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Making hats available year-round, rather than limiting them to Winter Bash, would be a natural and powerful extension of Stack Exchange's gamification systems. This remains true even if hats are disabled for anonymous users and easy to disable for registered users.

Why Would You Suggest This?

The Xbox Live Achievements system was the inspiration for the original Stack Exchange badge system, in 2008. If somebody was viewing your Xbox or Stack profile, they might see that you'd unlocked some rare achievement, and it could inspire them to work towards that themselves.

But let's get real: most users rarely look at each other's profiles. (We have the view count numbers to prove that.) And while your peers might notice when you unlock your first gold badge, after the first few nobody will notice them ticking up. It's still motivating, but it's lost some flair. Video games faced the same problem. In 2008 it may have been cool to have a couple thousand Xbox Live Gamerpoints, but these days of my friends have so many that the numbers don't even register.

Now in 2018, when players accomplish some difficult achievement, they're often also rewarded with a cosmetic reward that's visible in the course of ordinary gameplay. For example, in Fortnite I was just awarded with an umbrella glider for my first win, and I get to show this off to fellow players at the beginning of every game. Hats can serve the same role here on Stack Exchange.

If Shog earns the Socratic badge today, I would never notice. But how could I fail to notice this?

Being able to highlight your accomplishments to your fellow users in the course of regular site use would be a fun incentive.

A key point to consider is who users are interested in showing-off to. I think that most users are most interested in showing off to fellow Stack Exchange users, since they're the ones who would be most most appreciate the accomplishments. For that reason, I think this would remain almost as effective even if it's disabled for unregistered users, so Stack's interface remains as clean as possible to people who wouldn't care. Likewise, an "I Hate Hats!" button should remain available to let disinterested users quickly opt-out.

Step 4: Profit?

I hesitate to include this, because of the general concern about mixing anything financial into the dynamic of the site. However, the site needs to make money somehow, and I think that if done with care, paid cosmetic hats could be added without ill effect. The most important point (which should be obvious but bears repeating) is that paid and awarded hats must be mutually exclusive.

Perhaps we could have a new profile widget which explains how the user's currently-equipped hat was awarded. This would point to a badge for awarded hats, or display a message like "for donating $10 in Spring 2018" for purchased hats.

One potential model would be to have a set of exclusive hats that rotate out every season/three months and are never available again. As the user donates within a season, they unlock cooler hats, perhaps following a $5/$25/$125 progression.

This is not an original idea, and users have accepted it elsewhere. I am currently a moderator on SpeedRun.com. It is a community moderated and community-funded website. Users who donate to keep the site running get to pick a little flair to appear next to their avatar throughout the site. Users don't seem to have any problems with this.

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    It is too early for April, 1st ... – rene Mar 30 '18 at 21:34
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    Why would I even want to pay for something like this? I have an avatar and I can edit it to show myself wearing any hat I want. That's what graphics editors are for. I'm not going to pay for that. Note - thats exactly how I managed to wear multiple hats during the last winter bash. – DavidPostill Mar 30 '18 at 21:50
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    Monetising bling? I don't think so! I'm with David P on this. Additionally, how interested do you think people are on showing off their badges? I have to admit I wouldn't know (not care) what badges I have, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. – Rory Alsop Mar 30 '18 at 21:53
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    I'm actually interested in seeing an answer from someone who dislikes the monetization aspects of this. I'd like to understand what the harm in it is. If you don't want to pay for it, the simple solution is to not pay. There's no inherent benefit to doing so - other than SE earning some cash - so why not let those who are willing... do so? I think it's a fun idea. – Catija Mar 30 '18 at 21:57
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    This is a duplicate, that should be indisputable. The only discussion we should be having here is which way round to mark the duplicates. – ArtOfCode Mar 30 '18 at 22:14
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    Nothing in the duplicate mentions the ability to pay for it... So I don't see how this is a dupe of the other. And the other is already a dupe of something else... which is a really crappy dupe, to be honest. – Catija Mar 30 '18 at 22:15
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    Possible duplicate of permanent hat-like thing? – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Apr 13 '18 at 16:29
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In my non-ending need to get SE to "take my money already", your latter suggestion seems like a great one. I would love the chance to kick some cash their way and I think that the option to purchase a (purely cosmetic) hat-type object that I can use to decorate my avatar is a good one.

This has the benefit of being completely digital, so there's no shipping cost and no need to struggle with customs agents who pinch your stuff. The infrastructure for it already largely exists - I'm sure that some changes would be required, but that'd be relatively minor.

It might also have the add-on effect that some of the most requested Winter Bash features (like the ability to wear multiple hats) might be implemented, since the hats have become a source of (minor) income.


That said, I'd probably not want a badge-based hat system and here's why:

That's what Winter Bash is. Many of the hats from Winter Bash are badges. I worry that this year-round merit-based hat collecting will devalue Winter Bash activities. Yes, the hats during the Bash would be temporary and unique, but the quest for them would not be.


Concerns & Recommendations

To that point, the same could be said of the paid hats - they might devalue Winter Bash hats, which would be sad because it's such a fun time of the year... but there could be a way to balance that - perhaps you can't use paid hats during Winter Bash at all...

It may be worth considering limiting the hats to the actual avatar frame. During Winter Bash, your hat can extend outside the frame of the avatar. Perhaps this "feature" could be something that is limited to Winter Bash. It will keep the site looking neater, more professional, and probably send fewer people running for the "I hate hats" button.

I do think that it's very important to keep the "I hate hats" button around for users who don't like them.

Hats, like during Winter Bash, should remain static images. Anything that moves or flashes would be too annoying.

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I like hats and I like money, so this is certainly an intriguing idea. That said, I have a few concerns:

  1. Hats are special because they are temporary reminders of what it's like to play the game. It's a feedback cycle of do a thing, get a thing, show off your thing and find the next thing that takes more work than you might imagine. Doing it once a year is stressful, but also enjoyable because we know how much y'all enjoy the event. Doing it multiple times a year (even if the total number of hats per year is the same) sounds like chore. I don't think my heart would be in it the same way, y'know? Sorta sounds like a full time job to manage.

  2. I can't imagine that we'd be able to earn enough money to pay for an employee to manage this without being a little bit evil. (That said, I don't understand the economics of paid cosmetic items. I can't imagine paying for them myself, so I have a harder time putting myself in the shoes of those who would.)

  3. It's hard to see how this fits into the overall company goals. Our ads help developers get the right tools for their work. (At least in theory.) Jobs help developers get into better jobs. (Hopefully.) Teams, if it works, will help developers share team-specific knowledge. Hats would be a side hustle. That's not a bad thing, of course. But we probably have more pressing concerns.

  4. It feels kinda desperate to me. Like those games that go free-to-play after it's clear they haven't sold as well as projected.

In the long run, I like hats as a special Winter Bash thing and I'm not sure it's worth diluting the effect for the revenue we might earn.

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    If it helps, even hugely popular games offer "skins"... and they often do so seasonally... so, for your character at Easter, you may be able to purchase a pair of bunny ears. There's no in-game value or bonus, they're purely cosmetic. You make some valid points. Initial setup at the least would take some work. – Catija Mar 30 '18 at 22:34
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    @Catija: I play Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone and I see that it's made a ton of money selling in-game currency. I didn't get it until I figured out there was a false scarcity created by seasonal events plus random payouts. If you don't get your favorite hero's costume before the event ends, tough luck. That's what I mean by "a little bit evil". This is the sort of thing I wouldn't want to be tempted by. – Jon Ericson Mar 31 '18 at 0:08
  • Random paid rewards are a toxic/abusive pattern, I agree, and I would probably like to see them banned from games that are marketed to underage persons. I don't think exclusivity is so bad without that element. – Jeremy Banks Apr 3 '18 at 18:59
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I downvoted because of the money part, after some thinking I made into it.

Even though the way you suggest is fair, it will still create a clear distinction between those who have money, and those who don't, and break something very basic in Stack Exchange culture.

Currently, nobody can tell if user X is rich or poor based on their profile in Stack Exchange and their activity. This is fundamental, and part of Stack Exchange being focused on content, not people. Also, there's no "gender" field in the profile, and even age was removed, for example. Because we (as a community) simply don't care, and that's a good thing which is very rare these days in online forums.

Throwing money into this equation will break it, since having those premium badges/hats will be clear sign "Hey, I got money, look at me!" and on the other hand people will start to wonder why other users don't have any such premium badges, assuming they're too poor, and it might affect the way they think about them.

Adding to this the inevitable competition between people "X got this cool hat, I must buy a bigger one, so what if I need this money for something else", which can only end badly. Bottom line: money should stay out. No matter in what form it arrives.

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