Epic Win! What Businesses Can Learn From Online Gaming

by Amy Lambert


Are you aware that more than 3,000,000,000 hours are devoted to playing games per week? Three. Billion. Hours. Per week. How do you feel about that?

We all know that online gaming is huge. Most of us get sucked in and quickly addicted to single-player games like Bejeweled or Solitaire. It is easy to get lost in the pure meditative state of clicking.

Playing within a group, however, leads to some interesting perspectives and new capabilities. Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) take gaming to a level which can lead to achievements previously thought of as unreachable.


Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals
Jane McGonical, an R&D director at the Institute for the Future, purports that while gaming, normal people are transformed into super-empowered hopeful individuals. Gamers are “motivated to do something that matters, inspired to collaborate and to cooperate. When we are in game worlds, many of us become the best versions of our selves; the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes, to get up after failure and try again. In real life, when we face failure and confront obstacles, we feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, frustrated or cynical. We never have those feelings when faced with obstacles in the gaming world.”

Epic Win: An outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea until you achieved it.

McGonical outlines four traits she has observed within gamers that empower them to perform without restrictions.

  • Urgent optimism. This extreme self-motivation embodies the desire to act immediately to tackle obstacles, combined with the belief that they hold a reasonable hope of success.
  • Tight social fabric. As people, we tend to enjoy others more after we have played a game with them, regardless of who wins. Trust is built when we share rules, spend time constructively and value the same goal. 
  • Blissful productivity. Human beings are happier working than we are when we are relaxing. We are optimized, as human beings, to do hard and meaningful work. People will work harder all the time, if they are given the right work.
  • Epic meaning. Gamers love attachments to awe-inspiring missions. By presenting a clear vision of the goal and a solid back story, they can connect with and understand their involvement, which inspires them to tackle new obstacles.

Now Hiring: Level 27 Paladin
John Seely Brown, when speaking recently at the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, suggested our next organizational focus be pointed towards accelerating the capabilities of our human talent. He surprisingly suggests looking to World of Warcraft, the MMORPG, and outlines how WoW players thrive on the challenge through their “deep questing disposition,” always reaching for more and better.

World of Warcraft, often referred to as WoW, is an action-oriented, strategy-based game in which hundreds of thousands of people gather in server-like communities and help each other to “conquer the world” by raiding and seeking treasure. Players implement creative, competitive strategies to cooperate as a team in order to complete quests, gain experience and explore a fantastic, image-driven world.

  • Team and team again. To get anything serious done in the worlds of Azeroth, you have to work together. Players join guilds and share knowledge, risk and reward. “There is so much knowledge being produced everyday in WoW,” Seely Brown outlines, “that without the structure to organize and share new information, players would be overwhelmed.” To be successful, your guild must learn and process what other players have not yet figured out and distill that down to new ways to succeed.
  • Share knowledge exponentially. When doing high-end research and development, creating a knowledge economy similar to that of World of Warcraft will gain some deep rewards. Seely Brown estimates WoW players process 12,000 new ideas every night. Condensing this amount of information each evening and dispensing it out to other guilds motivates players to create a wiki site that is second in usage only to wikipedia.com. 
  • Peer-to-peer reviews. After the end of every high-end raid, guilds hold “after-action reviews” with the members of the raiding party. These reviews focus on the merit each player showed during the activity. In these reviews, everyone is measured and critiqued by the other guild members who participated in the action for both the positive and negative developments of their documented actions. These open forums are held with an understanding that players have the safety to speak the truth and help cite great performance and outline opportunities that can sharpen skill sets.
  • Individually-driven dashboarding. In WoW, the most important level of accountability is driven by one’s self. World of Warcraft players create their own dashboards to measure their own performance. These dashboards help the players to build a good sense of how he or she is individually spending his or her time so improvements can be made. The key element in this practice is the individual accountability and motivation for self-betterment necessary to gain new performance heights.

When All Else Fails…
Online gaming can stretch your mind, intelligences and abilities. When those challenges still bring them to “fail moments,” gamers take things one step further. They research. Finding, exploiting and, most importantly, sharing cheat codes is an active part of any online gaming construct. So, when all else fails…research, research, research, share, share, share.

What Can Your Business Do?
If you want to transform your employees into super-empowered hopeful individuals who attack challenges with abandon, share information and strongly team for success, here are some simple steps that can gain you some ground:

  • Make the mission real. Enlighten employees to the real mission of your organization. What is its history? Why are you in business? What are the rules? Make sure they start out with all of the game pieces assembled for them.
  • Hold a monthly game night. Pull out the board games and build a new air of collaboration. Invite employees and their families into your training facilities for some pizza and healthy competition and relationship building. Have children’s games and activities to keep them occupied as well.
  • Utilize your intranet for information sharing. Can your employees post questions or ideas for other employees to answer or sharpen? Where does the discussion in your organization take place when it comes to new ideas or utilizing new information? Consider a wiki for your organization’s knowledge management.
  • Begin hosting “action reviews” after teams complete a “mission.” Let the team sit back, peer-to-peer together and discuss what went great and what went astray. Take the time to outline and discuss wins, fails and questions. Get them involved in creating the solution for the next mission.
  • Teach employees to self-measure. Ask them to create their own dashboard that outlines what keeps them from productivity and is completely within their control to transform. Their answers may completely surprise you. Two different employees within the same job title may have totally different challenges keeping them from success. Let those dashboards be part of their tools to help themselves succeed. iBi

Amy Lambert is one of the organizers of TEDxPeoria. Information about their monthly discussion groups can be found at tedxpeoria.com. Jane McGonical’s “Gaming can make a better world” TED talk can be found at ted.com. John Seely Brown’s discussion, “Collaborative Innovation and a Pull Economy,” can be found at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program on iTunes. iBi

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