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Archive for November, 2011

IP Developers Will Play Games

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Gamification is moving from social media networks to technical sites for both motivational and generational reasons. Engineers will have to play to win.

Let’s play a little game. First, start with a noun. Let’s choose the noun, “game.” Now, add the suffix “ification” to the noun. The result is a new word (no longer a noun) that seems to add something more to the original meaning of the word. Wasn’t that fun? No? Well, it was at least engaging.

Why should semiconductor intellectual property (IP) professionals care about the growth of gamification systems? The reason is that their careers may depend upon it. I’ll explain what I mean shortly, but first I need to briefly cover this emerging field, starting with its use in popular social media applications.

Gamification is the act of changing a traditional non-game activity into a game. Wikipedia offers this definition: “Gamification is the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences.” Note the last phrase, i.e., “engage audiences.” Gamification is not about making every activity or process fun, but rather making these experiences engaging and motivating.

What are some examples of a good gamification experience? Here is a list of the recent applications:

  • Foursquare: A location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. Users check-in via a smarphone application of SMS, sharing their location with friends while collecting points and badges. The company claims a membership of over 10 million people worldwide.
  • Farmville: A simulation social network game that involves farm management activities like plowing, planting, growing, etc. Players invite friends to be neighbors, who may then share gifts and supplies with one another. The Facebook site claims 30 million users monthly.
  • EpicWin: A solo play scenario with this twist – players create personalized role-playing game (PRG) characters based on their real life to-do list. From the site: “Make being organized as much fun as gaming with EpicWin the to-do list app with an RPG setting.”

Before you shrug off gamification as a time consuming activity of questionable real-world value, consider one more example. Stack Overflow is a very popular programming question-and-answer site. It is a free site (no registration) where users ask and answer questions, gaining “karma and winning valuable flair that will appear next to (their) name.”

 

Mention gamification to many hardware engineers and they will envision their last massively multiplayer online (MMO) game adventure at a LANfest (or equivalent) competition.

 

Is there a similar site for hardware engineers? Not that I know of, but there should be. Why not have a site called “Black Box I/O,” where hardware IP designers and verification engineers could go to ask questions and get answers about integrating common types of IP?

 

 Black Box I/O – The place where semiconductor IP developers engage and earn valuable integration tips. Earn the respect of your core colleague with distinctive SoC badges, Facebook “Likes” and even frequent flier miles.

 

Some might argue against the need for such a gamification approach, noting that semiconductor IP suppliers already provide specific interface information and models. Past columns have addressed some of the shortcomings with these models, (see, “IP Characterization Moves from The Backroom,”)

If reuse is to grow as quickly as most analyst predict, then the need to integrate disparate blocks of IP will also grow. Some of reuse might even come from providers of open source cores, like OpenCores.org  Both of these trends will increase the need for web sites where developers can post questions and get answers. Gamification techniques would provide the engagement and motivation to keep such a Q&A site going with a minimum of outside support.

 

Before too long, some smart and enterprising professional inSilicon Valleywill apply the techniques of gamification to IP design.

 

I can hear my hardware colleagues now: “That’s crazy. Our designs are too complex. Besides, we are a(n) BLANK house – (ARM, Intel, etc.). We use proprietary interfaces like BLANK (AMBA, ISOF, etc) to interconnect most of our cores. If we have questions, we ask the IP supplier directly.”

 

It might well turn out that the first successful semiconductor IP gamification site will be launched by one of the large ecosystem leaders, like ARM, Intel or Chipestimate – rather than from a single person or small team with VC backing. The large players could easily augment their touted user group communities with gamification techniques. It will happen.

When it does, the next generation of engineers will be ready. They are already being gamified. The proliferation of the video games, social media and engagement activities on the Internet means that the next generation of engineers and managers will be easily affected by gamification techniques. Today’s kids are easily bored if not engaged. Gamification will be one way to increase productivity and pass on learning, while dealing with the increase need for stimulation and shrinking attention spans of future technologists.

 

(BTW: For an insightful discussion as to the dangers of such an activity – especially to non-technical business and marketing types – check out this article: “Gamification… or is that exploitification?”)

 

Gabe Zichermann on gamification.

Special Event Notice: Gabe Zichermann, CEO of Gamification, Inc., and author of “Gamification by Design” (O’Reilly, 2011), will speak this Thursday ( 11/17/11) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the ISEPP lecture series.

 

(First published on Chipestimate.com under “IP Insider.”)

Commoditization Ghetto? Or a Study in Semantics?

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Call it what you will, commoditization is not a welcomed word in the EDA, IP or electronic hardware communities.

 

An abstract in an EETimes subscription publication (which I don’t subscribe to) used the catchy phrase “commodity ghetto” to describe the slide of a company’s products into highly marginalized profits. Formerly, the phase was associated with traditional commodity issues, most noticeably world food shortages or imbalances.

 

While electronics hardware is not considered a traditional commodity, it still can suffer from commoditization.

 

In the EDA and electronics markets, avoiding the commodity ghetto means becoming a “platform provider.” If you are an EDA tool vendor, IP supplier or chip manufacturer, avoiding the commodity ghetto is typically accomplished through acquisition of a software company. Software acquisitions by predominantly hardware or semiconductor IP companies mean that those companies can now claim to be “systems or platform providers.”

 

Do these changes work? Sometimes they do, but not often. The gulf between hardware and software worlds is too wide – in terms of engineering, sales, marketing, and even leadership.

 

What alternative is open to companies that feel the slide toward the commoditization ghetto? Maybe a rich activist hedge-fund investor will suddenly appear on the door step? Few corporations would find this a comforting alternative.

 

So companies press on, trying to reinvent themselves into system houses. Those that succeed will do so only in so much as they actually become system oriented in their approach to engineering, sales and marketing. It’s not rocket science, but it isn’t easy.

 

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