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My Simple Take On Gamification
by Laura Bularca on 10/12/11 11:51:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I now make games, but I have a background in software development with a specialization in usability design for huge software projects. Porbably because of my long standing love for games, I guess I've always thought of software in terms of gamification, but I have a simpler view. It looks a bit like this:

http://youtu.be/FxPsrOmm4mQ

Watch carefully. What you see is a bunch of people working hard to create something great. Pretty much like work should be, don't you think?

The difference, however, between building amazing things in Minecraft and actually going to work and manifesting your skills in a professional team is that the Minecraft players are having fun. All of them. And if you think about it a little, Minecraft's creative mode is a sortof 3ds Max for newbs with a bonus for collective use.

I have always perceived work as a professional manifestation of my passion, where I get better at precisely the skills I most love to use in my life. I know I am one of the few fortunate people who do exactly what they want to do, but in the end, they say "choose your career" for a reason and that's a different topic anyway.

My point is that I have never excluded fun from work, in fact I expect and promote it, but it seems to me that the real world somehow has a different view. Business is mainly not fun. Most professional software can take years to learn and has a tendency to provoke serious headaches when first accessed.

My little Minecraft example depicts a community united by a common goal, one - I'd bet - they all dream of, one that cannot be accomplished by one person alone. It is a simple vision accomplished through a complex process and, trust me, what they do is tedious and hard and not always as clear as it seems. 

In a work environment, I wouldn't like to question the vision of a product and the willingness of everybody to accomplish it; I sort of take that for granted. But HOW you get there as a community with different skills, personalities and job responsibilities - it needs to be simple, accessible by all, helpful, clear, and to show progress in an upfront manner. And I believe you can unite a group with the help of a tool just like the people in my Minecraft example are united by the game. 

Games are designed with ease of use in mind (well, some are, and all should be). You do not expect a gamer to work hard in order to learn and master your game, but instead you plan things up with ease of use in mind and carefully designed difficulty progression, so that when stuff gets "serious", you can be certain your player is "equipped" with everything he needs to know in order to overcome the challenge.

As a bonus, you ponder various reward mechanics to let the player know he's doing good, or help him if he's doing bad, and take any opportunity you can to congratulate and encourage him to explore your game farther.

So why shouldn't professional software be designed with the same philosophy in mind? You can call it gamification if you will, or peekaboo if I will, but any software developer should consider their users like a game dev considers his players, and should present his product in a easy to use manner, progressively.

Unlike games, software developers have an ever bigger incentive to do that: any professional software that is easy and pleasant to use saves time and allows its' users to actually concentrate on the end result of their work, on that single, precious vision. Upfront shown progress and clear, visual feedback are ways to tell your user whether he is getting the most of the things your software can offer. And they can also offer an opportunity for fun. Don't you want your users to feel good when they use your software?

With this in mind, I want to argue that many game developers take the hat of tool developers sometimes in their career. And this is the first software branch I'd expect to see this mystic gamification applied on, yet, surprisingly, the development tools I came in contact with are by far the most fearsome, grey and cryptic pieces of software I have seen. Most of them are developed on the go and quickly, because The Game always takes precedence, so the reason for their ugliness is obvious.

But how much money and time would a good, easy to use, fun tool would save for any studio? How cool would it be, for example, to implement trainig mechanics for an internal tool that would make the first days of a new hire a pleasant experience? How much more would the collective creativity gain if everybody had a better understanding of everybody else's work? Shouldn't game developent primarily be fun?


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Comments


Manuel Guerra
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You're totally right but I do think things are changing for the better. I got into videogame development last year and after a lot of research to make my first games I chose the Adventure Game Studio engine because it was very well documented and had the least intimidating interface for a non-programmer. I made a few short story driven games (which can be downloaded for free here http://handcraftedgames.tumblr.com/) and eventually decided to try to make a game for the iPhone. I ran into the same problem of having to try out bleak and obtuse tools until I found out about Gamesalad which is a lot of fun to use and allowed me to make my first iPhone game in a month. (You can also download it for free from the App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-wine-cellar/id451794622?mt=8) So clearly a piece of software that is well designed and fun to use can promote creativity.

Laura Bularca
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Thank you! I will certainly look into that engine and your games! If you have more insight from your research, I'd love to know which tools you found worth checking and which worth avoiding.

Bart Stewart
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What a great question!



I work by day in the mundane world of managing business software development. I don't necessarily agree with them, but I see a couple of key reasons why business software is often very difficult to use.



1. Money. Some business software is developed for internal use, but a lot is built using someone else's money. The fear of overruns causes software to be built with a near 100% focus on business functions and virtually none on usability.



2. Targeted to most experienced employees. Someone who's been around since dirt was invented will understand all the business functions, and probably helped write the specs for the new system. But anyone else is likely to be bewildered by the arcane organization and behavior of such systems.



In both of these cases, the attitude is usually that employees can (and will just have to) adapt to the software as built, rather than building software to minimize the need for human memorization of arbitrary patterns. Software is built with the expectation that human adaptability will compensate for any lack of coherence or simplicity in the interface between the business data and the user.



It's interesting to compare this to building games for core gamers versus people who are new to gaming. PC gamers who play first-person shooters are expected to know and be comfortable with the WASD keyboard movement convention. How many game developers include a tutorial in their FPS on "here are the keys you can press with your left hand to move around in the world"?



I would suggest there's room for improvement here in games as well as in business software. :) And it has to be acknowledged that diminishing returns apply here; it's possible to spend more time and money making something usable by anyone than will be rewarded by more or happier users.



That said, I agree: it doesn't hurt software designers to give some thought to how non-expert users will perceive their software's interface. Some things are always going to be complicated... but the interface to them shouldn't be more complex than it has to be.

Laura Bularca
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Everybody needs to learn at some point and everybody is at some time new to a business, whether it's game dev or something else. But for any business, it make sense for a new hire to be as productive as possible very quickly, which is rather hard to do precisely because of the reasons you listed.

But even if experts in a field know all the functions they should, I doubt they LIKE to use the software they use. Indeed you can get accustomed to it and no longer pay so much attention to mundane tasks, but (1) wouldn't it be nicer if you actually liked what you did, or at least see come color right in front of your face and (2) even the most professional users sometimes miss functionality which would be of great help to them, because it is buried under tons of menu layers. I saw this happening oftentimes when I was working in software development.



You are very right about hardcore PC gaming too. I am hopeful that this will change, as this industry becomes more and more mainstream. Years ago, no one would ever dream of getting their parents to play. Now, it has been proven you can absolutely target that, if you design with ease of use in mind. I love Minecraft, but it is just one example out of many that made all sorts of people play. Can you imagine my wonder when I saw that my mother plays FarmVille? I bet she'd play Mass Effect too, because she is a big SciFi fan, if she wouldn't be so scared of this whole mythical and impossible to grasp video games field.



So yes, it's time to think differently and be kinder to our users, not expect so much and be willing to give more and do more for them. Whether we develop games, game tools or the next Project, we have to have fun and ease of use in mind!

gabriel hasbun
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Thanks for a great article. Indeed, I have been insisting upon the same principles you propose, regardless of the working environment, work should be fun! Frustration and rote is inevitable, but must be avoided at all costs!



Game design, programming and content creation can be tedious, but fun tools is what the game industry needs. Someone has to create the tools though, and starting at the lower level of detail, frustration becomes more common and advancement more slow (compilation of source code, C/assembler, 3d party library tweaks, etc. ). How would you deal with such issues (avoiding the hardcore programmer stagnation). It seems that everything swings around brining joy to the game designer, where do we leave the so precious low level programmer?



By the way you are cute and should marry me.

Sebastian Bularca
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You're a little late for that mate (marry me part)... Buuut... I enjoy a good challenge ;).

gabriel hasbun
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Haha, I knew I'd eventually bump into the bad ass boyfriend. No hard feelings hopefully.

Anyway the article is great.



Indie game developers urgently need to have fun while making games. And I find myself improvising to have fun out of it, so we are in a dire need of fun experimental tools. I am even thinking about physical exercise typing, with accelerometers everywhere.


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