Impact of Leaderboards on Video Game Playing Experience

By: Daniel A. Kaufmann, Ph. D.

Director of Gaming Services at Kindbridge

Leaderboards are commonly used in video games to rank players based on their in-game performance. They provide a way for players to compare their progress and skills against others. While leaderboards have been found to have a positive impact on some aspects of video game playing experience, such as motivation and enjoyment, they can also have negative effects on other aspects, such as emotions and decision making. In this article, we will take a closer look at the impact of leaderboards on various aspects of video game playing experience.

Impact of Leaderboards on Video Game Playing Experience

Many of the most popular games in the world use leaderboards as a tracking system for player progression. These games include first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, Overwatch, Valorant, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, as well as multiplayer battle arenas, like League of Legends and DotA 2. These leaderboards allow players to track their own performance against that of other players in the same game.

What are leaderboards and what purpose do they serve in video games?

Leaderboards come in a variety of different forms, but can be classified into two categories: public and private. Public leaderboards are those that are available to all players, while private leaderboards are limited to just a select few.

Public leaderboards are typically used in competitive games where players are pitted against each other in order to achieve the highest rank. They allow players to compare their progress and skills against others and can serve as a source of motivation to improve. Private leaderboards, on the other hand, are typically used in cooperative games where players are working together towards a common goal. They allow players to compare their progress and skills against each other and can serve as a source of motivation to improve.

Impact of Leaderboards on Video Game Playing Experience

Games use tier systems to encourage players to compete harder and improve their skills. This way, players can compare their progress and skills against others and try to get a higher ranking. For example, a lower tier player in Valorant will focus on attempting to win matches or score higher individually so they can move through the levels of iron, bronze, and silver. 

Once they achieve mid-tier status, they will be faced with tougher matchmaking, meaning more talented players will be aiming to bring them down in each match. If they achieve the skill levels needed to progress here, they will be able to move through gold, platinum, and eventually diamond ranks. This can be a long process, sometimes amounting to hundreds of matches to form the consistent growth needed to accomplish the goal. 

The final levels of rank in Valorant are ascendant, immortal, and radiant. These tiers communicate an impressive set of skills to other players in the community. Even so, the player may be driven by this point to play for huge portions of their day in order to reach the highest levels of rank in the game.

What are some of the potential psychological impacts of leaderboards on video game playing experience?

Leaderboards can have a significant impact on players’ emotions and decision making, particularly when rankings are close or when players experience defeat. For example, research has shown that players who lose to another player in a game may feel anger, frustration, and disappointment, which can lead to negative emotions such as stress and anxiety. Players who experience these internal pressures may become more impulsive in their decision making and more likely to take risks when deciding times to play or noticing times when play does not exactly fit into their life schedules.

How do leaderboards affect the psychological side of a players’ motivation?

Studies have shown that leaderboards can increase players’ motivation by providing them with a sense of urgency and a competitive drive to improve their skills. This can be particularly helpful for players who may feel unmotivated or uninterested in playing a game, as leaderboards can give them an external goal to work towards and provide a sense of progression and accomplishment. Additionally, many players often find that the more they play, the better they become at the game.

Impact of Leaderboards on Video Game Playing Experience

Leaderboards can also have an impact on players’ life balance, as they can be driven to play more games in order to achieve a higher ranking. This can be problematic for players who struggle to find a healthy balance between their game playing and other responsibilities. Additionally, for some players, reaching the final levels of rank in a game can become an obsession and take precedence over other areas of their life.

Professional and academic life can easily be impacted by playing games that contain leaderboards. Leaderboards create a sense of urgency and competition to the player, which may lead to the player neglecting their responsibilities in order to focus on the game. As a result, a player may lose track of time during important situation for productivity on tasks with deadlines or attendance expectations. For instance, in the game Valorant, some players may become so obsessed with reaching the final level of rank (ascendant) that they begin to neglect their school or work duties. 

This series of oversights can become particularly evident when a player is striving to achieve a high rank in the game. Another area that can directly suffer from overactive leaderboard climbing is with social relationships. When friends or family members are aware that the player is ranked highly in a game, they may begin to feel competitive pressure to outperform the player. This type of pressure can lead to negative emotions such as envy and resentment.

What is the positive side of game design using impacts leaderboards?

Leaderboards provide a way for players to compare their progress and skills against others, which can result in a sense of competition and motivation to improve. They can also enhance players’ enjoyment of video games by providing a way to track their progress and see how they rank against others. In addition, leaderboards can help keep players engaged in a game by providing them with goals to strive for. This can help players begin learning the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation when they seek out goals in other life areas.

How to make sure that video games with leaderboards are enjoyable and safe for all players

It is important for players to have a balanced amount of fun and teamwork in their online gaming. Too much competition can lead to negative emotions such as envy and resentment, while too little competition may lead to players feeling bored or unchallenged. Leaderboards can be helpful in striking a balance by providing players with a sense of competition while also allowing them to work together towards a common goal. Additionally, it is important that games with leaderboards provide opportunities for players to socialize with one another. When pursuing solo goals, it is normal to develop a “me-versus-the-world” mentality. This can result in highly isolated gameplay and powerful feelings of resentment in the psychological comparisons the player will get focused on. Playing with friends and creating a supportive online environment can help prevent players from feeling isolated or left out. This approach will also ensure that the overall experience is more enjoyable for all members of the gaming team

One way to create a more enjoyable experience for all players in an online game is to set realistic goals. When players have achievable goals, they are less likely to feel frustrated or overwhelmed. Learning to create small goals that can help the player feel the impact of each objective is much healthier than focusing only on the long-term goal. For example, if a player is in the Bronze level of competition in Valorant, it is more beneficial to focus on “one-match-at-a-time,” (similar to the peer support model people use in their step work) than to get worried about trying to achieve Diamond Tier by a certain date. The two goals come together, but it also allows factor to be a healthy part of the process instead of creating a distorted pattern of thinking around playing the game in the present.

Games with leaderboards can be a lot of fun, but they can also have negative consequences if players become too obsessed with ranking up. It is important to remember that there are other ways to measure success in games, and that ranks should not be the only goal. Having fun, connecting with friends in a shared activity, enjoying small moments that create impressive clips, and learning how to laugh (LOL) in the middle of a surprising defeat are all ways to avoid the devastating form of stress that video games can generate that have an unhealthy impact on the mental health, emotions, and temperament of a game player.

What happens when leaderboards start having a negative impact on the game playing experience?

Leaderboards can even lead to increased competition and hostility between players. When players are vying for a higher rank, they may become more aggressive towards each other in order to obtain it. This can result in rude behavior, such as trash talking, and even cheating. In some cases, players have been known to harass others in order to get them to quit the game so that they can obtain a higher ranking. The goal is not to win the match, but to intimidate sensitive players to the point where they no longer desire to compete. This type of behavior can often ruin the gaming experience for everyone involved. Even worse, this can impact decreases in player temperament outside of the gameplay experience, and will eventually cause a deterioration of relationships in each life situation (family, friends, intimate partners, etc.).

When leaderboards cause players to base their entire strategy of gameplay on moving through the many tiers, they eventually start focusing more on their rank than the game itself. This can lead to less enjoyment of the game, as players are less likely to take pleasure in playing if they are mentally dominated by this external form of reinforcement. This will also influence the increase of negative emotional responses to setbacks in the game which are caused by losses and individual defeats from the dominance of other players. 

Leaderboards may also justify players to make bad decisions in order to improve their rank. When players are focused on obtaining a high ranking, they may be willing to do anything to achieve it, even if it means breaking the rules or inconveniencing themselves in other ways. In some cases, players have been known to cheat in order to obtain a higher rank. This can lead to an in-game ban, shift in personal identity, distortions in thought, and self-esteem impacts. 

What are the mental health risks associated with playing video games with leaderboards as a primary progression tool?

Video game playing, in general, has been linked with a variety of mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and social isolation. However, this is especially true for players who are highly competitive and use leaderboards to track their progress. When players become focused on improving their rank, they may start to feel immense pressure to win. This can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness if they are unsuccessful. In some cases, players may begin to avoid social situations altogether in order to focus on the game. This can lead to isolation and a decreased sense of self-worth. Additionally, some players may start exhibiting signs of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and sweating, when they know they need to play a match that could potentially impact their rank.

Leaderboards have a significant impact on the mental health qualities of the video game playing experience. They can increase competition and hostility between players, create a toxic online environment, and cause players to make negative life decisions in order to improve their rank. While there are some positives they bring to gameplay by explaining the game as a competitive process and helping people measure performance over time, many players may not actually have the endurance to be a part of this form of online community they think they do. Additionally, leaderboards may be linked with a variety of mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and social isolation over time, which make this a concern for counselors to pay attention when working with longtime online game players.

Need Help?

If you are worried that you may be forming an unhealthy connection with the way you play your favorite online game, Kindbridge can help. We offer a team of nationwide mental health and coaching options who are specifically trained to work with people who are seeking a healthy balance in their relationship with technology across their many life areas.

Step 1: Take Our Video Game Addiction Quiz

The first step is to take our online video game addiction quiz to establish how your progression goals are affecting your life. it takes less than 5-minutes to answer a few questions. You will then receive an instant assessment of your gaming habits and whether they are cause for concern.

Step 2: Book Your FREE Consultation

If the online quiz suggests that you have a gaming problem, professional support is recommended. At Kindbridge, we offer specialized counseling for video game addiction in an accessible, affordable, and convenient way. Receive personalized treatment from a fully licensed therapist in the comfort of your home.

Book a free 15-minute consultation so we can assess you needs and recommend a plan of action.