Monday, 11 April 2011

Gamification – An evolution in software design or just continuing the trend?

Recently there has been an article in Supply Management (issue 6th Jan 2011) and also on the UK Spend Matters blog by Peter Smith (3rd February 2011) touching on the subject of Gamification.

For those unfamiliar with the term, here is the Wikipedia definition:

“Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game, particularly consumer-oriented web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications. Read More

The gaming industries revenue is measured in tens of billions and it is growing at an almost exponential rate. They are obviously doing something right.

Should the business software world take note and learn from this industry? Is it just a fad? Or is ‘Gamification’ just renaming of existing practices that companies are already engaged with whilst ignoring other elements of the gaming industry such as story telling which are central to games but not so relevant for business applications?

There is quite an academic debate around this issue. This article is not about resolving this but to give a pragmatic viewpoint.

What you can say is that irrespective of the naming convention, it is obvious that the business world has a great deal to learn from the gaming industry. Software in the business world is becoming more useable, functional and can be easily customised, but misses the point if it is trying to learn from the gaming industry.

The primary strength of the gaming industry is around the user experience. There are many other words that could be included here but it is the user experience which seems core to the uptake of their technology. There are many facets which make up the user experience: ease of use, attractive GUI, inbuilt intelligent tutorials, dynamic interfaces, fun to use, reward mechanisms, online communities, challenges, stories, scoring and so on... The list is endless and different applications will focus on different points.

The key is that the user engages with a very complex system easily and effortlessly to become proficient and then is self motivated to continue and progress and share information. It is the user experience which drives this however it is made up. You can’t say this about many (any?) business applications. Although you can certainly see that many modern websites and applications are starting to take on a different look and feel which seems to draw on important aspects of the gaming industry. They have taken on a more fun approach and well as a clearer and easier to use interface. Some nice examples here are Survey Monkey and Value my Stuff whose websites and functionality are laid out in very clear and simple steps.

Obviously business applications are always striving to become more user friendly, and this has been an industry trend for many years. However it seems that they always put functionality first above the user experience. They can continually make the user interface easier but it is by examining other industries such as the gaming sector that will result in an application which people want to use. If more business application started design by looking at the user experience and ultimately engagement first then there would be less multi million pound software implementations where much of the workforce don’t use to their full capability. We have spoken to companies who have Oracle and SAP implementations where they need to bring external consultants in to show them how to use the systems and increase uptake. Forcing users to uptake new technologies by changing processes is one way but wouldn’t it be great if users really wanted to use a new technology?

Gamification, for want of a better word, seems to embody an incremental step change in the way business software applications are designed through the priority given to user experience.
You could just say it is a next level of design, but the word itself embodies a very specific element in the way design strategy is changing and there are other benefits to just user uptake. Games tend to be fun. This is because they are easy to use and encourage engagement. They tend to avoid repetitive tasks and focus on getting back into the thick of it. Thus the advantages of enhancing the user experience through design from the gaming industry in business applications will not just be around the faster uptake of the technology but also other areas such as reduced administration and efficiency.

One just has to look at Apple. It is very impressive how they have put the user experience first and have thus created a loyalty in their user base which continually grows. The IPhone has many little nuances which impress and you can see how it also makes the experience easier and richer. It seems they looked at the market and put the user first before putting in the functionality. (OK, still a good question around flash!)

At Market Dojo we believe the skill is not just around a nice looking GUI, or inbuilt tutorials but much more fundamental. Our philosophy is built around making a software product which people want to use rather than one that they simply can use. It seems this is now the goal of many other upcoming SasS vendors who are new to the market and it is a very interesting time for business applications and their evolution in design.

About:  Market Dojo provides business-to-business e-auction and e-sourcing software.  Find out more at www.marketdojo.com.  

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