top a revenue column, while Bob has the most deals made, and Charlie made the most calls. That way, everyone wins. Except David.

Salespeople also need motivation, which brings up another element of a gamification design: how users are rewarded. In Cheng’s aforementioned example of a mobile app for a political campaign, the leaderboard captures the measurement of progress that results in a useful reward. Users who completed in-app challenges earned stars; enough of them and you could get a signed message from the political candidate.

Exercise and weight loss leaderboards

Some leaderboards are less about competing with other companies or individuals and more about one’s own goals. Someone with a weight loss goal is encouraged by a leaderboard that shows the user their progress. It’s gamification at its finest, motivating someone to engage in a worthwhile activity. And nobody else needs to see the results.

If you’ve ever been uncomfortable with working out in public or even working out at all, exercise leaderboards are like being 12 years old in gym class all over again. Crossfit gyms, Peleton, iFit, and many exercise apps rank their participants. Who pedals or runs the fastest? Who burns the most calories? Who spends the most time running a particular segment? Exercise leaderboards don’t pit you against the creme de la creme of athletes. They can sometimes pit you against the sweaty guy right next to you. You, your fellow athletes, and in some cases, the entire internet can see your score. 

Leaderboard design takeaway:  Contemplate how you encourage competition: With gamified exercise, you, your fellow athletes, and in some cases, the entire internet can see your score. That’s the point of Crossfit, which has some of the most competitive amateur athletes this side of the Olympics.

However, not every leaderboard needs to be public. Privacy and permissions are an important part of leaderboard design.

Contrast that to video games – the leaderboards that most people associate with the term. While privacy is a consideration for some business and personal applications, that isn’t a default state. Gamers want bragging rights, even if it’s under their nom de guerres. Gamers want the world to know just who beat them, and they want to tell their spouses, “Hey, I’m not goofing around. I’m practicing!”

This may not be an exhaustive list of every type of leaderboard application. But they should give you enough fodder to brainstorm one that meets your application needs.

Interested in incorporating a leaderboard into your next application? Consider how Redis can help.