Gamification and Software Testing

By Nicola Sedgwick
 
Gamification is the act of applying game-like characteristics to a non-game situation in order to increase ‘user’ interaction (my definition but official ones exist).

Much gamification is centred around the reward system used to attract and retain participants. Successful gamification is focused on engagement of participants.

An informal survey ran amongst my gaming (computer, board or roleplay) friends returned a nearly unanimous verdict that the returns they value from play-testing or beta-testing are the kudos of having been involved, early access to the game and the feel-good factor when they see the product changing based on their feedback. On a lesser note, they also appreciated it if their name appeared in the credits of the game on release.

Great, you say… Willing helpers, zero cost and just add their name to the credits (maybe).

That might work if you’re making a game for a large and engaged community, but how about if your community is also large and engaged but very busy with minimal free time? How about if your community consumes your product but doesn’t engage with you? What if, the only willing volunteers are found in non-technical teams within your own company?

I’m not saying “anyone can test” but I am saying, “anyone can help with testing” and “anyone who helps with testing gains a greater understanding of, and respect for, what testers do.”

If you have enthusiastic colleagues – use them! They may not be testers, but they can still help. For example:

  • Customer support has fantastic visibility of how users use the systems and why.
  • Account managers know what stakeholders want from new features.

Don’t be mistaken – gamification is not effort free for the tester looking to utilise offers of help, but it will help them make use of those offers in an efficient manner.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Mission

You need to give your helpers a focus and most likely you’ll have accepted help for a specific reason. Just as with all other areas of software development – communication is key! Communicate the mission badly and you may as well not have accepted help and your helper will likely have a poor experience and won’t repeat their offer.

Rules

Games have rules; even the ones without them have a single rule of “no rules”. These are used not only to direct your helpers to where you need their assistance but also to ensure that their feedback is useful (e.g. all reports must include screenshots).

Competition

Provide an element of competition as it can be a powerful incentive for volunteers to knuckle down and focus on the mission. However, choose this element carefully as there may be a tradeoff between the quality of the feedback. For instance – the first person to find five issues gets a bonus can result in a very quick five issues for five separate typos.

Rewards

Offer rewards that are appropriate for your volunteers. One of my most successful internal sessions was run using a large box of Krispy-Kremes and the offer of buying a round of drinks in the pub after work.

Maintain enthusiasm – both yours and that of your volunteers! Avoid deterioration of returns for effort spent when repeating missions by mixing up the volunteers (don’t use everyone in round one), changing the spin of the mission or changing the incentives on offer.

You can achieve powerful results when using gamification techniques in the correct context with a focus on a finite testing scope using engaged volunteers. Those results may help you look at your users or your software development process in a new light, or may simply confirm that you’re serving your user base in the best way you can.

Author Bio

Nicola Sedgwick believes that software should aim to make people’s lives easier or enhance them in some way. To that end she has been testing software, consulting with clients, implementing custom config and debating functional requirements since 2003.

Along the way, she developed skills testing mobile apps and experience leading virtual teams of crowd-sourced testers with a wide range of abilities. A passion was gained for collaborating with users, stakeholders and non-testing colleagues as well as specialist testers to create the best product possible as opposed to merely validating that requirements had been fulfilled. Now she works as a specialist mobile tester and test lead/manager using her experience to help companies to develop amazing apps.