The Zombie Technology Elimination Project: Gamifying The Destruction of Old Software

The Zombie Technology Elimination Project: Gamifying The Destruction of Old Software

zombie technology

A little extra narrative goes a long way

This post originated from Mike Finney’s blog.

Zombie Technologies are real. If you’re a software developer, a Zombie Technology (ZT) is that old technology you used long ago to create yesterday’s awesome solutions. Yesterday’s glory is a memory, yet the product lives on and it’s using a ZT.

I am leading an internal employee engagement enhancement project to make the conversion of old zombie technologies to new technologies more fun and more likely! Normally the conversion process is inherently behind the scenes and painful. In Mary Poppins style, a spoonful of zombies helps the work go down.

Here’s the zombie story we wrote:

“Zombie Technologies (ZT) are plotting to take our community over. Why? Zombies Technologies are jealous of anything that is prosperous and fun. We, the Zombie Hunters, will take them down with new technology. It’s time to engage the enemy ZTs with a Zombie Technology Elimination Project (ZTEP).“


Our specific target behaviors are for the players to:

  • Replace an old technology code item with new approved technology.

  • Support another player.


You might ask: how will we “support a player” and why bother? People love to be loved. Since human beings are social beings, we yearn for social support and feel it as fun. Nicole Lazzaro calls this “People Fun” in The 4 Keys 2 Fun.  Nir Eyal would say we’re Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides.

When a player changes a code item from using a ZT to a new and approved technology, they gain Zombie Points and earn levels:

  • Zombie Hunter Newbie – 0

  • Zombie Hunter Apprentice – 100

  • Zombie Hunter Journeyman – 500

  • Zombie Hunter Master – 2000

  • Zombie Hunter Hero Level I – 10000

  • Zombie Hunter Hero Level II – 20000

  • and so on..

Some things are more difficult to do than others. So we factor that into the points formula which is:

10 x ZT Code Item Difficulty x number of Code Items converted.

Example difficulty levels are 10, 20 and 30. If we chose 1, 2 or 3, we would have no room for motivation adjustments as needed.

In order to optimize the fun, we want positive feedback to come quickly after changing the code items. Yet, it takes time for a converted code item to get into production aka out there for all to use. To bridge the gap, we have WIP (Work In Progress) points. WIP Points reflect source code changes just saved to the source code repository and not in production yet.

So, a player’s effort is instantly acknowledged through a news feed and declaring how many WIP Points they have earned. They cannot earn Zombie Points and thus levels until the code items are in production. In other words, Zombie Technologies aren’t killed until the code items are in production, users can use the code and the business benefits. Once the code items are in production, the WIP Points translate to Zombie Points, levels may get earned and there is a chance they win a virtual item for use on their avatar! This is called an Item Drop. Examples include: a pet cat, hat, and Zombie Art.


We also have fancy avatars

To appeal to the different kinds of players, we are using an avatar to show successes and let people show off different Item Drops. The avatar reflects the player’s name, Item Drops obtained while promoting converted code items and his or her scores.

gamifying software upgrade
Pete The Zombie Hunter with his Zombie Art, Hat and Pet Cat

“Pete the Zombie Hunter Newbie” is composed of two parts: 1) a name field 2) the level achieved.

No player knows what they might get. It’s a secret. The complete list of specific items is a secret because we want the specific items one can get to surprise and delight the player. A complete list of all the items owned is available on an inventory page.


So at a general level, the Engagement Loop loops like the following:

  1. Player changes and stores code

  2. Player tells a game coordinator

  3. Game coordinator see the changes, enters in the WIP points and change-management related information needed to track the changes going to production.

  4. WIP Points are assigned and show up in the avatar immediately.

  5. The coordinator will follow up to make sure the code change has been put into production. Once the changes are in production, the coordinator converts the WIP Points to Zombie Points earned for those player(s). The coordinator personally notifies the players and tells them they did a good job!



For this project, we are out of the inception phase and into the implementation / execution phase. It should be noted that items specified above are subject to change based on player-concept-testing, what is discovered during detailed user experience (UX) design, small releases and any resulting product pivots.

I look forward to play-testing the ideas before we get too far into the implementation. Even more than that, I look forward to helping people get the recognition they deserve and enjoy their lives more while they are serving everyone well by shoring up our systems with the new technologies.

CC Image by Erik J. Gustafson


Need help with behavioral science and gamification? Get in touch with our boutique consulting agency Dopamine.


  1. As I was crafting the initial ZTEP concept, I was thinking how keeping our technology and spirits fresh will empower people, keep us safe and help us all love life better. It’s ironic that this article was posted on 9/11, the anniversary of the suicide attacks against the United States of America and civilization in general. Yes, we still remember.