Online Games as a Strategy for Making Work Fun

Lets face it: most work is not designed, but simply takes place in settings and flows that have evolved haphazardly. The result of incremental boundaries is often overly-burdensome process or jobs where you sink or swim with too little structure. Imagine if jobs were as carefully thought out as the environment and reward systems in great games.

We’ve identified ten fundamental game ingredients in our research:

  1. Self representation with avatars
  2. Three dimensional environments
  3. Narrative context (great stories)
  4. Feedback
  5. Reputation, ranks and levels
  6. Marketplaces and economies
  7. Competition under rules that are explicit and enforced
  8. Teams
  9. Parallel communication systems that can be easily reconfigured
  10. Time pressure
Leighton Read, Partner at Alloy Ventures and co-author of Total Engagement describes the role of online games as a strategy for making work fun. Leighton is a Maverick for The Management Innovation Exchange (The MIX), where management innovators come together to share their ideas and ideals. It’s time to reinvent management; you can help. Join the conversation here.

On Leadership: How Video Games Build Leaders

On Leadership: Stanford professor Byron Reeves on how online multiplayer games like ‘World of Warcraft’ are creating the next generation of leaders.

(Video by Katherine Crnko and Andrea Useem/Washington Post)

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

You may find the following related posts of interest:

Real World Camaraderie through Virtual Worlds
New Models for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Can World of Warcraft Teach Us to Save?

In-Game Guerilla Marketing Hits WoW

Jane McGonigal on Games in the Classroom

Beyond Design Thinking
It’s Called Design Management

Real World Camaraderie through Virtual WorldsNew Models for Interdisciplinary Collaboration
What do joining the military, engaging in massively multiplayer online (MMO) adventures and competing in the world of business have in common?
You can only get so far on your own.
At some point you have to socialize and work with others for the greater good (as well as for rewards unattainable while flying solo).
You must participate with and rely on the assistance of others — often as an integral member of a team — most times with complete strangers who may drop the ball at any time.
You need the help of others as much as they need your help.
As a member of the team, you must meet certain performance criteria or compromise the team’s chances of success.
You are exposed to — and learn about — leadership by either becoming a leader yourself or by observing the successes or failures of others who have taken up the mantle before you.
You grow as a result.
How is engaging in massively multiplayer online (MMO) adventures different than joining the military or risking it in the world of business?
The real military requires a long-term investment of time and personal sacrifice which may result in one’s  literal departure from this plane of existence.
The real world of business is an unforgiving environment that claims the corporate lives of around 70% of all new businesses within their first ten years. Certain types of skills (especially those related to working with other people) are best learned off the job.
The virtual world of MMOs offers a safe sandbox in which interdisciplinary teams can collaborate to tackle, overcome or fail at challenges without risk of bodily or financial harm. Furthermore, MMOs afford a plethora of opportunities in which real-world learning and personal growth can take place to enable people to better realize their strengths and weaknesses while building real-world bonds with fellow collaborators.
According to Seriosity, the following specific features of game environments can be adopted by business (or non-profit, edu, etc.)  to enhance productivity, innovation and leadership:
Incentive structures that  motivate workers immediately and longer term
Virtual economies that  create a marketplace for information and collaboration 
Transparency of  performance and capabilities
Recognition for  achievements
Visibility into networks  of communication across an organization
You may find the  following related posts of interest:
Can World of Warcraft Teach Us to Save?
In-Game Guerilla Marketing Hits WoW
Jane McGonigal on Games in the Classroom
Beyond Design ThinkingIt’s Called Design Management

Real World Camaraderie through Virtual Worlds
New Models for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

What do joining the military, engaging in massively multiplayer online (MMO) adventures and competing in the world of business have in common?

  1. You can only get so far on your own.

  2. At some point you have to socialize and work with others for the greater good (as well as for rewards unattainable while flying solo).

  3. You must participate with and rely on the assistance of others — often as an integral member of a team — most times with complete strangers who may drop the ball at any time.

  4. You need the help of others as much as they need your help.

  5. As a member of the team, you must meet certain performance criteria or compromise the team’s chances of success.

  6. You are exposed to — and learn about — leadership by either becoming a leader yourself or by observing the successes or failures of others who have taken up the mantle before you.

  7. You grow as a result.

How is engaging in massively multiplayer online (MMO) adventures different than joining the military or risking it in the world of business?

  1. The real military requires a long-term investment of time and personal sacrifice which may result in one’s literal departure from this plane of existence.

  2. The real world of business is an unforgiving environment that claims the corporate lives of around 70% of all new businesses within their first ten years. Certain types of skills (especially those related to working with other people) are best learned off the job.

  3. The virtual world of MMOs offers a safe sandbox in which interdisciplinary teams can collaborate to tackle, overcome or fail at challenges without risk of bodily or financial harm. Furthermore, MMOs afford a plethora of opportunities in which real-world learning and personal growth can take place to enable people to better realize their strengths and weaknesses while building real-world bonds with fellow collaborators.

According to Seriosity, the following specific features of game environments can be adopted by business (or non-profit, edu, etc.) to enhance productivity, innovation and leadership:

  • Incentive structures that motivate workers immediately and longer term

  • Virtual economies that create a marketplace for information and collaboration

  • Transparency of performance and capabilities

  • Recognition for achievements

  • Visibility into networks of communication across an organization

You may find the following related posts of interest:

Can World of Warcraft Teach Us to Save?

In-Game Guerilla Marketing Hits WoW

Jane McGonigal on Games in the Classroom

Beyond Design Thinking
It’s Called Design Management

In-Game Guerilla Marketing Hits WoW

It’s a well known though underappreciated fact that many of the tactical innovations in direct response marketing campaigns originate from less than glamorous segments like the adult industry. In Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft (WoW), gold farming firms represent the virtual world’s seedy socioeconomic underbelly of commerce, giving us a glimpse at an intense example of an innovative, large-scale in-world (i.e. inside a virtual world) guerilla marketing campaign.

It’s important to understand that when people talk about advertising in virtual worlds they usually assume old-world models such as billboards, Tshirts, posters and other traditional approaches, none of which truly connect in-world due to the fact that people go in-world to escape the real world, not to see it reincarnated in all of its tacky glory.

The image above depicts a scene from Stormwind, one of the capital Alliance cities in World of Warcraft, adorned with the corpses of over 50 1st level Warlocks who have given their lives for guerilla marketing — in this case promoting the services of one MMOP.com (yes, an in-game gold merchant).

From what I’ve been able to gather through some basic research & Q&A with other players, the gampaign was lauched in multiple cities (Alliance & Horde factions) on multiple servers. It’s important to understand that WoW does not allow for in-game advertising, nor does it condone such behavior. Nevertheless, MMOP.com was able to run a successful public awareness guerilla marketing campaign in an extremely closed and monitored virtual space like WoW, while displaying an extremely sophisticated understanding of the technology, mechanics & culture surrounding the WoW experience.

The goal of this post is not to celebrate this campaign nor is it to promote the virtues of guerilla marketing per se, but to point to the fact that virtual worlds are not like the real world, and that traditional notions don’t translate literally from one space to the other — but that real culture & commerce is emerging in these spaces, and it’s important to recognize this and try to understand & appreciate this phenomenon.

It would be a major oversight for anyone to believe that virtual worlds are not here to stay or will not play a major role in our future. The sooner we as a society of consumers and professionals engage these worlds and understand their underlying technology, mechanics & culture, the sooner we’ll understand how to navigate and negotiate them in a meaningful way.

Can World of Warcraft Teach Us to Save?

Unless we are cynical market-driven fools who believe that we should spend more than we earn in order to feed the fat cats on Wall Street, it should worry us that the American savings rate is the lowest it has ever been since the Great Depression — it was at zero for a number of years until the recent financial crisis scared some into spending less & saving more.

Is there a less catastrophic way to inspire savings in people? Of course — we have to be taught the importance of saving money at an early age, so that we grow up with the concept of saving as a way of life.

What better tool for teaching the importance of saving money than a computer game — specifically, one so immersive as the #1 massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft?

The need to save is built into the game.

World of Warcraft (hereinafter referred to as WoW) gives players many reasons to save. One of the most important milestones of an online character’s growth in WoW is the attainment of level 40 at which point one can purchase a riding mount. With the exception of Paladins and Warlocks, who receive their mounts free of charge at this level, level 40 represents the first milestone in the game where the player must dish out close to 100 gold pieces, which can take some time to gather at such low levels due to recurring per-level expenses such as day-to-day repair costs, training costs and new equipment costs.

[Please Note: Since the original publication of this article, riding mounts have been made available to all players at level 20 rather than level 40 — at dramatically reduced rates — though the need to save for the milestone still exists.]

Even if one is of the privileged Paladin or Warlock classes, other reasons to save within the game include the purchase of rare weapons, armor, crafting recipes or other rare materials from the game’s player-driven auction house, which at times lists items priced in the high hundreds to even thousands of gold. Another milestone in the game — at level 60 — requires players to spend around 500 gold to ride an epic (very fast) mount, with Paladins and Warlocks not totally off the hook at this point. At level 70, another opportunity arises for a massive cash layout of around 1,000 gold to ride a standard flying mount — and a much more demanding 5,000 gold to ride an epic flying mount.

Therefore, World of Warcraft presents a unique opportunity to teach basic saving skills to its millions of subscribers — many of whom are children or young adults.

In fact, the need to save is inherently built into the game and can even be touted as one of its selling points to parents interested in teaching their kids the importance of saving.

Of haves and have nots.

Something interesting happens to players close to level 40. They will either have the 100 gold they will need for their mount, or they will not. Those who do not have the money sometimes resort to begging others for money in the general or trade chat channels. Others put off the purchase of their level 40 mount until later levels, when they’ve finally managed to save the required amount.

In either case, the need to save arises, but interestingly, the game doesn’t provide any tools to help individual players save.

Personal banking in WoW.

In the above two screenshots, the first represents what a player sees upon interacting with an in-game banker. Upon speaking with an in-game banker, the character is presented with a window representing his/her items in storage. Interestingly, a money amount (in this case 9 gold, 98 silver and 94 copper) is also presented at the bottom of the interface. However, this amount simply reflects the amount of money a player has on his/her person. The game does not offer any way for the player to store or save money in his/her bank by means of transfer.

So the personal in-game bank only serves as a storage space for items, and does not offer the ability for players to store their money — a service one would expect from a typical bank.

We know from basic concepts in saving that if we are to keep all of our money in one place (in this case in our bag or on our person), it makes it much more difficult to save since an important part of saving is to literally put money away so that it remains out of sight.

The second of the two screenshots above represents a proposed modification of the banking window whereby the player has a chance to deposit cash in a savings account (by means of a Manage Savings tab that would allow the player to make deposits and/or withdrawals) and to see how much they have saved in addition to being able to earn compound interest (in this case 5%).

Such a modification to WoW would:

  • Enrich the overall WoW experience.

  • Simplify personal financial management in-game.

  • Promote in-game savings by offering incentives such as interest (or even something as cool as the option to choose 1 honor point per week for every 100 gold saved instead of interest).

  • Reduce the number of in-game beggars.

  • Teach the importance of saving by demonstrating its positive aspects in the context of a virtual world which can potentially translate to behavior modification in the real world.

Guild banking gets close.

With the introduction of guild banks, WoW has taken one step closer to promoting savings by allowing members of a guild to make deposits into a pooled account, with the amount at the bottom of the window reflecting the collective savings, but it comes with limitations:

  • It is limited to players who are members of a guild.

  • It represents a collective amount of money deposited by guild members for the benefit of the guild, and ultimately under the control of the guild master.

  • The Money Log only provides a list of those who have deposited or withdrawn money. It serves no other purpose.

  • It does not offer a way for members to maintain a personal savings amount.

Guild banking can be modified to allow members of a guild to save (by means of a Manage Savings tab that would allow the player to make deposits and/or withdrawals limited to what they have deposited in the past) and to see how much the guild has saved in addition to being able to earn compound interest (in this case 5%):

Such a modification to guild banking in WoW would:

  • Promote in-game savings by offering incentives such as interest (or even something as cool as the option to choose 1 honor point per week for every 100 gold saved instead of interest).

  • Teach the importance of saving by demonstrating its positive aspects in the context of a virtual world which can potentially translate to behavior modification in the real world.

Games do teach.

It is naive to think that games don’t teach us anything. In fact, games teach us a lot. However, the lessons being taught in games don’t often translate literally to the real world because games are often designed to take us away.

This said, WoW does a wonderful job of taking us away. However, those in the far away fictional world of Azeroth use money as a medium of exchange just like we do on Earth, and anything we can learn about money in Azeroth can have an impact on how we deal with it on Earth.

Virtual worlds can impact the real world.

This is an excellent example of how experiences in a virtual world can shape our perceptions of the real world. If kids carelessly spend all of their money while leveling a character from 1-40 only to discover that they are short 100 gold at level 40, the regret of not having saved along the way offers a lesson that they can take with them into the real world. In fact, I have found my personal views of money and saving influenced by the game.

An in-game opportunity for players to experience the art of saving — and the rewards that can come with it — can greatly enhance the overall in-game experience while quite possibly impacting perceptions of the real world in a positive and constructive manner.

A challenge to game developers.

It is my feeling that game developers can do more than just entertain within the context of the gaming experiences they create.

The fact that these games do teach us many lessons makes it incumbent on developers to provide appropriate, contextually relevant in-game tools to ensure that some of the things they teach can leave practical and positive impressions on the lives of those they touch.