Enterprise Playability, Gamification

The Cocaine Thing

cocaine_iconSo this is apparently a thing: Video games tap into the same pleasure centers in the brain that are affected by cocaine. It’s true. There are studies and stuff. Even books.

So it seems like a good idea to do something awesome with that information. Why not use that ever-so-simple fact to inspire better enterprise software? Seems like a natural enough progression. If we really want to engage users, we should learn lessons from cocaine dealers. We should treat our users like cocaine users (in a good way, of course).

Full disclosure: I’ve never sold cocaine. Turns out I’ve never even used it (I only recently moved to LA). So the following ideas are pretty much sourced from movies, not real life. But how different can they be?

Here are eight lessons we can learn from cocaine dealers:

  1. The first one’s always free
    Give users their first reward for doing little or nothing at all. The first reward should be just for showing up. Even if users haven’t signed in yet, they should feel like you already appreciate them, and have lots of rewards to give them.
  2. The next score should always be within reach
    It should always be clear to users how they will get their next reward, and the tasks needed to get that reward should never feel like too much work.
  3. It will take more and more to satisfy the jones over time
    Bigger and bigger achievements should always be just down the road. The same bonus for showing up won’t satisfy users every time. They need to feel like they’ve done more, and are being rewarded for more, each time. Balance this with number two, above.
  4. If we do not satisfy the jones, our users will crash out
    If a user can’t score, that user won’t come back. That user will disengage and wander off, and re-engaging that user will be exceedingly difficult.
  5. Users in a crisis will not be loyal to your brand
    Again, if a user can’t score, that user won’t come back. That user will go to someone else, someone who provides the rewards they are looking for. If you are not helping your users get what they need, they will find someone who does.
  6. Users need you, and will come to you
    You help users get what they want. You make their misery tolerable. You are what they think about when you are not around. If those things are not true, you are not selling cocaine (or anything like it). If they are true, users will keep on coming back to you.
  7. Users won’t always keep reasonable hours
    Availability, reliability, and ubiquity are must-haves in your industry. Your users will be thinking about you at all hours, and will seek rewards whenever the thought crosses their minds. You must be there for them at all times.
  8. Users party in all kinds of places
    Wherever your users go, you need to be ready to support them. Be there for them at work, at home, and everywhere. Let them get their fix anywhere they go. Always be there for them, and always be ready to party.

Too much of a stretch? Maybe. Maybe not. But engaging users, and designing a user experience that keeps users coming back, is not easy. This is probably just what you need.

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Ron Johnson Doesn’t Know What Customers Want

Here’s a quick article about the problems Ron Johnson had at JCPenney: Ron Johnson Didn’t Understand Apple. The post is not about playability per se, but at this point in history, “playbility” won’t be what users are asking for. Jobs had it right (and this article parses it well): users know what their problems are, but they don’t know the solutions. That’s our job, and that’s where playability can help in the enterprise.

Enterprise Playability

Papyrus Achievement Gained!

In Papyrus Achievement Gained! Lance Phillips explores the motivating factors in online writer’s games, and whether or not “gamification” can motivate writers. He asks “Is this actually something worth doing?  Would it appeal to budding writers?” I say yes it is, and yes it would. Writers, as I understand it, can only be productive if they spend time at their desks. If a game will motivate a writer to sit down and write, what’s the worst that could happen? Too many blog posts?

Enterprise Playability

The Widget

Enterprise software’s standard widgets are quite usable. The fact that they are so common has given users the chance to learn how to use them quickly and efficiently. Their familiarity is a huge boon to usability. It’s a pity, though, that enterprise software designers don’t seem to be able to design any widgets outside of the standard set. They prefer instead to make sure everything anyone wants to do, no matter how counter-intuitive the connection may be, fits into a standard widget.

Familiar components may be usable, but they do not contribute to the overall usability of software unless they fit into context of the software. A data grid full of train schedules may look familiar, but it does not help users think about or understand trains, their schedules, or the complexities of managing a train station. A map of the train station could show where the trains are, where they are headed, and when they will arrive and depart. The visual context would offer an intuitive understanding of the situation, and ultimately a much more usable interface.

Rich context makes for an engaging interaction. It reduces the cognitive friction that occurs when a user tries to translate data presented in a standard widget into information that’s usable in the real world. It brings clarity to a situation, and in turn enhances shared situational awareness. If team members can all clearly visualize the environment they are working in, they can easily coordinate their actions and work out solutions together.

Enterprise Playability

Your Progress So Far

Progress Indicators

Most games have a constant and clear indicator of how you’re doing so far. If you’re playing capture the flag, you look around at the number of players on your team that are running free vs. captured, and you know immediately which team is winning. If you’re playing Monopoly, you count your money, your properties (mortgaged and otherwise), and your houses and hotels, and you can compare the vastness of your wealth and prosperity to the poor saps around the board.

In video games, you’ve got points, coins, stars, gems, experience, and levels — all to tell you how you’re doing. In multiplayer games, the players are ranked an important score or measure, and they can usually see their progress on that measure in real time while they play.

Game Objectives

Progress indicators tell you how close you are to a goal. Games have goals that tend to be very clear, and very well agreed-upon by the players. The goals are written into the rules of the game. One can’t expect to make much progress in a game of draw poker by working hard to collect only even numbered cards. The goals are clear, and failing to meet them means losing the game.

Often there is room for choosing which goals to meet and what you’ll do to optimize for meeting those goals. In fact video games often offer many paths to reaching the ultimate goal, allowing players to focus on any number of short-term tasks to achieve milestones along the way to achieving higher-level goals. Sometimes those milestones come in the form of resources or items collected, buildings built, or quests completed. Each of the milestones move the player toward an ultimate goal.

Rewards and Achievements

The rewards that games provide to players for making progress vary from game to game. Points are common, and sometimes come in the form of experience points (XP). Other rewards include coins, dollars, stars, gems, chips, and others that fit the context of the game, but provide similar collectable rewards. Players who collect these rewards can use them as a measure of who is winning a game, as a measure of progress toward “leveling up” (reaching explicit measured milestones), or to trade in for valuable in-game items.

Many games feature in-game achievements, which work a whole lot like boy scout badges, and are given out for completing specific tasks during game play. They tend to be awarded for completion of relatively large tasks, and often games offer a way to show off to other game players which achievements a player has completed.

Team Goals

Games also have a built-in mechanism for aligning the goals of a team. Team sports are well suited to this task: players take different roles, but all with the same ultimate goal. Team-based games work the same way, encouraging players to take different roles — and perform them according to role-aligned goals — in support of an ultimate goal that is shared by the entire team.

The massively-multi-player online role-playing game genre has done some impressive work with the idea of team goals. In some games, teams are formed on an ad hoc basis, often to perform a specific task which would be too difficult to perform alone. Players who in general have no interest in helping players around them — and even tend to ignore them — will go out of their way to assist team members, even those who have just joined the team and are completely unfamiliar. Team members will take specialty roles, and rely on other team members to play their roles. And when one team member is struggling, others will immediately step in to help the struggling team member, in an effort to quickly get the team back to an optimal condition for meeting the team’s goal.

With players all working for the same goals, and with clear indicators of each individual’s progress toward those goals — through points, items, or achievements — games keep players  focused on the task at hand and the rewards for meeting goals.