How Gamification Affects Software Developers: Cautionary Evidence from a Natural Experiment on GitHub
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ISSN der Zeitschrift
Software Engineering 2022
Gesellschaft für Informatik e.V.
We examine how the behavior of software developers changes in response to removing gamification elements from GitHub, an online platform for collaborative programming. We find that the unannounced removal of daily activity streak counters from the user profile pages was followed by significant changes in behavior. Long-running streaks of activity were abandoned and became less common. Weekend activity decreased and days in which developers made a single contribution became less common. Synchronization of streaking behavior in the platform’s social network also decreased, suggesting that gamification is a powerful channel for social influence. Software developers that were publicly pursuing a goal to make contributions for 100 days in a row abandon this quest following the removal of the streak counter. Our findings provide evidence for the significant impact of gamification on the behavior of developers. They urge caution: gamification can steer the behavior in unexpected and unwanted directions.