check out this article: Engaging the User: What Interaction Designers Can Learn From Video Games by Marc Sasinski.
in it, he hits all the major ways video games engage people, and insinuates regular software doesn’t. true, i think the game industry is immature, in that developers’ internal processes and graphic design sensibilities are underdeveloped; however, it does know how to keep players engaged.
a couple things came to mind while reading it:
1) i’m not sure why software tools have to slavishly follow the sterile dictates of modernism. it’s helpful in some ways, but in others needs to be questioned. beauty makes things more usable, and visual fashions change quickly. check out web trends. often, more architectural aspects are consistent and minimal, but watercolor and torn paper can be the style-skin stretched over the IA bones. if there’s one thing i’ve learned from working in games, it’s that a stunning visual can go a long way to drawing out an emotional reaction. it seems most software is bent on avoiding emotional reactions.
can’t tools be emotional too? sure, there was a time when carrot-peelers just needed to be functional and efficient, but now we see they can have bright colors, interesting textures, and even faces. and people love it!
2) i’m a fan of games with adaptive difficulty–-the experiential ones, not the puzzle or skill-based variety. surely this would be powerful in regular software too. in games the enemies are often chasing, avoiding, or shooting at the player, and they typically adapt their tactics, speed, and accuracy to a player’s ability. this attempts to balance challenge against frustration, and ensures more durable engagement. define your enemies as lesser-used features, or text size, or whatever user testing determines is a problem, and it’s easy to see how users could more easily conquer them. if you can measure how well they’re coping, you have the glue that holds the strategy together.
3) accomplishment and empowerment is everything in games. they make them addictive, and that’s a prized adjective. most software exists to reach goals, but i’ve used plenty where the goal could be explicit, and each milestone more rewarding.
4) most importantly, all software could use more particle explosions.