A challenge to the closed minds – Not just game technology but game mechanics

I recently joined the panel at the Train for Success event in Second Life where we (Anders the host, Dusan Writer, Maria Korolov and myself) were there to discuss the pulling back from pure enterprise firewalled virtual world solutions by Linden Lab and a focus on the consumer experience. In part of that we talked about the various game related technologies that come into play in delivering a virtual world. Lots of the focus, quite naturally, is on the front end though I did point out the challenge of any MMO is the server based synchronization. In many ways we can get a browser or client to do all sorts of wonderful immersive stuff but its much harder to share a lag free experience and distribute to those clients.
Postcard from Second Life.
It was interested to take the role of the “techy who knows a bit about game platforms”.
All of us responded in pretty much the same way that yes enterprise SL was not packaged and sold right, nor given the time to evolve but that we all use Second Life still as we blend business and social in so many ways. It was where I started to get traction with my colleagues and customers in 2006.
At the end we got onto what needs to extend to an even more interesting conversation as whilst the technology can continue to evolve and get better, faster etc it is the things we do with it and the creative endeavours that create interest and engage people.
Whilst there was an uphill battle to get the more mainstream business people to get over the apparent frivolous nature of avatar mediated communication this next wave is really go to scare them and challenge them.
Many of the IT departments and policy makers have decided “We don’t play games at work on our PC’s” that is the mantra used to block the use of anything remotely interesting. It is not without some reason, but the seed of reason grows into a giant forest of objection and darkness. Explaining, or showing that places like Second Life and Opensim etc are not games, just game technology used for another reason doesn’t always chop down the forest.
Now of course there is the gamification wave. The implementation of game mechanics and ideas into every application and walk of life. Business is a game, saying the right things to get that promotion is a game, getting the promotion is a badge earned and worn, winning the sales competition and going on a jolly is like a rewarding cut scene after a tough mission.
Many of these game mechanics, remembering the IT department “we don’t play games at work” mantra will not even touch any of the IT systems in a way they will notice. An Alternate reality campaign inside a corporation may use the phone system, emails, noticeboards etc. All hiding the game elements as a payload inside everyday tools.
At some point though, someone, somewhere, is going to say why cant we do this in a wonderful hi rez generated environment? Why cant we use gesture control like Kinect to navigate the sales figures.
It is a conceptual revolution with a massive social impact, as much as social media and the web. Screwing together plates on a production line is very hard to alter as a physical process to make it less soul destroying. Motivations of speed and efficiency and money for the worker help but ultimately it gets automated. The digital chores we make for ourselves clearly can be altered, you have a family photo as a backdrop on your desktop as a start.
There is a great article from the Harvard Business Review here I know statistics don’t work for the closed of mind as they will discount things that do not meet their believes but this is an interesting quote.
“At SCVNGR, we’ve been able to examine the statistical effects of introducing game dynamics into situations that are decidedly not games. We’ve seen simple game dynamics increase traffic to locations 4X over a matter of days. We’ve seen others extend the average amount of engaged time consumers spend at a business by upwards of 40%.”
Game mechanics motivate and entertain people. People pay to play games that are chores. Surely its in all the more straight laced and ROI induced business people to look at what they and their people do and see if they can spruce it up a bit. Bored or scared people are going to just do the least they need. Motivated and excited people are going to do great things.
So straight laced serious business people who use ‘this is the way we have always done it” whats the point of that…. people the ball is in your court (oh look another gaming/sporting reference).

4 thoughts on “A challenge to the closed minds – Not just game technology but game mechanics

  1. Pingback: Getting out of the Box « Ahuva’s Blog

  2. Well … I speak as a huge fan of Jane McGonigal and Byron Reeves and Susan Wu and all those ‘serious gaming’ folks, and Ted Castronova and the Economy of Fun crowd and that SCVNGR guy (who apparently got some VC to plunk down $750K because he was twitchy and super-passionate and promised to sleep in his office) … And Cthuhlu knows, I myself periodically enjoy directing a team of Fortune 10 VP-level Sales Execs to attack a guild-held, Rank 7 keep in Warhammer, then resurrecting them and asking: “So — what did we learn?” (I enjoy it so much I’d do it for … actually, no, I wouldn’t do it for free, what am I saying?)

    But suppose we want to add even low-rent AR, much less 3D immersive quest-driven fun to real jobs. Who’s going to pay for it? I scratched my head at this for a while — has anyone ever, throughout history, invested money to make a job fun in anything like this way?: i.e., give it a storyline, a quest-structure, align it with an archetypic conflict between Good and Evil, hand out prizes and gear, etc.

    Certainly, many aspects of emergent culture relate to the desire to make work less burdensome: the ‘waulking’ songs of wool-workers, American spirituals, chain-gang songs, boatmans’ songs, sea chanties, etc. But these are emergent forms of community entertainment — not imposed mechanics. They don’t cost money to develop, and their goal, in most cases, is merely to lessen pain and boredom, not inspire improved productivity.

    Isn’t there, maybe, even something a little wrong about trying to inspire productivity in a workforce by using game mechanics? In my mind, it’s one thing if I choose to “make a little game” out of a burdensome task — quite another if some overseer tells me to do so. I cringe at the idea of company picnics, too.

    After some thought, I came up with one example: the Army definitely has a mythos, a lore, a quest-structure, gear and lewtz, etc., plus that nifty system of ranks and badges to motivate noobs along to heights of excellence. But these fall organically out of what the Army is and does (i.e., blow things up — how could you improve on this for what McGonigal calls ‘Fiero’).

    But there’s only one Army (per country). What about where you need to start with, say, chartered accountancy, and make _that_ fun? Even assuming it were possible, would the partners pay for it?

    I’d argue not. And if the argument between the pros and cons became protracted, I suspect at least a few of the smarter partners would come forward and say: “It’s _already_ a game, you idiots.” Because I suspect that in each profession, the real players — brain surgeons, pilots, accountants, TV producers, grade school teachers, etc., have already figured out how to achieve Fiero. So (arguably — not that I’m arguing this myself) why bother adding game mechanics?

  3. I agree that if you consider this as having to do something on top of what is already there you have to consider motivations and costs. However I think that much of this is about attitudes to both command and control structures and ways to lead and motivate people.
    Raph Koster wrote a great piece about the cub scout movement and the motivations of the merit badge system. It seems that corporate, usually sales led, culture works on some massive quarterly or annual expression of prize giving for those who have won the targets games. That has spilled down into the appraisal system, trying to apply the same game to all employees regardless of industry or skills.
    The games we choose to play (which does not just include AAA console titles) allow a degree of expression of out talents. Business is a game, generally with money as the score.
    In those jobs that are really cranking the handle, that really are grind it surely is as easy to make produce a grind that is like an MMO grind as it is to produce some other fancy UI?
    In roles that require expression and creativity the tools are already there to lighten the process. To use technology and game mechanics in an more innovative way.
    The serious business (not serious games) people that challenge things that are not even games, like virtual worlds, for human communication do so on a mistaken if its grey and boring it is proper business.
    What I want to see is an attitude shift to more open minds for way to get things done, not assume the existing ways applied to every walk of life are the right ones. (Of course some of them will be this is not an all or nothing)
    For individuals to be able to feel positive and happy about what they do I do not propose tricks to fool them into thinking they are having fun, I am proposing that the very mechanics that we choose to entertain ourselves with and get addicted to can be woven into the things we apparently need to do.

  4. Just downloaded it on my iPhone and love it! There’s no doubt that SCVNGR is SO much better than Foursquare mainly because of the game dynamics that they’ve built in it. Now they must build up their user base because not a single person I know is using it. 🙁 I’m guessing that Foursquare will simply add on some of the features that SCVNGR has in order to compete.

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