After a weekend that saw my badge collection vault from 284 badges to a nice even 300 badges (SoSG's Josh S. had a big badge-collecting weekend as well), I figured it's time for part three of my MLB.com badge trilogy: Return of the Badges Posts (or should it be Revenge of the Badges Post?).
When I first started collecting MLB.com badges, they were still ironing some of the kinks out--and they've made changes throughout the season to improve the experience. For one thing, they've added cumulative events (e.g., two hits or six strikeouts, rather than just a singular event). And around the time of the All-Star break, they added pitchers to the mix, which was a great benefit (though middle relievers usually get the shaft; usually the eligible pitcher is either the starting pitcher (with a win event or a number-of-strikeouts event) or the closer (with a save event or a number-of-strikeouts event). Both of those changes were upgrades.
There are some other minor nits that they could change; in fact there are five improvement areas that reflect MLB.com's general laziness about badges, since most of these are quick fixes. First, they could do a better job updating the badges once a player joins a new team (for example, I just earned a Juan Rivera badge from an event while he was a Dodger, but it has him as a Bluejay). Here's the Juan Rivera team disconnect:
And a similar issue with Nyjer Morgan:
It would be cool if one could win a separate badge for each of the players' teams, sort of like the Topps Traded sets. I'm guessing that's difficult for the MLB.com badge people to program, but it might be a neat touch.
Another thing they need to fix (or at least make consistent) is fitting a person's full name on his badge; apparently, not everyone makes the cut. Now, if you're Jarrod Saltalamacchia, I get it. But explain to me why Michael Cuddyer (14 letters) doesn't allow room for his first name (see image), while the Giants' Orlando Cabrera has no problem (14 letters), nor does the Athletics' Brandon McCarthy (15 letters)? This is just sloppy badgemanship.
(For the record, the other last-name only badges that I've collected are Andrew McCutchen (15 letters), Francisco Cordero (16 letters), Curtis Granderson (16 letters), Madison Bumgarner (16 letters), and the crazy-long Yuniesky Betancourt (18 letters). And come on, people: Ichiro, of all people, should get a one-name badge.)
Thirdly, what's with the ghost images for some players (which seems to affect all of the computers with which I interface mlb.com, so I'm assuming this is on their end). Witness the ghost of the Phillies' Vance Worley:
Fourth, earlier in the season, the badge case used to include information on the date that the badge was achieved. In the band at the bottom of the trophy case, positioning one's mouse over the badge, one could read the person's team number, position, and date awarded (see the image below). Now, that information doesn't appear in the bottom band (only the actual badge is replicated). One could still open up "properties" on the image of each badge and find out when the badge was won, but really that's a pain to manage. Which brings me to my final nit improvement point...
Fifth and most important to this whole badge program: The organization of badges in the case makes no frickin' sense. This is without a doubt the biggest issue I have with the badge program, especially couple with nit #4 now that they've removed the acquisition date from the display. I have no idea where new badges populate, as MLB.com badges are not ordered in one's case chronologically, nor alphabetically, nor even organized by team. And what's worse, they don't allow the user to organize them himself in the case, so it's a total dog's breakfast looking at the case each time.
The only "rule" I seem to have found might relate to last names, as the Royals' Melky Cabrera, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, and the Giants' Orlando Cabrera are all positioned in sequence. But Asdrubal Cabrera gets totally boned as the Mariners' Jack Wilson separates him from his similarly-surnamed brethren.
And then the Cabrera string is followed by the Z-ordered Ryan Zimmerman, and then Matt Cain, which again makes no sense.
Obviously, I've done a fair amount of thinking about these MLB.com badges--probably to an obsessive fault, I admit. In fact I've even emailed and called mlb.com to try and talk with someone who could impact these changes, but to date I've not received a response. (Email address is on the sidebar, MLB.com badge department, if you're reading this.)
But here's how to really, really take the MLB.com badge program up a notch. If MLB.com badges are supposed to be like virtual baseball cards, then allowing the user to organize them himself is ideal, right?
But if MLB.com really wants to make this Badges program a stickier, more addictive program, here's the big potential win: they need to shift this from an individual collecting game to a badge community, complete with enhanced functionality and user interface. Think pokemon: you gotta catch them all--and there's a competitive element added to badge collecting that isn't there today. The key to this is opening up a separate forum or "marketplace" where users can trade badges with other users, turning the badges into a currency rather than just an image.
Now, this would require a couple of key changes to the badge case management itself. For one thing, users need to be able to organize their case, which I've already mentioned. For another thing, users should be able to collect multiple copies of a player's badge, since right now, one is limited to one badge per MLB player (I think the MLB.com folks might have had this in mind earlier on, since every player's badge image is named "bronze"; I assume that someone was thinking about a "silver" and "gold" level as well).
And finally, users need to be able to discard (or "banish", in the case of Giants) unwanted badges, something that can't be done today. This point is a real detriment to even the current process, as the badges of unwanted players pop up all the time during the course of games (for example, if you're "watching" a Dodgers-Giants game, you'll collect the three Giants' badges even if you don't want them). I would love to get rid of Brian Wilson's badge, just like I wanted to get rid of Ray Knight's Topps card back in 1978. But I can't, as the game operates today, so I'm stuck seeing his bearded mug in my badge case.
Once MLB.com allows for true badge management, one can open up this forum or marketplace for badge trading--which would be great at building community across fans of different teams. For example, even with a hated Giants fan, I might be able to trade the badge of their fatty Pablo Sandoval, in exchange for Hong-Chih Kuo (whose badge I don't have, by the way (and frankly I'm unlikely to get it at all given his season this year)). There might be a market-force-driven aftermarket pricing system for badges, but MLB.com could make the trades as simple as one-for-one badge exchanges, just to keep the process simple (rather than opening it up for true "pricing" fluctuations, which might be difficult to manage and monitor).
MLB.com could also post information on badge events by team / player (i.e., how many times a given players' badge was in play, as well as how many times the badge was unlocked), so people could track their badge collections and see which ones they were missing. And, they could track which users have the most badges, both overall and by team; or, indicate how "far" each user is in getting all available badges for a given team or overall.
Collectors are, by nature, people who want to complete things, obsessively. Just look at this Xbox 360 completist nutjob. (Or this one, which is an even scarier story.) Heck, I remember when msn.com's zone, the casual gaming site, started offering badges--I played Bejeweled and Text Twist until my eyes fell out. MLB.com's badges could be the same thing.
It's obvious that the whole reason that MLB.com introduced badges, in the first place, is to increase stickiness by having users "watch" games on GameDay, allowing MLB.com to inflict those annoying between-inning advertisements on users. More eyeballs = higher advertising rates. Setting up the badge program to be even more infectious could only have upside from an advertising perspective, with increased stickiness and usage to be had.
But all in all, I'm pretty impressed with the whole MLB.com badge game. If nothing else, this MLB.com badge collection has gotten me more familiar with players from the other 29 teams beyond the Dodgers. I don't collect baseball cards in earnest any longer, but even over the last three seasons, I'd go out and celebrate opening day of each baseball season by buying a hobby box of Topps cards, opening the packs up while watching the season's first set of games. But last year, I even gave that practice up; it just seemed like a waste of money and time.
MLB.com's badges have the potential to fill that gap, if they can improve the program and build the functionality out to where it should be. Hopefully they can continue working out the kinks in this year's program, and bring it back next year with even more addictive attributes.