Frog pond effect

Frog pond effect: Always be able to come on top. It’s a measured and researched effect. People tend to be more motivated when they have a clear rival and will always be able to reach the top of a leader board. Making sure that your players will always have the chance to be the biggest frog in the pond.
Having a leader board is a technique which is regularly used in games and gamified systems to promote competition and give insight to progress. Although having leader boards is a great technique, there are some things to consider when implementing leader boards the right way. A great way to explain the effect a leader board can have on the experience of the users is with the frog pond effect.

Three researchers of the university of Ohio did a cool in research in which they tried to measure the effects of a leader board position on the self esteem of the player. They stated that the way we percieve our efforts greatly depends on not only our position on the leader board but also to the group to whom you are compared to. It basically comes down to this: Even if you rank high in one of the lowest groups you will still have more self esteem than when you rank low in the highest group (which basically comes down to roughly the same position if you combine the groups). This is interesting, because it means that even if you suck in the total rankings, you will still feel good if you rank high within the group of people that suck.

The other way around is also important to consider. Imaging playing a game. You just started and already you have faced some cool challenges and overcame them with glory. You start to get on with the game and you are wondering: How am I doing? You look at the general leader board and you notice you are ranked 3896 of the 4000. That’s kind of low, but you just started so it looks about right. After you’ve seen your ranking you feel motivated to climb the ladder. You put a lot of work in it and after a while you check the leader board again. 3812…Doesn’t look very significant, albeit you destroyed about 80 other players in the ranking. This immediately devaluates all the work you have put into beating all those quests and other players, because compared to the 4000 you didn’t really make any progress.

Having this experience can greatly reduce the fun you have playing a game. Because you are compared to the larger group all progress you make feels insignificant. This could lead you to stop playing this game.

The psychology behind this effect has all to do with social comparison. We always tend to evaluate our performances based on our peers. If your peer group is doing far better than you, or your peer group is so much larger that any progress you make is insignificant you will lower in your self esteem which in turn lowers all the fun you have playing the game.

The way to counteract this and use this in our advantage is by making sure that you can always get on top of a leader board. As the research in Ohio stated you even grow in self esteem if you are one of the best of the worst group. Most games nowadays already make use of this system. Sports have been using it for ages. The have leagues, pools, specific competitions, etc. I myself play baseball in one of the lowest leagues we can play. We are going the be the champions this year. If I look at our performance in a national point of view is very insignificant but for us it feels like we are the best of the best.

When implementing leader boards I strongly suggest to look at these ways of splitting up leader boards. Sports and big competitive games make great use of different leagues so everyone can always become the best of their peer group and can always make significant progress.

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