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Playing Games in Business

Modern Warfare 2, probably the most successful game of all time, sold 7 million copies during its first day on sale.

That’s 7 million men, women and childr–

Ah… excuse me, as I was saying, 7 million men and children out there who are logging hours on the thing as we speak.  But it’s not the only game raking in such numbers with the likes of World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2 similarly training players in the satisfying swing of character growth and rewards.

Alongside this, casual gaming has taken off like never before. At the frontier, we have the posse of eager iPhone gamers but many more are signed up to Facebook apps like Farmville or flash games for their regular fix.

I think all these games share something in common; they provide bursts of manageable tasks with accompanying shrinkwrapped satisfaction upon completion.  This microcosmic mimicry of the trials and tribulations of everyday life draws people in.  The gloss may position them as a warring orc or undercover supersoldier but really, the underlying dynamic is commonly compulsive.

The workplace is different

On the flipside, not everyone out there can be workplace champions like you or me and replicate their gaming esteem in the real world.  Many people trudge through a career dreading every Monday morning and upcoming appraisal.

But what if businesses looked at some of the behavioural habits that gaming indulges and integrated this thinking into employee motivation? Some (perhaps slightly PR-led…) research suggests leaders in these games are able to translate such skills to the real world so the rewards certainly seem to be there…


The trick would be studying how games deliver regular satisfaction for arbitrary tasks on the way to larger goals.  I’m sure this isn’t exactly rocket science but games manage it with a consistency that many businesses probably still don’t match.  Keeping it a little closer to the front of mind could pay dividends.

Or perhaps a Foursquare style badge system is the answer? In technology PR, maybe you gain more “experience” points for pitching some of the more fearsome journalists and getting coverage on the frontpage of the FT? The possibilities are endless and its hard to hide from how competitive colleagues can be once they get involved in such things. Something tells me the trick would be in the interface in this case.

Level 45 Account Manager

Something else to bear in mind is modular levels of authority.  Instead of the general Account Exec to MD progression where there are maybe only 8-10 positions, what if there were 70 levels to advance through in your career? The downside of this is a possible inclination for a Level 15 Account Exec to look down on a Level 12 Account with contempt but who knows, maybe this competition will spur them on up the chain of command!

Less is more

In the real world, these examples may be too obvious, too direct, too extreme. But I do think that businesses should start paying attention to the growth of gaming when considering how to manage coming generations of employees.  It’s fascinating to see the activity drive its tendrils deeper and further into our society and those who underestimate the impact of this may well one day find themselves in a Game Over situation…

By Max Tatton-Brown

Max Tatton-Brown is founder and MD of Augur, and has written for publications including the Guardian, Sifted and TechCrunch.

4 replies on “Playing Games in Business”

I think a levelling system would be a bit extreme, would your lucky pants become +1 pants of pitching?

On a more serious note though – is drip feeding rewards really a very good motivator? For one thing there will undoubtedly be a cost to businesses if all employees expect tangible rewards on a regular basis. Wouldn’t a bit of kudos and the odd pint after work work just as well and not alienate the non-game playing workers?

Thanks for the comment Simon, I’d say those are examples of it being put into practice in realistic terms. When you mention “non-game playing workers”, it’s not so much the specific culture of gaming that I’m focussing on as the basic human reaction to the stimulation.

The odd pint is good but can easily become an inherited habit as you pass up through the ranks. The point here is to bring the understanding of why it works and how it could be expanded to the front of mind.

It’s not so much an idea that you get champagne every time you secure some coverage, more that there’s an awareness of stimulating the task and reward system which games do so well.

Rather raises the question: Do games designers make for good managers…?

Great idea. But maybe keep the experince points system from COD – so reward work tasks with bigger guns or office camo.

Mine’s the AK74-U.


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