Our Future: Public Humiliation via Leaderboards

I spent most of my childhood – ok, and young adulthood, too – in the arcade. If you’ve never heard of them, they are the smoky, smelly dungeons filled with oversized coin-operated machines that would give you five minutes of pleasure for a quarter. It was my home.

I still have fond memories of defending my high score in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (high school) and getting the top ranking in the original Tekken (undergrad). I distinctively remember making one guy so mad, he slammed his fist into the glass monitor. We were totally cool the next day, too. Memories are all I have, though, since those machines probably retired into a scrap heap when the post-PlayStation 2 world began. And, even if they were there, my recorded history as “JNX” would be long gone.

But you know who’s trying to bring leaderboards back? Starbucks.

According to the UK paper The Guardian, Angry Birds millionaire Rovio is talking with the coffee pushers about having a live leaderboard in its locations. Here’s the deal:

Rovio Entertainment, its creator, reckons having so-called leaderboards in the shops will build brand loyalty by encouraging people to play the game while enjoying a coffee.

The leaderboards are expected to display customers’ scores when they play Angry Birds at participating outlets.

So you step in for a grande Frappacino, whoop ass in some Angry Birds Rio, and come back the next day to take down the arrogant pain in the butt who took your leaderboard spot while you were gone. I kinda like the idea.

The problem I have with it, though, is that it is too small an idea for too small a game. Rovio isn’t the company to do it, and Starbucks isn’t necessarily the place to have it.

Have you ever competed against someone in Angry Birds? I haven’t, probably because it’s not really a competitive game. The points per round are a good start, but it will still have limited variation. Once you truly master a level, you’ve got the highest possible score.

And I respect Starbucks for stepping up and trying gaming on for size, but I have a hard time believing casual gamers – who is Angry Birds’ main audience – choosing Starbucks over, say, Peet’s coffee because of the leaderboards. Only hardcore folks would come in to compete on the leaderboard, but hardcore folks aren’t playing Angry Birds. Well, at least not while Gears of War 3 is out.

I’d rather see another Wi-Fi friendly environment go all leaderboard crazy. What about Dave & Busters, perhaps the only successful arcade chain around today? They could have people playing the physical games and playing on their own mobile devices for the highest score in the most popular mobile game at the moment.

Maybe I just miss the social interaction – and humiliation – that comes with the classic arcade. And I’m definitely shocked that Starbucks would be the leader of the new leaderboards.

Photo courtesy of Gavin Hay // CC 2.0

 



Damon Brown

Damon writes CBS's Gadget Watch and is the U.S. Editor of Pocket Gamer. He also writes books about music, sex, and tech. Damon's latest is The...