Friday, January 16, 2009

There’s an interesting article up on about commercial uses of World of Warcraft to foster innovation in the business environments. It’s written by John Hagel and John Seely Brown, co-chairmen of the Center for Edge Innovation at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsus.

Hagel and Brown argue that conventional training programs run by corporations suffer from an inherent limitation in that they focus on transferring knowledge rather than teaching trainees to think. They recommend that businesses consider adopting games, specifically World of Warcraft (WoW). The main benefit of WoW is that advancement is contingent on innovative problem solving:

The degree of complexity and challenge increases dramatically as you advance across levels, and the number of experience points needed in order to advance also increases sharply with each level. Yet the number of hours required to get there actually decreases. Experienced players become adept at leveraging the resources available in and around WoW to learn faster and advance faster even as the challenges become more difficult. In contrast to the diminishing returns to learning that we often encounter in business, players in WoW appear to have joined an environment where there are increasing returns to learning.
An additional benefit to WoW is the engaging (and addictive) gameplay. Once a players starts into WoW, the game becomes a self-motivating experience, in which players want to achieve that next level of achievement. Sooner or latter, this desire to play encourages players to collaborate with others in the game.
Talk about incentives in a business context, and the discussion quickly falls back to cash. With minor exceptions, cash is not an incentive to play WoW, so the designers focused on intrinsic motivations. Players get widespread recognition as they master new skills and successfully address each new challenge. As the game advances, players learn to collaborate and participate in "guilds"—teams of players who must work together to innovate in their game play and achieve the next level of performance. As relationships and trust develop within these teams, everyone is motivated to innovate by the desire not to let the team down.
The benefits to businesses go beyond imparting an ability to think innovatively or encouraging collaboration, but shaping minds to deal with new and unexpected events. This seems a particularly beneficial trait to have in a fast-moving, competitive business environment.
Rather than viewing the unanticipated as a threat, gamers learn to welcome unexpected events as an opportunity to innovate, tinker, experiment, and, in the process, learn even more. They also learn to welcome collaboration as an opportunity to learn faster by focusing on a set of individual strengths while being exposed to the diverse perspectives and experiences of those with complementary strengths. At the end of the day, this is the most powerful contribution of WoW. This disposition creates an amplifying effect throughout the game. Players seek out other players who share this point of view, and they end up performing better than players who bring more conventional ideas to the game.
Of course, Deloitte is hardly the first business to recognize the benefits of using video game virtual worlds to instruct their employees. A Spring 2008 survey by the Entertainment Software Association found that 78% of businesses and non-profits plan to utilize video game-based training in the next five years. Seriosity has been studying the potential business applications of games like World of Warcraft for years, even writing about the topic in an article in the Harvard Business Review. In 2007, Seriosity prepared a report for IBMLeadership in Games and at Work: Implications for the Enterprise of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games – that explored how games could be used to foster leadership in business settings.