Today’s blog post comes from BigDoor Software Developer Brian Immel. Brian gives us a developer’s perspective on the latest Fortune 500 Company that gamifies their latest product.

Last week Microsoft released a free plugin for Microsoft Visual Studio that adds some gamification to software development. The intent is to give developers a way to highlight their skills and add competition, while staying fun and playful.

The plugin currently awards up to 32 achievements in categories ranging from “Just For Fun” to “Unleashing Visual Studio.” The latter specifically rewards developers for using features of Visual Studio. Points are added up with each achievement, displayed on a global leaderboard, and are easily sharable on blogs and social networks.

A developer focused gamification effort may not be the most obvious choice, but the Visual Studio Achievements are headed in the right direction.

In contrast to something like Google’s News Badges, these achievements are targeted toward a focused audience. Where Google News Badges may suffer from the rarity of people who define themselves as fanatic about all things “news,” developer targeted gamification can play off software developers with something to prove.

The idea for the Visual Studio Achievments was inspired from a blog post over a year ago and a thread on Reddit with over 500 comments. The feedback was positive and it appeared that developers were interested in the tracking and tabulation of their efforts, at least for the purposes of flaunting and personal achievement.

However right now, Visual Studio Achievements feel underpowered and really don’t dive very deep. The 32 possible achievements aren’t only low in numbers for a 40+ hour weekly activity, but limited in their creativity. For example, the achievement “Job Security,” rewards a developer for writing obscured code.

Understandably it’s tough to perfectly match the needs of an audience that ranges from a one man startup to a company-wide enterprise project. At the moment, the achievements are so surface oriented that they are passive to actions of software development. This makes the current implementation feel more like an updated Office Clippy assistant, rather than something that could change the way you write code.

The potential is in making these achievements align with existing goals that matter to developers and teams. Achievements that motivate a developer to write more documentation, open source code or provide better software test coverage could reward actions that lead to “better” software development practices. Cooperative achievements could even enable a team to track proud moments of hardship and success throughout a software’s lifespan.

Right now the program is in beta so it’s too early to call, but it’s worth staying tuned. However at only a week old, over 12,000 developers have already been added to the global leaderboard. That’s a lot of interest for a program that still feels like it’s just testing the waters, but definitely a step in the right direction.

— Bonus Thought —

With gamification at such a fundamental level of a software developer’s core job function, one could make a leap tying achievements to performance reviews. Could next year’s raise be based on your leaderboard rank?

–Brian