I’ve championed user centered design for years and in part that’s behind the argument for using educational games and simulations for teaching: meeting and engaging students on their own terms. Now I’m seeing a gamer-centered design aesthetic begin to emerge in some surprising places, like business software, where you might least expect games to have an influence.

Consider the NY Times report, Work is Not Play But Maybe it Should Be, which describes how Seattle-based Entellium has reworked the user interface of their Rave CRM software to be more game-like. “Reasoning that sales people are wildly competitive” CEO Paul Johnson “thought that they would respond to a program that showed where they stood against their goals — or their peers’. Hence, Rave, which Entellium introduced in April.

“Rave adapts a variety of gaming techniques. For instance, you can build a dossier of your clients and sales prospects that includes photographs and lists of their likes, dislikes and buying interests, much like the character descriptions in many video games. Prospects are given ratings, not by how new they are — common in C.R.M. programs — but by how likely they are to buy something. All prospects are also tracked on a time-line, another game-like feature.”

Two posts on Paul Johnson’s blog — The Birth of Gamer Influenced Design and The X Factor for the Software Industry: Gen Y Gamers — expand on this thinking. In one post Johnson observes, “One of the biggest stories missed by the business software industry: the impact of the video gaming generation. This is a huge demographic (upwards of 90 million people in the US alone) that will fundamentally change the work environment – and how business software applications should be designed and built.”

Johnson’s observation that this sea-change will impact the work environment is spot on and the fact that he’s acted on it in designing CRM software is also a point well taken. Developers and publishers who heed this change and are agile enough to deliver a highly engaging, gamer-friendly experience will be the best positioned to catch the next demographic wave.