4 Things Games Can Teach Us About Salesforce UIs

By March 20, 2017 Blog No Comments

Video games started out as a small hobby for a niche group of people in the early 70s-90s, but now it is a massive industry that has all walks of life partaking in it. More specifically, over the past 10 years I’ve seen some large trends in games and game design that have begun to creep into other areas of our life. In business, this is notably seen by the arrival of gamification to apps and platforms that we use. How does this apply to Salesforce you might ask? Well video games and Salesforce have 2 large things in common: 1) they are both software and 2) they have UIs that implement some backend process.

Based entirely off those 2 commonalities we can derive lots of similarities in design. While UI and process design has been significantly overhauled in the gaming industry, it has been fairly stale and slow moving in the software space. Let’s dive into 4 things we can all learn from games about how we use Salesforce.

1. Simplify Complex Things

Video games, especially AAA titles, are extremely complex when you think about all of the animations, game controls, navigation systems, artificial intelligence, physics engines, etc. that are implemented. One of the things you’ve probably noticed is that games take two very important parts of this complexity and simplify them for the user; The processes that run the game and the UI itself. This goes for all games that range from mobile devices to console/computer games. Being able to take all of that backend complexity and turn it into something that a non-developer can understand is an art form in its own right. Let’s look into each of these areas a bit more.

Simplifying the Process

Games have a primary objective for the user to accomplish, some kind of end result that needs to be had. Most games take a very complex process and simplify what the user experiences so that it is easily understood. Take movement and navigation as an example. When we experience a game that has movement we expect there to be a level of realism to the game so our brains can easily understand what is happening. We don’t need to understand the physics behind everything, but we typically expect that if we jump from a high place that we will fall and it usually will hurt. Or it might be that if we are driving a vehicle that there is acceleration and deceleration that takes place. The backend process to implement these sorts of movements can require a lot of code to produce something that is easily understood by our brains. However, the time invested in making this process easy to understand goes a long way. It allows people to pick up a game and within minutes of using it understand what is happening.

Salesforce is no different. Each person that uses Salesforce is doing so to complete some kind of task. Our business processes are complex and fluid. They effect multiple departments and require varying levels of approvals to get things done. With all of that in mind, what the user experiences in Salesforce should be a direct reflection on their portion of the process only. They shouldn’t necessarily have to care about how it impacts other people down stream. Assuming the user is inputting all of the required information, the backend business process should take care of itself. This allows for a very simple user experience. We can remove the hindrances of having to know how the whole company works and can simply focus on the task on hand and how to get that one thing done.

Simplifying the UI

Let me present you with an image from an extremely popular AAA game and I want you to hold in your mind what you think it is:


Whether you’ve played that game or not is besides the point. When you first looked at the game you probably thought one of these two things:

“I’m looking at an inventory system of some kind” or “I’m looking at a vendor/trading/purchasing system”…maybe not in those exact words, but something along those lines. Without having to really explain what we are looking at the context clues of the scene allow us to quickly identify what is happening and could easily make assumptions about what to do next. Notice that the UI shows only things that drive the user towards the actions that need to happen here; buy and sell. Display the merchant stuff on the left for purchase and display your stuff on the right for selling. Simple, intuitive, and clutter free.

Salesforce, for most companies, is implemented in such a way that it is cluttered by the business needs and has a bunch of stuff that isn’t relevant to the user each time they are doing something. If you were to do a field audit and identify how often the fields on the page actually get used you would probably be very surprised. From my experience with our customers there tends to be this need to continuously add more fields to pages to accomplish some new business task that gets added to the process. However, there is very rarely any cleanup, review, or streamlining that happens to the UI. This results in users having that endless scrolling page when they just need to type data into a few fields. The Salesforce user is looking at that page for a reason and they are trying to accomplish some task…what is that task or reason? When we can identify this we can begin to tease out all of the unnecessary stuff that gets in the way of doing that simple set of actions that needs to take place. This could happen through a number of ways in Salesforce; you could create record types to support specific content, you could set profile level field visibility, or you could create a custom UI with tools like SkyVisualEditor or SuPICE. No matter how you get it done, just ensure that all of the information on the page is driving the user to take the appropriate actions. Unnecessary things that exist on the page translate into confusion and frustration for the users.

2. Test Often

In the gaming industry there is a term known as playtesting. This simply referrs to removing yourself from the game design process and playing the game the way the user would. It allows us to see where things fall down, what gaps exist, are things balanced, etc. It is a critical part of the success of any game since the user experience drives how well received a game is. This is the step where we get to test how well we are simplifying the processes and UIs of the game. Is it easy to understand? Can people figure out how to do what they need?

In the world of Salesforce this means developing the process in Sandbox, usually, and testing to see if it works as we expect. This might mean loading some test data in and seeing if we get the desired result. However, the concept of testing often goes deeper than that. Many people take the approach of waterfall development when it comes to Salesforce. Meaning they do a bunch of work and roll out everything to the users in a huge batch to test and see if it is what they wanted. In the game industry they use a more agile approach in testing. They create new builds (versions) that get distributed frequently for testing purposes. This allows them to quickly make changes and adjust based on the user findings. We can take a similar approach with Salesforce. Design something basic and ask the user to test it. Design the next small piece and ask the user to test it. You may be thinking, but my users will ask me to change stuff and they will tell me that it isn’t what they really wanted and change their minds about things! That’s all true. Wouldn’t we rather find that out after spending a few hours or a day on the work instead of a week? The concept of agile development isn’t new, but I find that many companies don’t use this concept when it comes to customizing and configuring the Salesforce platform.

3. Leveling Up

Most games have a progression to them and increase in difficulty the farther in you get. The game starts you off really weak and doing trivial tasks and over time you eventually become powerful and are doing things on a grand scale. That’s a fairly normal flow of things. What we don’t see happen is the game take a Level 1 character and put them into situations that only a Level 10+ character can handle. This usually results in death or having to start all over. Games take the user through the basics in the beginning and make small incremental steps to ease the learning curve. By the time they reach Level 10, all of that Level 1 stuff has become 2nd nature to them because they’ve been doing it for a while.

Companies don’t typically follow this pattern. We tend to take a Level 1 employee and put them into a Level 10 situation and expect them to make everything work. We may have hired a “senior” level resource but there is always a learning curve to business. Every company does things differently and every company has that period of time where the new employee is learning the ropes. They will usually be ineffective for 2 weeks – 4 months depending on the position they are in. What if we designed our environments in such a way that eased people into the full portions of their job responsibilities? I’m not necessarily saying that we create separate UIs for training purposes, but what if we did something as simple as making the focal point of a Salesforce page something that a Level 1 resource could handle. Add a few tabs that can help them level up a bit more, create some workflows that will be helpful to them once they begin to engage at Level 5 work, etc. If we eased people into the position they are in it would allow them to learn the basics from the very beginning and expanding their knowledge as time passes. This is more of an abstract concept since we expect them to still produce level 10 results. That is why we hired them after all, isn’t it? When we hire a new staff member at TerraSky I fully expect them to have a learning curve of a few weeks; even if they have been in the Salesforce space for a while. There are just things they need to learn in order to be effective. Now that doesn’t mean we can’t have people being productive from day 1, but it does mean that what they are doing day 1 isn’t the same thing they are doing at day 100. There is a progression to the onboarding process.

4. Reward System

Video games provide us with a sense of accomplishment. When we take down that large boss or do something spectacular we are rewarded with a badge to prominently display on our profile. This creates a mini-game for people who have the urge to collect everything. Now they want to explore the platform and learn everything about it to see if they can get all of the badges in the game. Why? Well…why not?

As I mentioned at the start of this blog the concept of gamification has begun to penetrate the world of business. We have grown accustomed to all of our mobile apps giving us badges for various activities, we are used to seeing badges handed out on forums, and now we have even seen it with Salesforce via Work.com or the AppExchange community. I’ll share a personal story on why this matters. I was working with a Salesforce Sales Engineer on a UI design project they had. He had created a prototype outside of Salesforce and needed help figuring out how to turn that prototype into a working Salesforce UI. I spent several hours with him getting everything configured, designed, and implemented. Once it was done he thanked me for all of my hard work and then gave me a Rock Star badge via Chatter. This wasn’t something I was expecting, but it was a fantastic public gesture of his appreciation of the time we spent working on that project together. I felt good about investing my time into helping him. What is the likelihood that I will want to help another Salesforce Sales Engineer after I’ve had that experience? Fairly probable, wouldn’t you agree?

That’s the power of a reward system. Rewards are used to encourage behaviors we want modeled. People don’t do what we tell them, they do what is rewarded. Think about the world of sales. Have you ever worked at a company where they created spiffs? The employees took advantage of those spiffs, didn’t they? Sure, because it was a reward for doing something. Although gamification doesn’t monetarily reward people it is a great way to encourage that competitive spirit within us all. Going back to the sales example. Let’s say we have a top performer at the company who has a personal best of selling $310,000 for the year. If we created a gamification badge, not adjust the persons quota, that was rewarded when someone hit $500,000 in a year that top performer will seek to hit that objective because no one else has. The company has set it as a visionary goal for the staff and now the indirect pressure is on. The sales rep will put direct pressure on themselves because they want to be the first employee to strut around with that badge. It separates them from everyone else. Isn’t that the whole point of something like a “President’s Club” trip?

I’ll use another example that is a constant reminder of how gamification is modifying behaviors. Many of you know what FitBit is and probably own one or a competitive product. For those who have no idea what FitBit does they created a wearable device that tracks your movement and physical activity. They have an app that pairs with that device allowing you to set goals for yourself and compete with friends of your in “challenges”. Whenever you engage in a challenge or simply do your daily movements you are working toward some goal. In my case that is usually 10,000 steps a day or 30-35,000 steps on the weekend. Here is how the gamification works. At the end of my day when I go home and get fixed into my normal routine I usually look at my step count for the day. Let’s say that my step count is at 6,500 when I begin to eat dinner. If my goal is 10,000 steps, and I know I get a badge for hitting that goal, I usually will walk around the block or go running for a few miles to hit my goal for the day. Because the badge, exists and I want the badge I was willing to alter my night time activities to go run a mile or two after dinner just to hit the 10,000 steps and reach that badge. I purchased that product to encourage a more healthy and active lifestyle, and based on how it has altered my behaviors, I would say it has been successful. I find myself pacing around my office instead of just sitting down in a chair when I do my daily thinking or brainstorming. Those silly little badges have altered how I do things.

Maybe it is a customer support team that is feeling fairly isolated, and you are now implementing a new case management and knowledge base system. What if you also implemented a badging system that encouraged people to find solutions to problems and share with colleagues? Figure out creative ways to encourage competition within your work community and reward people for doing the things that we desire them to do.


The gaming industry and the software space aren’t that different. We have commonalities between how our users operate and how the internal staff works. These are just a few of the things I’ve seen spring up over the years that are really making an impact on the business world. In short, remember to do the following:

  1. Simplify Complex Things
  2. Test Often
  3. Level Up Staff Members
  4. Implement Reward Systems

The most important thing in this whole post, in case you missed it, is to remember that the internal systems that we create should empower our team members to do things better and faster. Design systems and apps to accomplish the business goals, but always keep in mind that people don’t want things to be harder simply because it gets closer to the business objectives.

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net