Microsoft Makes Work Fun: Office Launches “Ribbon Hero”, A Social Game

Forget Farmville or Mafia Wars, Microsoft wants you to play Excel –pivot tables FTW.

Most software training and help resources are painful experiences written by technical publication editors.  We know that most tutorial and help sections within applications are horrible to work with (I’ve shaken my head in frustration quite a few times using Microsoft’s own tutorial tools), and not every office worker can afford to attend a powerpoint training class.

Microsoft's "Ribbon Hero" is a social game that encourages people to learn the product
Click above image to see my notes: Powerpoint users are given challenges, like this artistic effect, to win points which are used to brag on Facebook.

Learning game encourages social sharing
First, click on the image to see my additional notes.   I rarely get excited at briefings, however big-enterprise Microsoft is doing something interesting. In an effort to make learning fun and increase usage of Microsoft office products, they’ve launched a pilot program called “Ribbon Hero” (read blog, or watch video).  Much like a game you’d find on Facebook, Ribbon Hero lets users of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and other office applications score points by unlocking challenges –then touting it to their friends.

Microsoft staff creates ‘challenges’ in the software, and encourages users to play to learn.  As users unlock challenges (see screenshot above) they can earn up to a max of 300 points per product,  and can choose to share their scoring with their Facebook friends on the Fan page.  Don’t think there’s any social captial here? well if people can brag about their fictitious mafia wars scores, we should expect them to tout their real-world workplace proficiencies.

Innovation exposes challenges
There are three four major hurdles as I see it: 1) I’m not confident that this launch will reach a wide audience in the workplace, it may skew towards Gen X and Y. 2) Secondly, they’ll need to overcome the barriers of those who score low being bashful about their scores, and not wanting to share with others. 3) It’ll take some studies to show that professionals that complete the challenges (300/300 points) are better workers, then get HR to promote, 4) Lastly, like all games, they can be cheated, like gaming hint websites, expect there to be a ‘tip blog’ for Ribbon Hero.

Microsoft most tap into new opportunities:
Although we’ve not tried Ribbon Hero, this is an innovative way to encourage users to learn about a typically single person product -and then share with their friends.  Microsoft sharing data with Facebook (who they’ve invested in) doesn’t seem like their typical big box culture, kudos for them for doing something out of their normal engineering culture. Yet despite these upsides, Microsoft must:

  • Harness reputation points to grow the program. has just scratched the surface in using this reputation data like they have with the Microsoft MVP advocacy program to create a non-paid growing army of Microsoft Office experts.
  • Add features to enable game to scale. 1) Q&A features that allows members to pose questions to each other and answering them, gaining more points, 2) Challenges to be created by the members themselves, growing the game at a scalable pace for high achievers. Never letting the game end.
  • Develop a global leaderboard of top users. Allow them to build profiles as true ‘Office Heros’ and how they succeed at their job on a separate website, and encourage them to share their achievements on their blogs, resume and LinkedIn pages.
  • Measure based on new benchmarks. 1) Top line adoption curves skew up 2) Reliance on existing support features goes down 3) Ten solid case studies of people getting new jobs or promotions in part because of their proficiency at the game.

I’m sure we’ll hear more about this from Microsoft –and maybe other traditional enterprise software companies like IBM, Oracle, and social fearful, Apple, will follow suit.  I gotta hand it to Microsoft on this one, they’re finally making work fun. Lastly, ya know I gotta ask, but will Clippy make a cameo in the game?

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