Winning or losing in gamified test situations Martin Jansson

Games are not always about winning or losing. Each game can have different objectives. In my early youth I started with role playing games and later on story telling games. At the time, people who knew little about it sometimes asked us, “Who is winning?”. Being 7 years old, I didn’t really know what to say, in a good way, to explain to this grown-up that winning or losing is not always the objective. Instead, when we were role playing we worked as a group to go on with the story, to gain experience, to improve the character with skills and items and, probably above all, to have fun.

35 years later, I still hear the same question popping up in role playing situations, but also in similar situation such as when having to do with gamification. When we talk about gamification of testing, I feel it really demotivating if we were to compete against each other within the team or organization at a regular basis. I have already seen and experienced instances in my past when we had leader boards counting bugs in various fashion. We had really destructive discussions, as I see it, about if those who reported the least bugs really provided value to the group.

In a recent article [1] by Shrini Kulkarni approaches gamification of testing with the mindset of competition. I will look at a few of his arguments.

“This definition is provisional one – I might not be considering types of games that do not falling in this category. I wonder if there is any game where there is notion of victory or defeat.”

Yes, there are many different types of games. Believing that there is only games about winning and losing is too narrow. Some games are for introducing people to each other, others for passing time, others such as role playing and story telling games can be about solving puzzles/mysteries as a group, where you act as a different persona than your own you. The list is infinite.

“How about goals or objectives of a player or team playing games in the first place? Winning of course!”

Richard Bartle [2] investigated the objective behind different play styles in Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMO) and Multi-User Dungeons (MUD) and discovered that only a fraction of the players had the objective of winning. Instead, there were other aspects, such as socializing, that were more interesting and in focus.

“How many times you heard the statement “it is not important to win or lose, participation and competing with ones best ability is important”. So if you lose do not feel bad – there is always another chance.”

In a testing context, working against others by competition would, as I see it, harm the organisation and the teams. As I stated in my previous article [3], when considering gamification you need to consider the regular traps of testing in order to work on areas that provide value. But you also need to consider how to get a good working environment. A competetive environment might not be the best solution? I do not see it fruitful to compete on many of our test activities such as information gathering. How do you weigh one type of information over another? Would you in order to win choose to not share valuable information to others in the team?

“A good test strategy in testing is same as winning strategy in games. But then – what is the meaning of winning the game of testing? Against who?”

We really do not have an opponent in our test strategy, as I see it. Still we can use many aspects from strategies of games and war in our reasoning. I often look for inspiration in the writing of Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz and other strategists. Still, when considering strategy for testing I see it rather as meeting different objectives or goals for retrieving information, instead of winning.

Jonathan Kohl has taken elements from MMO-type-of-gaming and considered quests and adventuring [4]. I believe this is an excellent area to look at. In most situations in role playing, the group cooperates working towards a set of goals or objectives, just like you would as a tester in teams.

So, for those of you who start to dig into the world of gamification in testing… do look beyond the regular winning/losing concept. There are more aspects at play here. Instead, see gamification itself as a complex system, which you in turn apply to other systems in order to enhance cooperation, motivation, feedback and learning among many things.






Jonathan Kohl December 8th, 2013

Well put Martin.

Collaborative games are where it’s at, and the Bartle research shows a lot of activity in areas where there isn’t a “win-lose” scenario in video games. Jane McGonigal has written about the mind-boggling metrics of productivity in games, and the creativity in activities when building online worlds in games like Minecraft, and the enormous social interactions and exploration in MMOs and RPGs, not to mention the co-ordination of play amongst large groups of people is fascinating.

The fast twitch first person shooter games get a lot more media attention, but that activity does not dominate game play. Socializing, exploring, gathering and crafting are quite dominant activities, even in combat-based games. Many popular games like World of Warcraft depend on collaborative game play with tasks, challenges and a common foe, which maps better to software testing projects rather than a player vs. player win/lose.

Gamification in collaborative problem solving such as is not a win-lose scenario at all., SuperBetter and others that help bridge virtual and physical worlds and harness co-operative problem-solving are areas to influence what we do.

Shrini February 5th, 2014

>>> Believing that there is only games about winning and losing is too narrow.

I beg to differ — this is too stronger rejection of role of winning and losing in games.
When I think of games – I can not stay long about not winning and losing.

Why games are popular – because at individual level – they boost self esteem through idea of winning or accomplishment.

If you remove that element – thrill and frustration – you are making game – paler.

I am all for collaborative games and their relevance in gamification of testing.

To me – we need to think about accomodating these elements in gamification and their application to testing.

Do I think about story telling and role play as games – Probably not.

IMHO – the idea of gamification in testing will become stronger and will resonate well – if we are able bring winning and loosing into idea rather than rejecting winning or losing as mere narrow ways of looking at games.

Remember – Emotions play big role in selection of what we do and almost how we do. Idea of winning and losing bring strong emotional energy into the system.

we need to build proper narrative.

Thanks for picking up my post and providing a perspective