Business Software Gamification Part 1 – Introduction

I’ve been writing about the gamification of software for over a decade on various blogs, forums and newsgroups. In this time I have seen a massive uptake of the principles of game development in the learning/education industry, with many online learning providers now doing some kind of rewards/points system to motivate users. Any time you see points, achievements or levels on a professional development or education web site, you are seeing gamification at work.

Gamfication is defined as ‘the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity’.

Recently, in one of the projects I’m working on, a situation arose where we needed to remove features from the product due to the amount of complexity these feature introduced. This resulted in a ‘lite’ version of the software, with many features disabled.

After making these changes, I considered why it was that the features we added (which were all asked for) needed to be removed.

The following scenario is how I think the situation arose.

Imagine you are providing word processing application for an experienced typist, who has never seen a word processor, and who has always done their work on a manual type writer.

You replace their typewriter with a a PC running an application that was heavily inspired by Word 2013. Never having seen a computer, or a word processor, they are immediately confused and intimidated by the number of features available. Buttons labelled ‘Insert Table’, ‘Format’, ‘Revisions’ and ‘Mail Merge’ are just far beyond where this particular user’s comfort zone ends.

‘I just want to be be able to type up letters, change some words to bold, or underline them, and print my work.” they exclaim. You can see where they are coming from, since you do all your word processing in notepad.

So you spend some time removing all the features you added to make your word processor ‘cutting edge’. ‘Insert Table’ – gone. ‘Styles’ – gone. ‘Insert Image’ – gone. What you end up with is a glorified notepad application – you feel a little disappointed removing all those features you worked hard for, but at the end of the day – it’s the user that matters.

Fast forward 2 weeks.

Your user comes up to you and says – ‘You know, I really like this new version of the word processor you developed. There’s one problem though. I’m a bit tired of using under-scores and dashes to display tabular data. It’s a nightmare if you need to add a column or another row. What I’d really like is to be able to automatically insert a table with specified number of rows and columns, so I can just focus on entering the data, and not having to re-format my document  all the time. It would also be really cool if I could just add columns and rows as needed’.

‘What??’ you exclaim. ‘I just removed that feature 2 weeks ago!’.

‘Well, add it back, please.’ you hear.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you know that users are not able to accept rapid changes to their way of working.

I’ve been a proponent of the gamification of business software for a long time, and I think the time is right for software developers to look at the the principles and elements of game software to improve the usability and engagement of business applications by applying the principles that make games, and more recently, learning software, more engaging, interesting, and user-friendly.

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2 thoughts on “Business Software Gamification Part 1 – Introduction

  1. Agreed – however, I think you will always need to cater for experienced/power users – and also users who consider themselves thus (irrespective of whether they actually are), in order to try avoid frustration.

    Also – how about analysing the way people use the application – or try use the application – and perhaps give suggestions/helpful hints which could assist the users in what they (might) want to do? Of course there’s always a fine line: too much prompting (IMO this should never be modal) will result in frustrated users, as well.

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    • Thanks for the feedback. What you suggest is exactly how game developers approach design, by acknowledging that users must want to use your application, and trying to make the software as compelling add possible.

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