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Consider the user interface of a professional software (i.e. Eclipse or Word) vs that of a complex (non-reflex testing) video game (i.e. Oxygen Not Included or Civilization V).

Several contrasting trends appear in the GUI design (the CLI's, when present, don't seem to differ much):

Sound: In video games sound effects accompany button presses and other options. In prof software they tend not to (they may have the option to but it tends not to be used). Video games usually bring their own music, but many people "bring their own music" to prof software (i.e youtube).

Real-estate: Video games devote >90% or so of their area to the main screen, with buttons at the edges. When a button is pressed, a menu pops up briefly if need be. Prof software tends to make these sidebars persistent, so that a lot less real-estate is spent on the main screen (the user can adjust the sizes or hide components but in most use cases the sidebars end up taking quite a bit of space). Real-estate seems particularly scarce in IDE use-cases.

These patterns aren't always adhered to but they are good rules-of-thumb that are broken rarely in mature projects.

Why do we see these trends?

Is there a "good reason" for these differences or is there room to gamify complex professional software?

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Sound: In video games sound effects accompany button presses and other options. In prof software they tend not to (they may have the option to but it tends not to be used). Video games usually bring their own music, but many people "bring their own music" to prof software (i.e youtube).

You pretty much just answered your own question. Imagine an office full of people using software that made a noise whenever a user clicked a button. I don't know about your personal hell, but that sounds pretty close to mine. Compare that to a video game, where it's usually one person by themselves.

Real-estate: Video games devote >90% or so of their area to the main screen, with buttons at the edges. When a button is pressed, a menu pops up briefly if need be. Prof software tends to make these sidebars persistent, so that a lot less real-estate is spent on the main screen (the user can adjust the sizes or hide components but in most use cases the sidebars end up taking quite a bit of space). Real-estate seems particularly scarce in IDE use-cases.

Again, you answered your own question. When I'm using an IDE, I'm usually also running stuff via a command line, looking at documentation in a web browser, maybe writing stuff down in a text document. I need to be able to switch contexts very fast, or look at multiple contexts next to each other. Compare that to a video game, where you're pretty much just looking at the video game.

Why do we see these trends?

Because they're different tools, designed for different jobs and different contexts. It's a bit like asking: "Most hammers have at least one flat end, while most screwdrivers have a pointy end; why do we see these trends?"

is there room to gamify complex professional software?

Sure, if you want those professionals to hate you.

More seriously, I think this is a separate question that doesn't really have anything to do with game UI, or UX in general. People seem to like the gamification in Stack Overflow and GitHub, but that doesn't mean they want their IDE to award points for lines of code.

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  • 1. Headphones. 2. If the GUI only gets 1/2 of the screen it's even more important to efficiently preserve real-estate. Or even smartphones on buses, etc. – Kevin Kostlan Sep 16 '17 at 17:05
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    @KevinKostlan I don't want to have to wear headphones all day just to hear annoying button clicks. I don't want to have to tap my coworkers on the shoulder because they can't hear anything every time I have a question for them. And I don't know how your second point disagrees with anything I said. – Kevin Workman Sep 16 '17 at 17:49
  • @ Kevin Workman: 1. Why are button sounds magically more annoying outside of games (for people who actually like to play games, of course this isn't for people who hate video games); gamers can also play for hours on end. 2. Sorry I misread your point. Games also can need a lot of context switching. Is there any data that compares typical use cases and shows that editors need even more than games? – Kevin Kostlan Sep 16 '17 at 18:20
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    @KevinKostlan Have you ever worked in an office? You'll be hearing the same sounds, for 8 hours a day, for years at a time. You don't really need the feedback that the sound provides. Games might need context switching, but usually only amongst things inside the game. You usually aren't running a game in one window, reading a manual in another, posting questions about the game on the internet, and writing emails about the game all while you play it. – Kevin Workman Sep 16 '17 at 19:08
  • "for 8 hours a day, for years at a time". Sounds like hell either way lol. – Kevin Kostlan Sep 16 '17 at 23:13
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In short, games are immersive by nature (or at least should be), which means that the sole purpose of interacting with it is the game itself. Immersive development is achieved through the use of auditory and visuo-haptic approaches and technologies. It is based on the stimulation of the senses, so you do not want additional information that is not necessary to play the game. A very good example is the game apps with ads, which make the game really frustrating and distracting the player with additional stimuli.

On the other hand, the software you mention is productive, which means that you use it to produce something that exceeds the software itself (code, design, text, etc.). It is based on the fact that it has many characteristics; The more features, the better. It does not have to be immersive, and certainly does not need to stimulate the senses. Quite the contrary, you should avoid it as much as possible.

There is a well-known example of a company trying to add some game-ish features. The company is none other than Microsoft, and this example is well known because it was one of the biggest failures in its history: Office Assistant.

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which up to date is continuously mocked, even by Microsoft. It became a popular culture meme as well, see Silicon Valley's Pipey

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In short: productivity software does not need to stimulate the senses, but it has to be clear in its characteristics, what you can achieve with it and how to do it in an easy way.

Caveats

Having said this, the software interfaces that are inspired by the development of games are not bad per se; however, they require a greater amount of testing.

The same can be said for personal assistants. There are many now, and they are very useful. However, they are based on more advanced technology (mainly new developments in artificial intelligence) and more advanced concepts, starting with .... don't be intrusive

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Very different purpose between a game and anything built for utility. The purpose of a game is, like all media (generally), entertainment. So the entire experience is determined based on what provides the best experience considering the direction of the game. That contrasts highly with pro-grade software tools, where some of the same principles apply (like leaving screen space for the key product usage areas) but pro tools tend to have lots of menu systems and options that need to be quickly accessible, and potentially customizable.

If you look at fast-paced games like real-time strategy, where there could be hundreds of individual behaviors happening on the screen simultaneously, the input-output for the user is extremely high and fluctuates very fast. That means players need to receive, analyze, and act on this data, sometimes in fractions of a second. So competitive gamers have hotkeys and practice using them, while simultaneously preferring that the screen show fewer menus and more of what is actually happening in the game.

There are specific reasons for all of those elements, and it could fill a book (or few) to describe them all. There probably are some on the topic.

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  • I am looking at strategy games where you can pause time, so "actions per minute" isn't important. – Kevin Kostlan Sep 16 '17 at 18:22
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Sound in video games can give quick feedback without having to add visual complexity and confirming that input was processed by changing something on display, which already has lots of sprites etc.

Gamers are also far more likely to be using earphones or in a solitary environment that won't disturb others. Even so, there are many games where people end up providing their own background sounds (YouTube music etc.) since the ones in the package are lacking.

Why do you think that a lot less real-estate is spent on the main screen for professional software? Whether its Eclipse or Word, the main document editing panel is always the largest piece. The toolbar provides context sensitive actions that can be performed by mouse, so there is no need to memorize a long list of keyboard shortcuts. Side panels such as Package Explorer / Outline in Eclipse are the equivalent of floating map in video games, they help navigate thru source code structure and keeping your place in it.

Strategy games such as Civ V have multiple sets of menus that are completely different depending on selected object (unit/city etc.) and thus can't be shown all the time. If you want examples of where persistent data is a part of standard UI; several RPGs will have char portraits with their HP, MP and status afflictions in a panel below the first or third person viewport. 'RPG lite' such as Diablo III has a similar approach except char portrait is not needed for a single character.

Data or operations needed almost all the time are allowed to use permanent real estate, for both games and software.

Yes, video games tend to be far more colorful and hence can use multiple colors to present data as well. They don't have to deal with expected long term daily use on suboptimal monitors provided by an employer.

But as for your arguments, I don't think judicious use of real estate and users 'bringing their own music' for audio entertainment differs that much between games or professional software.

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  • "the main document editing panel is always the largest piece". It's often about 50% of the area. True, it is the "largest" but way less than the >90% in most games. – Kevin Kostlan Sep 16 '17 at 18:12

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