The question comes up often in designing gamified systems: Are the rewards actually worth anything? Can I trade then in for something?
Great article addressing the topic: Motivating Through Games.
At MOC1 we ran an experiment on this very topic, to see if rewards with little or no value (we used Post-It notes, each with a star scribbled on it) worked as a motivator. The experiment was short-lived, but highly successful. Team members responded brilliantly.
The notes themselves were posted to a bulletin board, under the names of the team members who earned them. So it was a leaderboard. It was clear that the notes themselves weren’t what people wanted, but rather to see a stack of stars under their names, and to have more than their teammates.
The team also responded well to Post-It stars given to the team on days when everyone on the team earned a star.
At one point one of the team members approached me to ask “Are these stars worth anything? Can we trade them in for something?” I just said “Right now I’m not sure.” It had no effect, positive or negative, on anyone’s behavior.
Our conclusion was that seemingly empty rewards are a strong motivator, when shown in a leaderboard.