Gaming comes to business software

Can gamer influenced design - using lessons from the world of online gaming to make business software more appealing and rewarding to users - increase take-up of applications?

One of the biggest challenges when businesses implement sales force automation — even after the software's up and running — is getting sales people to actually use it.

Entellium CEO Paul Johnston took to the stage for the end-of-day seesion at SaaScon yesterday to explain how his company has looked to the world of online gaming for inspiration to solve this conundrum. (Disclosure: entellium is a current consulting client and, due to a historic relationship, I also hold a small stockholding. See disclosure page). I met a number of delegates who rated it the best presentation of the two-day conference.

Johnston started out by dispelling a few misconceptions about gamers. Quoting research by John Beck and Mitchell Wade, who've published two studies on gamers in the US, The Kids are Alright and Got Game, an online gamer is more likely to be a successful professional than an anti-social down-and-out. The research shows that there are 119 million gamers in the US. Their average age is 33 (25% are over 50) and gamers typically spend 7.4 hours a week playing, nearly half of them online. In fact, he said, 80% of managers under 35 have gaming experience, and the profile of the typical gamer — more competitive, comfortable taking risks and happy to be paid on performance and results — means that the chances are there's a big proportion of gamers on your sales team — and they're more likely to be the successful ones.

But gaming software design may have lessons for applications beyond sales force automation. Johnston pointed out that games software does a much better job of keeping users focused on the task in hand, only reveals advanced features when you're ready for them, lets you try out different ways of doing things without penalty, and rewards you when you become more skilled at using the software. Those are techniques that could aid take-up and productivity with a range of applications, most notably in the enterprise 2.0 field, where getting users to participate and contribute is often a major challenge.

"Video games know more about getting people to use stuff than enterprise software does. The secret sauce is mastery and pleasure," said Johnston. "We've got to start thinking about the experience. Hasn't CRM been a stick that managers use to find out what you haven't been doing? Where's the reward?"

Entellium has been using what it calls the principle of Gamer Influenced Design to apply some of the successful attributes from gaming software to business software, and next month its Rave product, a sales prospect management application, will go live. Johnston showed some of the elements of gaming that entellium has built into the product — such as enabling sales people to publish 'deal blogs' that track the milestones that led to a successful close, or highlighting 'bragging rights' based on performance metrics where they've excelled. "Sales people are very competitive," said Johnston. "They will want to get these rankings."

Of course there's also a commercial motivation for adopting this game-influenced application design principles. Johnston believes applications built using such principles will open out new opportunities, particularly in the small business market, where software vendors have failed to gain traction in the past. "SaaS removes barriers to entry, but there are still barriers to the non-consumption market. We haven't created a compelling proposition," he concluded. "Gamer Influenced Design has the potential to radically grow the consumption opportunity."

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