At Conduce Software we have always believed that if you make business software more appealing, more fun and more rewarding then users will not only enjoy using it, but they will use it better, the quality of the data they enter will improve and mission critical data will be entered in a more accurate and timely manner. I’ve personally preached about this during talks and presentations and have suggested that business software has a lot to learn from social media and games to achieve this aim. We have experimented with adding gaming mechanics to some of our applications as a result of this belief.
I didn’t realise, but this practise of adding game mechanics in a non-game environment has a name: Gamification. It also never really occurred to me that gamification is all around us and has been for years. The concepts of customer loyalty programmes, buy-one-get-one-free, sales targets and employee reward schemes are recognised as mature gamification techniques. With 3 generations and 30 years of a multi-trillion dollar electronic gaming industry the science behind gaming is very well understood and is moving into the business arena in a big way.
I decided that to master the use of game mechanics in business applications we have to know a game mechanic when we see it and learn to appraise its qualities. I decided the best way to do this would be to simply play some games together. Last night we had our first ever team Gamification Night. I brought in some sugary drinks and some greasy take-away and we sat down as a team and played together for a couple of hours.
I decided to set some boundaries at the outset so that we would work towards an outcome. I settled upon 6 questions that we would ask ourselves to help us identify and appraise the individual game mechanics in each game we looked at.
These questions were:
Q1: What are the goals of the game?
Q2: What are the rules and resources of the game?
Q3: What is the feedback? (how do you know how well you are doing?)
Q4: What is the core challenge to master?
Q5: What do we like / not like about the game?
Q6: Which is the key game mechanic which makes or breaks the game?
The first four of these questions were suggested to me by Sebastian Deterding a LinkedIn contact and expert on the subject of User Experience and Gamification. Incidentally I highly recommend his Google Tech Talk on the subject.
We began by looking at Angry Birds as this was probably the one game which we all had plenty of exposure to… this helped to bed in the questions I had posed and set a tone for the rest of the evening. We answered the questions for Angry Birds as follows:
Game 1 Angry Birds
Q1: Defeat the pigs
Q2: You have limited number of birds; birds have specific properties, birds must be launched via catapult
Q3: Score, Rating, Success/Fail, state of the pig’s structure, point popup
Q4: Judging trajectory of the birds, timing
Q5: Consistent challenge, well scaffolded challenge, you can play without engaging brain
Q6: Simplicity, Easy to master
We then went on to discuss (without playing) some of the games of our youth such as Scorched Earth, Elite, Worms, Carmageddon and Civilisation. Next we fired up my Playstation3 and sampled a range of games such as Little Big Planet, Gran Turismo, Call of Duty, Sports Champion and Start the Party, whilst taking time to log our findings. Sebastian did suggest to me that we should play board games instead of computer games as we would be distracted by graphics and visuals – but maybe we shall do this next time.
We were particularly interested in the approaches taken during a couple of specific phases of game play. How did game designers tackle the issue of “on-boarding” and tutorials during the early moments of first playing a game; how was feedback delivered and when was it appropriate to use “juicy-feedback”?
We agreed that the common denominating game mechanic across the games that we enjoyed most was “Physics”. The games which portrayed gravity, Newston’s Laws of Motion and real world mechanics most accurately were more compelling and delightful. Even games that had no bearing on reality such as Angry Birds and Little Big Planet which successfully rendered physics in the game mechanics were much more appealing that those that didn’t. With this in mind, we examined non-gaming applications that we knew of which also rendered the laws of physics in a compelling manner. We spent some time playing with and discussing Garage Band for the iPad, specifically the ability to bend and hammer-on strings and use the iPad’s accelerometers to play instruments softly or with force. We also looked at e-readers and specifically Apples iBooks for iPhone and iPad.
We had great fun and learned some valuable lessons. The development team have already devised a couple of ways in which we can introduce some physics into our apps by making forms closely resemble paper in appearance and behaviour. The type of feedback which we enjoyed most and examined in detail was the concept of the “killer move”. Some games anticipate a winning manoeuvre and provide feedback ahead of this. In some games this is done quite subtly by changing the colour or properties of a progress bar. In other games this is handled by a very cinematic super-slo-mo visual effect… we all seemed to remember the “Finish Him” killing sequence in Mortal Combat from our youth. We wondered whether similar mechanics might be appropriate within a business application.
Hopefully this was the first instance of a semi-regular event. Some teams like to go bowling or drinking together. At Conduce Software we like playing and discussing games.
Author: Paul Saunders