Experiences Gamifying Developer Adoption of Practices and Tools – Will Snipes

We all know it can be hard to get developers to change their behavior. Sometimes, they might influence each other, but that usually happens in a small circle (like a team)

So the people at ABB wanted to try the ‘fitbit’ method: gamification. Will and his team presented this idea last year as a NIER paper, now he’s back with the results.

They started with a web-based survey to understand whether it might be interested for developers and how it might work. 74% of developers were at least ‘somewhat interested’. Also, if the data was anonymized, most people (79%) would be willing to share their data among the entire company.

Then, the real study started. They selected a practice to improve: structural code navigation. 6 developers volunteered to participate in the first study. They were provided with some info on how to navigate better and a leaderboard. Initially, it did not really work. Developers liked the leaderboard, but they did not change their practice (on 33% = 2 developers) did. Will asked developers why they did not use structural navigation and it turned out they were working mostly on very familiar code, for which navigation is not needed (compare this to living in your hometown, you don’t need GPS there)

Q&A was interesting too! Someone from the audience asked WIll “do you play a lot of games” to which he responded negatively. The asker then continued to explain that it is not merely points that make games fun, it is winning (a bit related to the leaderboard, but not necessarily so) but more than that, it is about gaining access to more of the game. More levels, more puzzles, more weapons. This is how you should enable gamification.

Unfortunately, no preprint is available. Instead, you can read this other great paper on gamification.


  1. Leif

    Ha! πŸ™‚ Thanks for the link! πŸ˜€

    1. felienne (Post author)

      You’re welcome. This is their punishment for a) not having their paper online 2) claiming this is the first attempt at gamifying software development πŸ™‚

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