Open source achievements!

David Humphrey recently showed me this awesome project by Mozilla called Open Badges. For my gamification project, I had initially planned on implementing my own achievement module to keep track achievements. I hadn’t put too much thought into this so when Dave asked me how I planned to tackle issues like security (preventing students from unlocking achievements illegally) and authentication (proving that students have in fact completed the requirements for the achievement), I knew I had hit a roadblock. Thankfully Open Badges solves a lot of these problems. Mozilla’s provided a simple API to interface with their system that makes issuing achievements (badges) remarkably easy.

There do seem to be, however, a few shortcomings particular to the way I want to implement achievements:

  1. At the moment you can only be issued one of each badge. In the context of badges, this makes sense. There isn’t a real need to issue the same badge multiple times for completing the same task. Achievements by their very nature are one-time unlockable entities so using Open Badges for that would be perfect. Having said that, it might be possible to extend the functionality of badges to be stackable. Doing so would allow me to award students currency and crafting items for their efforts. This introduces the necessity of removing badges from a student’s backpack, a feature that I think might be more difficult to implement. I’ll have to take a more in-depth look at this.
  2. As a result of adding stackable badges the need for a separate inventory system arises. Currently, Open Badges stores all of a user’s badges in something called a Mozilla Badge Backpack. This is hosted by Mozilla but they’ve said that eventually we’ll be able to host our own backpacks. Ideally I’ll have one backpack that holds a student’s achievements, and another that stores their money and other stackable items.

The appeal of achievements can be a tricky thing to explain to those who have never encountered them before. Hell, even explaining why they’re addictive to some gamers can be a challenge, so successfully integrating them into a system that’s meant to increase the motivation to learn is going to be key. Superficially, achievements don’t seem to add much extrinsic value – they tend to require a great deal of effort to unlock and only reward you with an icon and some text. In traditional games they’re often used to add replay value to a game. If you beat the game on normal difficulty, do it again on hard difficulty without losing a single life. This may seem strange to an onlooker, but to the gamer, being forced to complete a level in an unconventional way can be extremely satisfying. Achievements are also used as bragging rights, some of which require ridiculous feats of patience or skill to unlock. Achievements will be structured in such a way that they will provide an extra incentive for students to challenge themselves. Unlocking some of them will require out-of-the-box thinking. I’ve also seen an interesting achievement mechanic wherein gamers can see how many other people have unlocked the same achievement, letting them know what percentile they fall in.

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