How gamification affects software developers: Cautionary evidence from a natural experiment on GitHub
We examine how the behavior of software developers changes in response to removing gamification elements from GitHub, an online platform for collaborative programming and software development.
We find that the unannounced removal of daily activity streak counters from the user interface (from 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. Focusing on a set of software developers that were publicly pursuing a goal to make contributions for 100 days in a row, we find that some of these developers abandon this quest following the removal of the public streak counter.
Our findings provide evidence for the significant impact of gamification on the behavior of developers on large collaborative programming and software development platforms. They urge caution: gamification can steer the behavior of software developers in unexpected and unwanted directions.
Lukas Moldon, Markus Strohmaier, Johannes Wachs, How gamification affects software developers: Cautionary evidence from a natural experiment on GitHub, in: 2021 IEEE/ACM 43rd International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) (2021) 549–561