Taking games seriously
Enterprise software design is converging on the patterns of game design because work is now fully virtual and game interfaces are the language of the fully virtual world.
The computer desktop is a confusing mix of real-world metaphors and modern software ideas. In 2022, Google Docs still looks like individual sheets of paper. We get the software we deserve — an office itself is also an opaque blend of management hierarchies and software-driven processes. To understand how work gets done in a company, you need to both visit the office and run the software.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with this hybrid model, (although, note the productivity slump). In any case, this state of affairs was likely to carry on as long as the generation of companies did. But then COVID, and companies who were absolutely, 100% we-will-never-allow-work-from-home switched overnight to remote only. And it happened to everyone, everywhere.
In ways that we don’t yet fully understand, a workplace that is only accessible through the computer is very different from a real-world office that happens to use software. A luxury office in a business district conveys implicit information about employer expectations. Sitting at desks next to colleagues exposes hierarchies and ways of working. When the workplace is virtual, we need new kinds of software for things like engagement and culture.
For years Silicon Valley had the idea that “mobile” was the future of user interfaces. Mobile was a revolution, but it was for consumers. Mobile software suits personal, occasional, accessory use. Work isn’t mobile, it is immersive. It demands your full attention and presence. Mobile design failed to impact enterprise software (witness the iPad’s slow reversion to the Mac’s design language as they add professional features).
There is another form of user interface that has been continuously developed since the 80s — the video game. Gamers have been 100% remote for decades. “Game UI” is what it looks like when you design for immersion and engagement; for fully remote, multiplayer users who rely on AI.
One day soon, logging on to the company Slack will look more like opening Call of Duty.