Conferences, World of Warcraft, and Professional Achievement

Lately my mind has been preoccupied with thoughts of conferences (going to GreenBuild 2008), public works and engineering, World of Warcraft (WoW), family, and social media applications. With all that jumbled up inside there, it was inevitable that these subjects would start bumping into each other. One of these collisions involved this idea: “Blizzard wants people to play their games; employers want their employees to produce.” Blizzard has been successful at getting millions to not only play their games, but pay to do so. How can businesses leverage their success?

To explore Blizzard’s success, we need to ask ourselves, “why do people choose to play WoW.” I imagine you would get many different responses from the millions of registered users, but in the end, I believe it all comes down to the fact that people like to think they have achieved something. The foundation of WoW is that you choose a representation of yourself, choose abilities and professions, then achieve the goal of getting your character to an end level by completing duties or “quests.” According to my son, the end result is that you have achieved the highest level and can outfit yourself with awesome and enviable gear.

Blizzard seems to have recognized this basic need to achieve accomplishments because with their recent release they added “Achievements.” Now players are awarded points and badges in their achievement tab for completing regular game activities such as fully exploring an area, defeating a specific monster, completing so many quests in a day, etc.

This system of awarding badges for achievements reminds me of the badge system in girl scouts and boy scouts. Remember how we would complete specific tasks for the purpose of earning a badge, and how important it was to have the badges displayed on a sash or other item? Scouting uses the system to encourage leadership and good citizenship; Blizzard is using it to encourage more subscriptions. But they are both using the same system to achieve their goals

Even with our children, we are taught to use rewards like stickers on a calendar that can be traded in for something at the store. This idea of using rewards to motivate children has been picked up by all the online media that targets kids such as Webkinz and Club Penguin. Players are assigned duties and given digital badges and items as their rewards.

So in the end, if all this works as we are growing up, why are we abandoning it as adults? Maybe because we feel silly giving out rewards for everyday accomplishments – maybe because we feel the salary or pay should be reward enough. But is this working? We all are brought up to expect and understand the reward system, and then at age 18 it all fades away, and we are expected to stay motivated only for the purpose of getting a paycheck.

So, trying to put aside the traditional approach and going out on a limb, I thought what types of simple things could we do in the workplace to incorporate this reward system? Remembering that these rewards could be set up to be actual objects like badges or digital representations that people can display on desktops or Webpages.

  • Give out badges for number of letters written or e-mails sent. Achievements could also be given to reward timely responses.

  • Conferences should give out badges for attendance. (I also like the idea of sending out something like pins or ribbons that say something like “Attending GreenBuild 2008” so attendees can network, if they choose, on the way to the conference.)

  • In my field, I would like to give out badges for number of potholes filled, garbage cans emptied, water breaks fixed, water meters installed, complaints handled, etc.

  • Microsoft could help promote this in the workplace by offering an option to incorporate an achievement type system like that used in WoW into MS Office. Then I can get an achievement badge in MS Office after making so many Powerpoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, or even using some of the more advanced tools in my work.

  • Professional associations could encourage these achievement systems by awarding mega badges based on conferences attended – a water badge for attending all the major water-related conferences in a year. Or in the spirit of creating a digital persona that displays your accomplishments, allow for the setup of a digital character that is rewarded items based on your professional accomplishments.

  • Those are only a few simple examples; the idea is to remember we have been programmed growing up to receive rewards for our achievements. Let’s understand how other industries have used this basic concept to successfully motivate, and then let’s apply it in the workplace to increase production and a sense of accomplishment in our employees. Is it really all that silly if it works?

    A humorous aside to all this discussion of achievements: Someone has applied this idea of achievements to the presidential election by portraying President-elect Obama gaining an achievement in WoW.


    One Reply to “Conferences, World of Warcraft, and Professional Achievement”

    1. Fabulous article, Pam. You hit the nail on the head. Here’s a link to a related article my partner Sam Driver wrote called “Spear and magic helmet? Elmer Fudd had it right” ( Employees are used to bonuses for performance, promotions and raises as the standard rewards. These are often distributed annually or quarterly at best and in this instant-gratification world, may not be as powerful a tool as repeated mini-rewards. Game players might attach a larger value to virtual loot they could use in a virtual world than to a wooden plaque that recognizes an achievement they made in the last quarter. As the immersive electronic reality merges with the rest of reality, the opportunities for employers to instantly recognize and reward employees with virtual boons will become a powerful management tool.

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