Friday, August 29, 2008

Serious Games Reach The Economist

Serious Gaming on the rise in corporate environments


Via: The Economist - Playing for Profit: Why video gaming can be good for business
Aug 26th 2008

The Economist has published an article about how gaming technology can have an impact far beyond the narrow confines of a display screen.

The article covers the book called “Changing the Game”, where David Edery (in charge of game planning for Xbox’s Live Arcade online-gaming system) and Ethan Mollick (an academic at MIT’s Sloan School of Management), state that many skills and lessons from the gaming world are applicable in the business world. The smartest firms, the authors argue, will not only allow game-playing in the workplace, but will actively encourage it.

According to Messrs Edery and Mollick, by making work more fun and by allowing firms to tap into wisdom beyond their walls, game playing can dramatically improve both productivity and bottom lines.
Here are the highlights:

Anecdotal Evidence 1 - Elections

As the Democratic National Convention got underway in Denver, so too did a novel attempt to drum up interest in the American electoral process.

Microsoft has tweaked its Xbox video-gaming consoles so that they can be used to register to vote in the presidential election and to participate in opinion polls and online forums.

Part of an initiative to boost youth participation in this year’s election, Microsoft’s move shows how gaming technology can have an impact far beyond the narrow confines of a display screen.

Anecdotal Evidence 2 - Advergames

Advergames”have become a staple of viral marketing campaigns for firms such as Burger King and Intel.

Intel’s “Silicon Commander”, for instance, lets users manoeuvre a fleet of robots through a host of IT-related dangers. Players advance more easily by upgrading their fleet to “Pro” models—which happens to be the name of a processing technology developed by Intel.

Anecdotal Evidence 3 - Enjoyable Competition

Consider one of the things it takes to become an ace at, say, World of Warcraft. To make progress inside the game, players must engage in “grinding”—gamer-speak for performing a repetitive task, such as slaying a monster, many times over.

What makes people, both young and old, want to sit for hours in front of a screen, clicking away on their consoles? The answer is status and friendly competition. Games that track players’ progress against their previous achievements, or against those of others, can make grinding seem like—well—less of a grind.

Staging in-house competitions to boost productivity is hardly novel. But gaming technology can make competition more enjoyable.

Take Microsoft’s own experience. Before it releases a new version of its Windows operating system, it asks staff to help debug the software by installing and running the system. In the past, project managers had to spend a great deal of time and effort persuading busy Microsoftees to help them with this boring task.

So for Windows Vista, the system’s latest incarnation, Microsoft created a game that awarded points for bug-testing and prizes such as wristbands for achieving certain goals. Participation quadrupled.

Anecdotal Evidence 4 - Community Building

Popular games can attract hundreds of thousands of user-group members, who swap notes and develop their own modifications (or “mods”). In many cases, such as The Sims—the most popular computer game of all time (in terms of copies sold), which allows players to control a household full of people with very human attributes—these mods have deepened customers’ attachment to the product.

The authors argue that firms in other industries should look to video-gaming companies for inspiration when it comes to managing their own communities. They point out that good gaming firms must learn the language and rules of different customer groups, appointing staff to engage with them. They also offer prizes that encourage creativity, as well as tools and support that make it easier for users to come up with mods, while discouraging unwanted innovation. The resulting software can help predict what future products might succeed.

Wrap-Up

The evolution of gaming technology has definitely given companies the ability to create virtual sandboxes that can provide a competitive edge. So executives who still insist on all work and no game play won’t just be running dull workplaces; they will also be running less profitable ones too.