I don’t believe in gamifying enterprise applications. As I have argued before, the primary drivers behind revenue and valuation of consumer software companies are number of users, traffic (unique views), and engagement (average time spent + conversion). This is why gamification is critical to consumer applications since it is an effort to increase the adoption of an application amongst the users and maintain the stickiness so that the users keep coming back and enjoy using the application. This isn’t true for enterprise applications at all. This is not only not true for enterprise applications, but gamifying enterprise applications is couterproductive that makes existing task more complex and creates an artificial carrot that does not quite work.
A design philosophy that we really need for enterprise applications is flow. I am a big fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” I would highly recommend you to read it. Mihaly describes flow as a series of autotelic experiences as an activity that consumes us and becomes intrinsically rewarding. The core intent of gamification is to make the applications a pleasure to use. What people really want is enjoyment and not just pleasure. They are different. Enjoyment is about moving forward and accomplishing something. Enjoyment happens due to unusual investment of attention. It comes from tasks that you have a chance to complete, has clear goals, provides feedback, and makes you lose your self-consciousness.
All the gamification efforts by new innovative entrants that I see seem to be disproportionately focused on “edge” applications since it’s relatively easy for an entrant to break into edge applications to beat an incumbent as opposed to redesigning a core application. But most users I know spend their lives using the core systems. They have no intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to use these systems. Integrate flow in these systems to create intrinsic rewards that creates autotelic experiences. Application designers have traditionally ignored flow since it’s a physical element that is external to an application, but life and social status extend beyond the digital life and enterprise applications. You get to be known as that finance guy or that marketing gal who is really awesome at work and helps people with their problems to get work done. Needless to say, helping people and getting work done are intrinsically rewarding. Help these people with their core activities and make non-core activities as minimum or transparent as possible. If I am hiking, make my drive to the trail head as easy as possible but make my hike as rewarding as possible. That should be the design principle of how you integrate flow into enterprise applications. Also, focus on perpetual intermediaries; design applications to reduce or eliminate learning curve but introduce users to advanced features as they make progress to increase their productivity on performing repeated tasks. This helps create an intrinsic reward of having learned and mastered a system. As people learn new things they become more complex and unique human beings, and believe it or not, you can influence that in your design of your enterprise software that they spend their lives using it.
Photo Courtesy: Mark Chadwick
(Cross-posted @ cloud computing)