Can video games teach new tricks to commercial software developers such as Autodesk?
Leading commercial software developers have started experimenting with a learning technique used by the video game industry—the smooth integration of the learning curve into complex games. For example
Why are they doing this?
Even early on, designers of arcade videos discovered that they consistently underestimated the dexterity of players and overestimated the amount of instructions that players were willing to read. Later, vendors that created flight simulators encountered a similar problem. Should they opt to make their controls accurate or should they simplify their products to broaden their appeal?
Most software developers responded to a similar challenge by layering the complexity of their applications, exposing only the most common tools and options, standardizing common operations, and attempting to maintain consistent, intuitive paradigms, and organizing features and functions into logical groups. They also delivered simplified, “light” versions of their products.
However, the red-hot crucible of competition in video games resulted in a different approach. Video game designers and software developers flattened an otherwise dauntingly steep learning curve with a series of entertaining game scenarios. Each scenario introduced an incremental layer of capability and complexity, but maintained the fun factor that kept players entertained and successful. Perhaps best of all, game developers get to put their own game design software to the test.
But can gamification be applied to a design and drafting program such as AutoCAD?
Over the last few releases of AutoCAD, Autodesk, a 3D game development software company, embarked on an initiative to infuse a “fun factor” into the AutoCAD experience. This included increasing the visual appeal in the user interface, introducing access to the dimension of social media, and providing innovative components such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD.
Recently introduced, this guide promises a pleasant hike through the hills with “your guide to the basic 42 commands you need to create 2D drawings using AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT.” With breezy, informal descriptions integrated with lots of colorful illustrations, it guides learners through the essentials, and encourages them to experiment on their own.
Instead of documenting and defining, it shows and points out features to a visually oriented audience.
The latest experiment in the gamification of AutoCAD, (http://proc.autodesk.com/apocalypsetrigger/) in which you could download trial software and embark on several tutorials wrapped in a mystery-solving game.
Your first “adventure” introduced you to the real-life Mesoamerican ruins of the 8th century Maya “Temple of the Masks” discovered in the jungle in northern Guatemala. In AutoCAD, the temple was represented by a scanned 3D solid model, one of 45 structures included four pyramids at the ruins of Tikal.
Each step in the tutorial earned you points as you get closer to locating the “B’Alam Stone” in a chamber within the temple, while maintaining a sense of adventure and discovery.
But beyond simply delivering a tutorial in a wrapper, The Apocalypse Trigger addressed another well-known problem with commercial software, namely that novice users learn only the bare minimum to do their jobs.
While this behavior is practical, it also severely limits the potential productivity of users, and as a result, the value of the software. Autodesk hopes that through The Hitchhikers Guide to AutoCAD, The Apocalypse Trigger, and other innovative learning tools, that users will benefit from a fun and satisfying learning experience. However, Autodesk will also benefit from these innovations by applying their game design software in new ways and understanding more about how users learn in a changing, and increasingly online and connected video-game generation.
About the Author:
Dieter Schlaepfer is an employee of Autodesk and has held jobs in marketing, training, and technical writing for the past 32 years in the CAD/CAM/CAE software industry. He’s also been caught playing video games by his kids.
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