Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Paper: "The Future of Work is Play"

My colleague Ross Smith has just presented an important new paper, “The Future of Work is Play” at the IEEE International Games Innovation Conference. There’s a couple of very useful lessons in this paper. One is the title, and the mega-trends driving games into the workplace. Another is Ross’s lessons of when games work:

Over the last several years, Microsoft has employed dozens of games and game mechanics in its software development process. Forrester, Forbes and others have covered this work. Table 1 illustrates the areas where productivity games can be the most impactful. Focusing on either expanding skills in rile or “organizational citizenship behaviors” that require core skills &emdash; is the best way to ensure the success of a productivity game. Player motivations is a key component of the success of a productivity game.

Core Unique expanding skills
In role behavior Most Impact
Organizational Citizenship Behavior Most Impact

What this means is that if you try to produce a game that replicates or intrudes on either core work (say, writing code) or unique skills that someone already has (say, threat modeling) the game is likely to be less successful. But if you make a game to help people expand their skill (say, in threat modeling), it will be more impactful and accepted. Similarly, if you’re trying to get thousands of people to help check user interface translations for Windows, it helps to use a core skill, like reading another language, rather than a unique skill (again, let’s say threat modeling) that only a few people have.

This table is really useful guidance if you’re thinking of making a game.

Games, by the way, are tremendously New School. Games are New School because they’re a way to address the real human desires to do something (anything) more fun than deal with security stuff. By making it fun, we can entice people into enjoying the things we need them to do. You should consider if a game can address a problem you deal with, and if it’s in the area of expanding skills in a role or organizational citizenship behaviors that rely on core skills, you’re more likely to succeed.

(I’d link to the paper, but unfortunately, IEEE continues to lock up the scientific literature and impede the flow of progress, rather than charge a few dollars more for each conference to cover the costs of serving up the scientific literature.)