So I finally got a pretty good report set up from Bunchball that let me see who has risen rapidly up the leaderboard month-to-month, and the first case I dug into produced our first case of confirmed cheating, which I got to enforce today by wiping out all of his points. Thought I would share a bit here and ask what stories others have to share about dealing with cheating in the Bunchball system.
Here is the email I sent after I detected this:
I noticed your rapid rise in Hub points in May when I was working on new reports that track who is moving up the leader board quickly. Upon further investigation, I discovered 12,000 of those points in May resulted from your downloading documents. Well, one document in particular, 354 times.
I’m interested in why you needed to download the Climate Change Microlist.pdf so many times. It was last updated in January, so clearly it does not change frequently.
I tried to keep it light and not make it accusatory, while still making it overwhelmingly clear how bad the evidence looks for him. In response, he admitted to "testing the system." Here was my response to his confession:
As I explained in my Hub post when we launched the new Hub points and levels:
Spirit of Honorable Play
We don't want anyone to lose sight of why they use the Hub, and it is NOT to earn points! Rather, the points are a playful way to nudge you toward trying new things, toward doing productive things more often and recognizing you for the contributions you make to UBM's learning and sharing of knowledge in the Hub. It's also a way of adding some fun to the workplace.
Please understand that dishonorable behavior will not be tolerated. Taking unproductive action in the Hub solely for the purpose of earning undeserved points is cheating. Deception and dishonesty are, of course, incompatible with UBM's values. At the least, they will get you suspended from the new gaming system or banned entirely. At worst, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable discussion with your HR representative.
So let's all keep everything in perspective. Healthy, playful competition can be both motivating and fun. Enjoy earning your new points and achieving your new levels, and let the spirit of play motivate you to share more of your knowledge and ideas with your peers!
I have reduced your Hub points to zero as of today, removing all the ill-gotten points plus the rest you had earned. We need to preserve the integrity of the game to make it fair for everyone.
The point system is, indeed, an experiment and we are learning as we go. I know some people will push the boundaries, and so we are learning how to respond to those situations, as well, including this one. You are not suspended from the game and I have simply logged this incident for our Hub operational team’s records, as we will have zero tolerance for repeat offenders. We want the game to be about how to use the Hub effectively to earn points, not to be how to game the system.
I followed that with a blog post in the community titled, "The Hammer Comes Down," in which I spelled out the (new) policy for cheaters:
- First offense = you go back to zero points
- Second offense = zero tolerance, you will be banned from the point system forever
I also tied it back to company values, of course, which do not tolerate dishonesty or deception.
My thinking is based on these principles:
It's important that we are fair and consistent in dealing with cheating incidents. We need to be firm and harsh enough that the rest of the community is reassured the game is fair, or they won't want to play. Yet we don't want to be seen as biased or vengeful and turn people off, either. It's a delicate balance.
Remove the Ill-Gotten Gains
Once cheating has been detected, nothing gained from it should be retained by the cheater. All the points stolen and any badges associated must be removed.
Punishment Should Be Greater than the Potential Gain Was
It's not enough to simply take away what was stolen, as that means the cheater has simply been restored to pre-cheater standing with no loss incurred for the offense. I tried to think of calculations to apply, such deducting double the points that were gained illegally, but that could put many people into negative point levels. I am not sure we need to go that far, especially on a first offense.
So, they have to start all over from zero points. That should hit competitive people where it hurts and show we take the integrity of the game seriously.
Public Humiliation Is Not Consistent with Our Culture
I am really tempted to create a Cheater badge and make it display on their profile, but I have decided against this. It does not feel consistent with our culture in the Hub to call people out in such a negative way, especially when it would sit there forever on their profile. It would be fun to award Scarlet Letters, though ;-)