Here’s a random fact. Did you know that the Latin words for “school” and “fun” are one and the same: ludus? So while gamification may be a new word, the concept of combining fun and learning certainly isn’t, and that fact hasn’t been lost on the Channel 9 Team. In January, they launched the Visual Studio Achievements Program cleverly combining kudos and (friendly) competition by enabling you to earn various badges based on your coding accomplishments in everyone’s favorite IDE. Since its inception, the plugin has seen over 92,000 downloads, and the recent addition of new achievements focused on Windows Azure is bound to drive that number, ahem, skyward.

How’s it work?

Get the plugin: It’s pretty simple to get started, just download and install the Visual Studio Achievements plugin. The next time you start Visual Studio, you’ll be prompted to log in to your Channel 9 account so your badges and achievements can be associated with your profile there:

Visual Studio Achievements sign-in

Get a free cloud account: To start adding the new Windows Azure badges to your virtual epaulet, you’ll want to snag a free 90-day windows Azure account or activate your MSDN benefits.  Both are no-risk, no-cost options for trying out the various cloud services comprising Windows Azure.

Explore and earn those badges: With the plugin engaged, Visual Studio starts ‘listening’ for specific actions you perform in the IDE and checks your code for various constructs as it’s compiling it in the background.  When you It's My Partyhappen upon that certain combination of mouse clicks, write some spiffy ninja code, or configure, say, a Startup Task, you’ll be greeted with a little bit of toast like you see to the right.  Your achievement is forever enshrined on your Channel 9 profile, and you’ll get a bump in your ranking on the leaderboard; that’s me in 115th place - today that is – my mom is so proud!

What are these new badges of which you speak?

The whole point of “gamification” is to provide a little extra incentive to try something new or challenging. Face it, as much as we may groan or roll our eyes about it with our “adult face,” we all still have a little bit of that kid in us that gets a kick out of being mayor, earning a +1, or, yes, seeing a bit of toast popup when we’ve tried something new in Visual Studio – different shapes, but all Kindergarten-era gold stars in concept.

All told there are seven categories of achievements, and the newly added Windows Azure group brings along with it 15 new badges.

Database Darling Show Me The Cache
Desktop Debutante Union Jack
Get on the Bus Write Once, Run Anywhere
Heading Into The Cloud Attack of the Blob
IntelliTrace Rocks Tired Of Waiting In Line
It's My Party Game In The Cloud
Keep Heading Into The Cloud Phone In The Cloud
Performance Power  

I purposefully didn’t describe them in detail here, because I think part of the fun is discovering them as you’re developing and writing code versus making the badge the goal.  There’s a nice little moment of delight when you hit that F5 button and see that toast pop up with your latest accolade.  And it’s even more fun if it happens while you’re presenting to an audience!  Some of the names are quite clever as well, with Get on the Bus and Show Me the Cache being two of my favorites.  Not sure I get the Union Jack reference though.

Badge Me Up, Scotty!

Racking up Try out Windows Azure for 90-days FREEyour first badge is easy – you got one just by installing the extension. If you did that on a Friday or Saturday night, you also earned the dubious Lonely badge, not that I’d know first hand of course. Next you can quickly be Heading into the Cloud by deploying your first Windows Azure application (using your free 90-day Windows Azure account or MSDN benefits). 

Looking for some ideas on just what to deploy? There are a number of great examples and resources like the hands-on labs of the Windows Azure Training Course, or try out some of our on-line Azure learning options and contests, like @Home with Windows Azure, RockPaperAzure, and 30 to Launch | Azure.