How would you go about gamifying Skritter?

Recently Skritter was part of a news article from The Straits Times (thanks for sharing the link Ximeng!) which talked about turning language learning into a game. Despite being compared to Candy Crush, Skritter hasn’t actually taken the plunge into gamification, although that isn’t to say that we’re opposed to the idea.

The idea of gamifying Skritter comes up every couple months at team meetings, but we’ve yet to take any real action. While badges and levels might be cool (and motivating) ways to keep putting in the character learning reps, it just doesn’t feel like that would cut it. So Skritter users, if given the opportunity, how would you go about gamifying Skritter?

When I first started Skritter I was quite motivated by adding words and completing sections of lists. It was a nice progress marker to work towards.

Now I use the iphone app and the main motivation is clearing the list and adding new items to study. The problem is it’s a lot harder to track progress through lists and through the progress pages, and really immediate feedback is key.

So what I’d like to see would be better list management.Some ideas:

At the moment you can have studied 90% of a list, but if you haven’t studied the first word it shows as 0% done. I’d like to see more accurate calculation of how far through a list you are. Also interesting would be how many characters you know versus words.

Secondarily to that, I’d like to see better notification of progress through lists. This could be “a section is done”, or “a list if done”, or separate “list progress” to show how far you’ve got through your lists in a day. As items can be studied out of order in a list, add progress notification for set number of words or characters studied. This could be percentages for big lists, or numbers of items, say 5 for beginners up to 50 for experts. Need to make sure you get some notifications but not too many.

Next I’d extend the list calculation to other lists and use that to suggest interesting lists to study, and to help order and choose lists. For example, lists could be categorised by how many words you know per list. This could help build a hierarchy and make it easier to choose lists to study.

Separately, you could add some better list functionality. Enable lists for progress notifications, independent of whether you are adding from them. This allows you to add “badge” lists easily. For example, you could change an HSK list to a progress notification list, and get a notification as you completed all the words for a section. Or you could add automatic lists generated per radical (e.g. 艹, 忄), or “fun” lists like the four tone same / different chengyu lists that I’ve added.

Add functionality to restrict the words added from a list based on characters you know. So you can add a chengyu list, but only add the 20% that include characters you know. Alternatively you could set lists to be used to restrict the words you add but not for adding directly. For example use an HSK level 3 list to restrict which chengyu you add.

With all the above functionality, you’re in a position to really think about setting up some Skritter specific courses. A course could be a list of lists that can be added together, for example for a course of textbooks. Then when someone signs up, suggest them to add a set of lists. This could look like HSK lists for progress purposes, but maybe some more practically useful ones such as food or travel terms.

Putting all of the above together, you are basically using lists for gamification. You get your achievements, badges and “good job” notifications from lists, you get your levels from lists. Skritter already has numbers of people studying lists - you can see how you compare with others based on what lists you are studying, if there was a way to see how people are doing on the lists you have a ranking system in Skritter.

What might be particularly useful would be to see how people have progressed and how quickly through the various lists. It could be integrated with the group tracking functionality that has been added.

With all of the above you are mostly just adding organically functionality which would be useful to have in Skritter, and gamification falls out of that. At the moment on iOS it’s very painful to check list progress - it’s slow, often times out or errors, and the whole list functionality is unwieldy. The end result is you move Skritter towards being a more complete system for managing Chinese study and study progress.


I’d like to see the “Items due” count be less important and/or smarter.

Currently Skritter is a game with two kinds of scores:

  1. how many words/characters/items I know
  2. how many review items I have due

#1 is super motivating, and I love to watch it grow.
#2 is rather depressing, and I hate it.

I’d like Skritter to let me forget words (I know – heresy!!) and help me study what’s important.

I know I can ban words from study, but I wish there was an automatic way for words that are not important to quietly fade into the background, unless I explicitly say: I need to know this.

As your average dumb learner of Chinese, I tend to dump a bunch of vocabulary into Skritter, not all of which is very useful. And so Skritter becomes a trap that I set for myself. Pretty soon I have thousands of items due, many of them obscure words that at one time I thought I might want to learn.

Skritter is already the closest thing to a game that any study tool has ever been for me. But the assumption that the goal is to remember everything I put into it is not realistic and, what’s worse, is no fun.

What’s fun is learning new things and reassuring me that I know a bunch of things.

What’s depressing is when Skritter becomes a machine to remind me how much I forget.

No-fun-Skritter constantly sends me the message: you forgot this, and this, and this, and this… And you must not learn anything new until you remember everything you ever tried to learn!

So I wish Skritter got smarter and somehow split items into at least these categories:

  • what I know
  • what I forgot and is kind of important
  • what I forgot and probably doesn’t matter and can wait to be reviewed on some rainy day when I really have nothing better to do
  • what I don’t know but will be fun and valuable to learn ASAP.

I also wish Skritter, like any patient teacher worth his salt, didn’t push me too hard, and spent more time positively reinforcing me than constantly shaking its virtual head at me.

Another way to look at all my Skritter items is to split them into 2 groups:

  • a big, ill-defined blob of what I know, what I sort of know, and what I don’t know;
  • what I need to know right now because I will be tested on it or need it for some current activity like reading a book or whatever.

It’s OK if Skritter is a bit strict as it prompts me to study for the second group, because that’s my priority of the moment.
For the first group, things can be more easygoing. And Skritter should naturally orient me to study and review the low-hanging fruit.

Finally, a score that would make more sense to me than “items due” is a realistic “how much I know”. I fully expect “how much I know” to go down when I haven’t studied for a while. I wouldn’t be depressed as long as I also saw it go back up after I’d done a lot of reviewing. But the current situation seems to be that “how much I know” never goes down, or hardly so (to spare my feelings?), while “items due” balloons in no time and stays big forever unless I make a superhuman effort to make Skritter forgive me for not having spent an hour a day working on it, every day, forever.

It’s a bit as if, when I play Tetris, the score displayed was negative: you are currently 325,652 points below your best score! Do you want to keep playing? OK. Congratulations, you are now 323,729 points below your best score. Keep it up!..


Agree on the what I know, what I sort of know, and what I don’t know. There are some words that aren’t really that important to me and I’m fine to keep them in a sort of know category. Others that I’d like to make sure I know pretty well, which is about what we have now. I’d also like there to be a stage above that so I feel like I’m still making progress even when I’m reviewing items which I’m already supposed to know according to Skritter.

At the moment if I take a couple of weeks off, I’ll have 3,000 items to review, probably that will take me a week or two to clear, and the average day’s stats will look like 500 items reviewed, -3 learned or something similarly uninspiring. Maybe if the stats went down a bit more aggressively as you don’t practice that would be a better incentive so when you come back to it you feel you’re making progress. Or perhaps more detailed drill down - OK so maybe some items didn’t make the barrier for counting as learned, but perhaps they got a bit better. Not sure exactly but something could potentially be done…

Badges for time spent, and account anniversary, etc… would be a nice.

As a long time Skritter user, I can see how gamification could be fun at the beginning and help motivating users to keep Skrittering, but now, I’m “disciplined” enough to practice regularly, and still find Skritter as fun as it used to be. Besides, games can be addicting, and I don’t want a potential time-sucker in my life. :wink:

Also, I agree with the last quote of the article:

The gamification of (language) learning is, in my opinion, a welcome approach – particularly with children – although one must be careful to focus on the learning aspect of the tasks, rather than the point-scoring.

So, the first question may be, is there even really a need to gamify Skritter? If so, to achieve what?

With that said, I couldn’t help but imagine how Skritter could be gamified, and thought about Arkanoid. Each word could be a brick, and the player would need to have learned all parts (Reader, Writing, Tone, Definition) before clearing it. My two cents. :smile:

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I think I read a good idea above. Some button like “mark word as less needed”. Right now there is only ban or do not ban. So there isn’t a possibility to say, that this word, while I might not really know it well, it’s still fine.
It would be also nice to have a possibility to do that directly on lists (and/or section of lists), which if you had set-up your lists for a specific book you are studying, you could use when drilling for a test.
Regarding skritter just “knowing” which word isn’t going to be so important than an other one, well, I would like to keep that my personal decision.

Regarding the items due, I have to disagree. For me personally it is quite a satisfaction to hear the beep when I am finally down to 0. But maybe in a gamification (which I agree shouldn’t go too far, it’s still about learning a language here), one could choose between different type of goals. Like in “Dots” where you can play against time (stresses me completely out) or against moves.

I have to say however before going down the gamification road, I would appreciate that existing functionality is working correctly. Currently in the Japanese part there is quite a big number of words that are being mispronounced and at least 3 radicals that have a (albeit slightly) wrong writing style being teached. (And you actually can’t write them correctly, because the app wouldn’t recognize the stroke then.

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Agreed. Plus you could still prominently display something like “all time maximum known words”. For one brief moment you knew 2041 words, but currently you only really seem to know 1427…

About the limits of SRS (a little off the topic of gamification):

Olle has written a fair amount about how we should tend our SRS list like a garden. or like a personal dictionary. But I think the current model – that I should know equally every single word in my vocabulary – is not realistic. It’s not how memory works. Some stuff I know, but only vaguely and in context. As long as I am not in that context, i don’t expect or need to know it. Some stuff I learned but I am happy to have (mostly) forgotten.

I know SRS is a simple algorithm. But our Skritter vocabulary is a kind of memory, a log of everything we’ve run into, and a personal dictionary. And an important feature of our memory is our ability to partially or completely forget stuff. Ideally Skritter would allow for that.

If everything I ever learned in other languages or other fields were in an SRS system, I would certainly go crazy: I’m a little sorry to have forgotten a lot of trigonometry and calculus, but I’d be even sorrier if I had to remind myself every day of all that stuff which I may never use again!

A “mark word as less needed” button as @susannekaiser says could be a useful, manual solution, especially if there was a way to quickly go down the list of items due, and especially if it was ordered by how hard a word is for me to learn (something, by the way, which Skritter can easily tell, but regrettably doesn’t track or tell me about) . I guess such a “less needed” feature would require two levels of numbers of items due: “items due” and “items less due” :smile:

I’d be willing to trust Skritter “knowing” what’s important if it was easy to quickly see what Skritter thinks isn’t important (or too hard for me) and override where it’s wrong. That means a quick view of variously sorted lists of my vocabulary.

And this leads me back to gamification and to @ximeng’s ideas about lists: as a word nerd, I would love to have more ways to play around with the list of words I know or am learning:

  • look at them,

  • sort them,

  • count them,

  • rank them,

  • get stats on them,

  • compare them with the words others know,

  • label them,

  • make them into badges,

  • etc., etc.
    The existing Skritter frustrates me a bit because my words seem hidden in a black box. I know I can export them and look at the list of the next items to review, but I would like to have much more access and visibility for my vocabulary. It would be interesting and fun if Skritter told me, “if you learn 2 more words, 河馬 and 犀牛, you will be eligible for the Basic Animals Badge”.


These are some quick and messy ideas, and I only use Skritter for writing, so my view of the application in general might be different than someone who uses it for everything. I also think anything that involves a drastic change to the way Skritter currently operates might be better off being optional as there will be a lot of people who have no interest in any form of game or just hate change in general.

  1. A Pokemon-style game with a ‘collect-em-all’ mentality tied with a leveling system. Chinese characters are each their own ‘card’ that can be leveled up, each level being visually distinct and increasingly impressive. :arrow_right: Card battling? Asides from just being a collection game, cards could have stats/attributes that can be leveled up and used in a type of card-battling game. I’m not personally familiar with these games but know they are popular (Hearthstone).

The ability to see all information easily is important to encourage this collection mentality. Skritter seems to track a lot of information but makes it a chore to actually view. I think StickyStudy does a decent job:

The card itself is immediately recognizable among your ‘collection’ and tapping on it brings up all of its stats, and the other things Skritter currently tracks.

  1. Similar to Puzzle & Dragons, only instead of there being a matching game at the bottom everything is based on your writings. Character fighting enemies along top of screen (could be scrolling along as you do reps), getting correct = does dmg to enemy, higher dmg/crit if character is written fast, lower damage if slow. Getting character perfect = more dmg / combos for entire word correct, etc.
    Character progression system tied to XP gained by reps. XP can be spent on gear (weapons/armor) and your character progresses through increasingly difficult challenges, whether that be dungeons/bosses, what have you. Tougher bosses could be made up of your more difficult (most failed) words/characters. Lists could automatically generate dungeons. (This one would require a lot of art so… yeah)

  2. Indirect/separate game where currency/play items are gained through studying. Animal Crossing elements, i.e. you are gaining currency to buy things to decorate your town or your house, or whatever.

  3. Simple item collection game - random element - every X review you roll on an item - I’m thinking Binding of Isaac-style ‘stuff I found!’ here.

  4. Missile Command style game with words falling as comets / rockets and you have to draw them before they hit Earth/ your base. Progression system that involves leveling up your base and defensive weapons through currency earned by doing reps/learning new writings.

  5. Not so much a game but more of a momentum feedback system - the longer you go the more visual / auditory / reward feedback, which dissipates when you get something wrong/go too slow.

Even just functional extras like – Those listed here could be expanded on to include more vocabulary and things like transitivity tests. ( ). There are lots of little things like this that could tie into badge systems or XP, or whatever floats your boat!


Stats, stats and more stats, with pretty colours and delicious pie charts. And you should include Jessica Alba somehow.

Also, I find the items due motivating. If people don’t like it, an option to hide it would do. I, however, need the constant shaming.


This is a nice idea. Gotta catch 'em all? ;D

I think many of the users above are hitting on the same nail: stats encourage healthy competition between the community.

All ideas are great, especially dig the pokemon idea (then the rarer more difficulty “characters” could be more powerful for pokemon card battles- take 打噴嚏的嚏 for example :wink:…jk jk)!

There definitely needs to be some sort of leader board integration, or a ranking system of some sort.

My idea is going to assume your resources are endless:

I think it would be really cool if Skritter hosted bi monthly writing competitions, which could be filmed, just like LoL, or smash brothers. I’m literally picturing a video with the a dozen IOS screens on the Skritter app, and then Nick voicing over the video as a host, and saying a tough character for the competitors to write or something. Then seeing dozens of people try to write the character on screen. Users could of course watch the video, cheer, and screem if they know how to write the character. It could be an educational learning experience for most, and a sweaty 腋下 (arm pit) for competitors!

The competitors would have 30 seconds to write the word, just like normal Skritter regulations.

I know this is a stretch, but I’m actually “adapting” this idea from a tv show I saw in Mainland China. I don’t have the link off hand (will post later), but it was basically a competition where 10 teams of 5 were given a pen and asked to write a character, or a sentence. There was even a 外國 team (though they got dead last place-- haha). I think Skritter could benefit marketing wise if it created some sort of health writing competition, perhaps sponsors could also be contacted in China.

The show is probably 汉字英雄, there was a little discussion in the old forum.

Funny you should mention writing competitions. Josh and I were (half) joking around about starting a twitch channel and streaming a Skritter study session. It’s not exactly what you’ve mentioned here, but it could be an interesting way to get through a daily review queue and talk a bit about the characters being studied!

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I’m not real big on gamification, but Duolingo’s daily goal+streak system has worked on me. 215 days and going!

The thing driving me on Skritter has always been the progress screen. A simple goal setting for daily/weekly chars learned would be very useful, “gamified” or not.


Generally agree with @klooste about encouraging competition. Leaderboards/points/badges are a must-have. Time studied this week, total characters, “acceleration” rate at which characters acquired, retention level, etc. I’d probably not have time (/make time) to play on video links but can see the benefit e.g. the TV show idea - and I wonder if maybe we laowai wouldn’t come last!

In response to @ZanDatsu’s ideas - I love the idea of being able to visualise your Skritter “deck”, with more details available on click. It might be a bit unhelpful given @Benjamin’s other post about studying words you’ve just looked at, but I’m sure lots of us a are data nerds and would like to visualise our knowledge. For example when you learn your 1000th character you could print off a nice big wall poster :smile:

FWIW, I hate the games where you have to write something before it falls to earth - I’m always so bad at them and they get really stressful!

TL;DR: I’d rather have “datafication” than “gameification” personally.

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Having said that… just found myself reading the terms of service on this site just to earn a little ‘tick’ next to another badge. So it clearly works - Skritter team, let’s have some more productive badges to earn! Some of them are already reflected in @SkritterOlle s contests.

10 reviews in 1 day
100 reviews in 1 day
5 words learnt in 1 day
20 words learnt in 1 week
1000 characters total
30 minutes studied in 1 week
100 hours studied total
365 days (8760 hours) studied total
7 day streak of >10 mins study
7 day streak of >5 items learned
7 day streak of <5 items forgotten
study every day for a month

so many possibilities!

Productive badges and other fun things are in the works! I know I keep saying “stay tuned,” but we’re working on tons of updates right now that should make the study experience a lot more interesting and exciting!


You may not be at a point where you can answer this question just yet, but I’m wondering, will the badge system be retroactive? Say for example there is a badge for learning 2000 characters and my stats show that I’ve already done that, will the badge be awarded automatically once the system has been implemented?

@ZanDatsu Sorry. You’re going to have to learn another 2000 to get that achievement. TOTALLY KIDDING! We’ll make sure that these things are retroactive. We don’t want too many emails about nuking accounts so people can start from scratch to get an achievement unlocks. :wink:

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I would partner with Khan Academy and/or adopt the methods that they have used or something similar. I know, or at least hope and believe that your real aim is to help as many people out in learning the two languages that you provide. If by chance you adopted some type of “Gamification” you would not only provide an additional means to study, one- making it fun, and two- allowing the learner to see quantitative results, but also potetially move into other languages like Korean. And after all that is said and done, allowing you company to profit in more ways then one. So, I would suggest that skritter not sale it self short and try to follow a path like some successful corporations who use R&D and implement your way forward so you don’t become a thing of the past. Just some ideas. Skritter is Awesome, by the way.

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