Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gamification: Making Software Fun

Gamification is the use of game techniques to solve problems and engage audiences. In other words, it makes non-game applications (like stuffy business software) fun and compelling so people will want to use them. Gamification can turn what might otherwise be seen as a chore into something users actually look forward to. Whether for customers or employees, gamification can lead to increased productivity and loyalty, and makes for happier users.

Gamification is an idea our User Experience practice at Neudesic is very interested in as well as our Web & Cloud practice. Of the four pillars we are emphasizing for modern web work (HTML5, mobility, cloud, social), gamification fits into the social category.

Some examples of gamification are achievement badges, achievement levels, points, leaderboards, rewards, and user-to-user competitions. You can see some of these ideas in many popular web apps such as FourSquare and Klout. An example of applying gamification in a business application might be to award points for sales achievements and have a leaderboard showing how salespeople are doing relative to each other. Since sales organizations often launch campaigns with special incentives for reaching various targets in a quarter, the competition angle fits very naturally and can spur people on to beat out their colleagues.
One interesting application for gamification is to use it to solve problems. Recently, a major scientific problem was solved by people playing a computer game. The players deciphered the three-dimensional structure of a protein that allows a relative of the AIDS virus to infect cells. They were able to do this without a background in chemistry: the game only required that they “freeze” or “wiggle” shapes on their screens. Researchers created a game called FoldIt in which players cooperate to rearrange proteins into different shapes. Other software then evaluated which proposed solutions were most likely to be correct. AIDS researchers had struggled for more than a decade to work out the structure; the gamers cracked it in less than 10 days!

FoldIt solved a major scientific problem through gaming

At Neudesic we recently put gamification to the test in our 2012 cloud conference tour, in which we’ll ultimately be doing shows in 12 regions. At CloudFest Denver this week, we debuted AttendeeBee, a gamification application for conference attendees. With it, attendees can tweet, check in their location, plan their agenda, and rate sessions on their smartphones for points, where the more points the better your chance of winning an Xbox-Kinect in our drawing. At the Neudesic booth, attendees could see the overall state of the conference in real time on a large monitor including a player leaderboard. AttendeeBee exhibits all of the characteristics we want to see in a modern web application: HTML5, mobility, social integration, & cloud. It got plenty of attention and sparked many good discussions at our booth with prospects. We have plenty of ideas now on how to take the app further for our remaining conferences.

AttendeeBee applies gamification to conference attendance

Gamification isn’t totally a new idea: it has predecessors, such as “no accidents for X days” in factories; and “best branch” awards in franchises. I’m surprised it took this long for gamification to be recognized as a fundamental consideration in designing software and the user experience, but I’m glad it’s finally here. In hindsight, its value is obvious. It's now official: Fun Is In!

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