As I’ve written about previously, drawing design inspiration from the way certain problems are approached in adjacent industries is a great way to create a novel solution. While sometimes that can be a very deliberate process beginning with market research and user studies, other times it happens automatically, because the solution is already deeply familiar in another context.
Like many technical founders, I’m an avid lifelong gamer, and in my twenties I poured more time than I care to admit publicly into the genre-defining, massively multiplayer online (“MMO”) game World of Warcraft (aptly abbreviated “WoW”). While WoW is a fun and highly addictive game, one of the things that keeps millions of people coming back year after year is the collaborative, social aspect of attempting these fantastical, virtual feats and missions together with other real life players, in real time.
Of course, sometimes this attempted cooperation fails spectacularly, as was documented in one of the web’s early videos that went so viral that it achieved coveted meme status.
But sometimes all the prepping and strategizing does work out, much like a well orchestrated play in a team sport. In fact, some time after this video was originally recorded, Blizzard (the game’s creator) added a useful feature called a “readycheck“, whereby the leader of a group of players (think team captain) could confirm that everyone was ready – i.e., sitting at attention in front of their computers and not, say, eating chicken, as Mr. Jenkins cheekily admits at the tail end above – before starting the play.
When the leader issued a readycheck, all other teammates would receive an immediate prompt on their screens to indicate their status:
Once each player indicated his or her own readiness, the group’s status would appear as other players’ responses (indicated by icons showing their respective roles in the group) trickled in over the next few seconds or minutes:
To anyone who had played WoW before readychecks existed, this was a welcome addition to cut down on waiting time and reduce the likelihood of the types of chaos portrayed above. And players who started playing the game after readychecks had already been introduced were frequently shocked to learn that WoW had ever functioned without them. Checking if everyone on your team was ready first, before venturing into battle, had become an essential element of effective collaboration in the virtual world.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that a feature like readycheck would go from innovative to mission-critical almost overnight; after all, every collaboration-centric endeavor thrives on tools and processes that facilitate clear, realtime communication. So it’s no surprise that one of the most requested features in Outlaw’s first year of business was the ability for customers to gather internal approvals from people across various departments (sometimes termed “custom workflows”), before even shipping the first draft of a contract off to the counter-party for negotiation or execution. We had already launched two-sided collaborative eSigning flow, with commenting, redlining and versioning, but a lot can happen to a contract before it’s even time to share it with the other side.
So when we dug deeper into these requests to better understand our customers’ needs and heard things like, “Every time I create a contract for a new vendor, I need to first run it by Bob in Finance and Jessica in Legal,” I immediately thought, “Ah yes, your organization needs a readycheck.” Knowing that this lingo might not mean anything to non-WoW-addicts, we called this feature Checkpoints when we soft-launched it on Outlaw a few weeks ago, but it solves the exact same problem in the exact same way.
While Bob in Finance and Jessica in Legal are hopefully not running around the office in medieval garb brandishing oversized weapons, the parallels between these two scenarios from a social, collaborative perspective are actually quite striking, so much so that the Video Game Awards even made an official parody of the game’s video, taking place in an office environment!
Both situations involve a small(-ish) group of individuals with different priorities and responsibilities gearing up for a common goal. Both require unanimous approval before the event in question can (or at least ought to) proceed. And much like the pseudo-anonymous gamers sitting at disparate geographical locations, many corporate processes such as contract approvals require cooperation from employees who are scattered across different offices and who may have never even met in person.
Most importantly, embedding a realtime, structured approval flow directly into the platform where the process at large is happening is the perfect way to obtain that approval transparently, seamlessly and without delay.
Drawing inspiration from the world’s most popular MMO also reinforces our north star at Outlaw: we believe that the contract process can be not only lesspainful, but actually enjoyable. You’re about to start some type of relationship with another party, be it as a service provider, partner, employer or otherwise, and that’s an exciting endeavor. The process and steps leading up to that event should increase the excitement, not kill it. Granted, dealmaking still might not quite compare to the glory of team-based dragon-slaying, but… does anything, really? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯