A Critical Lesson from the Gaming World

World of Warcraft ScreenshotThe momentum for using games in a workplace environment seems to be building. The topic is showing up in conference programs, blogs, forums, and now in a TEDTalk. People are realizing what the game industry figured out long ago – it’s possible to create something that consistently encourages and trains people to perform specific tasks for hours upon hours. And they are asking, how can we transfer this to the work environment? Others, like Jane McGonigal in her TEDTalk, are asking, how can we leverage this to make our world a better place? (You can watch her video embedded at the bottom of this post.)

A Teenager’s View
This is a particularly interesting topic for me because of a few reasons. First, everyone in my family is a heavy to moderate gamer, and second, I see many ways gaming could be used to train and educate government staff, elected officials, and citizens and enhance workplace performance. So we watched Ms. McGonigal’s TedTalk as a family (I know – a total geekfest). Afterwards we discussed her comments. I was particularly interested in my 16-year-old son’s thoughts. He fits the demographic of which she spoke.

His belief was that a game designed to educate or “do good” would not be as attractive as “regular games.” He thought no one would play a game that made the education or public service component too obvious. My husband and I agreed that for it to work well, the game would have to do a good job balancing game elements found in popular games with the underlying purpose. He did echo McGonigal’s comment that he didn’t feel he could do much to change the real world, and that is why he thought most people would not play a game to purposely make the world a better place.

The Critical Lesson
But from our discussion also came one more significant reason we feel people play games. And it’s a reason I have not yet heard mentioned. We feel it is because the game is impartial in its distribution of rewards. And this we feel is a vital if unrecognized component.

Many of us have at least one experience in life where we gave it our all, tried very hard, and accomplished something outstanding that everyone agreed met the requirements for a specific reward – maybe it was an “A” on a paper, or a school award, or a placement on a board or committee. But we never got that reward. And why is that? Usually it was because a teacher didn’t like us, or we weren’t the most popular person in the group, or we didn’t fit into the right crowd. Whatever it is, we have learned that rewards in the real world are not impartially or fairly handed out.

But the computer is always impartial and fair – if an Orc in Orgrimmar gives you a quest with the promise of earning a new shiny sword, he gives you that sword when you complete the assignment. He doesn’t decide not to give it to you cause he heard you hang out with Night Elves or you don’t belong to the right guild.

So perhaps this is another critical lesson from the gaming world, you can motivate people to invest time and money and effort if you are fair and impartial in the distribution of the promised rewards.


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.


    Science Article about Conference in World of Warcraft

    Science magazine just released an article about the Science conference that was held in the virtual game World of Warcraft in May of this year. Attracted by the Science content and the virtual format, I signed up for a WoW account and attended for most of the 3-day event. I enjoyed the format of the conference, the networking opportunities, the science-related content, and the feeling of being part of something innovative and progressive.

    Having never really had time to participate in the social side of conferences I attend in the real world, I found that I really enjoyed the chance to attend the social events that were held in WoW. The Science guild that we joined when registering for the conference has continued on and recently set up a Web site for its members. This Sunday, the Science guild is hosting another event, and I am definitely planning on being there. If anyone is interested in Science, likes new and innovative experiences, I would encourage you to look up a guild member in WoW and ask to join.


    Science Conference Held in Sewer

    The second day of the World of Warcraft Science Conference was held in the sewers in the Undercity. Wow, for a civil engineer like me, it doesn’t get any better than that. How can you not love a conference held in a sewer? Unfortunately my husband and I had to show up late because we picked up our daughter earlier that morning from college and brought her home. At least we hit the tail end of the presentation and then were able to participate in the expedition.
    Science Conference in the Sewers of the Undercity
    My husband said it was the best conference he has ever been to. But I can’t help but wonder what the state licensing board would think if I tried to turn in professional development hours for it.


    First Day of World of Warcraft Science Conference

    I could not pass up the chance to attend the first science conference held in a game so a few weeks ago I set up a World of Warcraft account and became a blood elf paladin on the side of the Horde in the Earthen Ring realm. Today I am sitting on the side of a dirt hill in Bladefist Bay listening to the first presentation of this conference.

    Some may think attending such an event is crazy – however, looking at the list of attendees, most seem very serious about the endeavor. The group is made up of professionals and educators from various science-related fields. So why would about 250 serious-minded folks attend a conference in a game?
    First Day of World of Warcraft Science Conference
    After spending a significant amount of time within a virtual world environment, even one that is “game-based”, most people can begin to see the future emerging. As more people become comfortable interacting online, many of our “real life” activities will begin to take place in a virtual setting. Serious business will begin to be conducted in these new worlds on a more frequent basis. And as the discussion continues at this presentation, I begin to wonder if someday our real world battles will be held virtually.

    So we are here, sitting on a hill in avatar form, participating in a historic event and trying to learn what brought us to this point, where we are going, and how we are trying to find our way through this emerging technology, and hopefully, not get left behind.

    As the conference unfolds over the next few days, I will try to continue to update the blog. Oh, and by the way, tomorrow the presentation is being held in a sewer. Now that should be interesting!


    Science Conference to be Held in World of Warcraft

    In May of this year the World of Warcraft (WoW) will host its first Scientific Conference. Although I am a frequent visitor to the virtual world of Second Life and have even ventured into a few other virtual worlds, I have yet to visit WoW. However, after hearing about this conference, my curiosity was stirred enough to prompt me to find out more about WoW. So I consulted the only WoW expert I know: my 14-year-old son, known in WoW as Poisen Arrow.
    World of Warcraft Screenshot from Conference Web site
    After he advised me about which race and which character to choose, he instructed me on how to install the software and sign up for an account. I also found out that I can become an engineer in WoW through an apprenticeship. So if it all works out, I hope to soon become a Blood Elf Paladin with engineering aspirations and begin my journey into WoW so I can try to attend the Scientific Conference from May 9-11.

    In case you are interested in taking part in this, you can get more information by visiting the related Web site at: http://mysite.verizon.net/wsbainbridge/convergence.htm