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Business Idea Of The Week: Make Work More Like Games

by Jonas Huckestein on February 24th, 2010

I was a World of Warcraft (WOW) addict. The fishing activity is a tragic example of what that encompasses: Click, Wait, Click on the Bobber, Click, Wait, Click on the Bobber, … Some people do this for hours.

Why do people click and wait for hours? Because after a while a fanfare sounds and a banner comes up: “Achievement Earned: Super Fisherman 200“. Other people see that, too. That is why WOW works.

Fishing is routine work, but in contrast to other routine work, people enjoy fishing in WOW (sort of). Work can be like that. Hit the jump for some ideas I’ve had on this topic.

Example User Story

You’re Ted. You don’t have any skills to speak of. At your old job, you slacked around for 8 hours before going home to enthusiastically play (aka do routine work) WOW until late at night.

It’s your first day at your new company, the Bor Ingsurance company.

As you sit down to write your first email, a fanfare sounds that everyone in the office can hear! The screen shows a badge “Typewriter Level 1, 20 strokes/min”. You don’t understand what’s going on until a couple of hours later, you achieve “Typewriter Level 2, 25 strokes/min”. You click on the banner and see on your profile that you only need a couple of more typewriter levels until you can either get a free dessert in the cafeteria or a designated “TypeWriter” ball-pen.

Your first day at Bor Ingsurance was the last day you ever used only two fingers to type. The End.

Other examples:

  • In a retail store, whoever makes the highest individual sale on a day gets an achievement. Whoever does that for three days in a row is on a “streak” etc. The possibilities are endless.
  • Coming in early on your birthday will give you an unexpected round of applause + the “Super Discipline” ;)
  • Answering your officemate’s phone while he’s out might give you an unexpected companionship point.
  • Contributing to a project that you’re not staffed on will give you some achievement.

The Core Issue Is Employee Motivation

In large companies with many employees the inhibiting factor in efficiency seems to be employee motivation. From my experience at government agencies, large corporations or even fast food restaurants, the workers just don’t seem to want to go any faster or be any more productive/helpful.

The above story was exaggerated, but only slightly. What reason does a lowly employee currently have to learn touch-typing? None. Just give him one and he’ll learn it.

Writing down the entire concept is out of the scope of this blog post, but here are some ideas:

  • Companies can compete against one another. Great for employee-employer bonding and identification.
  • Achievements are given to teams. This is similar to WOW, where you sometimes need up to 40 people to receive an achievement.
  • In large companies, a designated Game Master controls the “game”. He has t make sure, that nobody goes without achievements.
  • You earn points that you can use to receive special perks and treats.
  • You have an intranet (or maybe cross-company) portal. (comp. Enterprise 2.0)
  • There can be seasonal achievements and awards.
  • Most achievements are not known before somebody gets them.

One core consideration has to be that every feedback from this system is meant to be positive. No employee should be exposed in front of others (e.g. because he can’t touch-type). If possible, team-achievements are preferred.

Implementation: Workflow Engines

Implementing the idea in a running, possibly very large company is not possible. There are far too many different programs involved that would have to be interfaced with. Luckily, a window is opening: the adoption of workflow engines.

In the last couple of years (largely thanks to the rise of ITIL and ISO 20000), companies have introduced methodical process management. This means modeling their internal business processes (not computer processes) in a format such as BPMN and managing them according to best practices.

BPMN modeled processes can (theoretically, with some tweaking) be executed in a workflow engine. Workflow engines guide the people involved in the processes through the steps necessary to complete them. Instead of writing an email to somebody, a staffer enters his message into a designated field in the workflow engine. It takes care of sending the information to the other participants in the process.

I will not go into detail about the pros and cons of workflow engines. In short, they facilitate controlling and improve reliability and efficiency while taking away the worker’s freedom. One day workers will do routine work on thin clients that can only run the workflow engine so that the employees can’t procrastinate (on Facebook) anymore. (In fact, accessing Facebook, flash games et al. could be a reward for points in that scenario)

The switch to workflow engines is the window we need to wait for. It is the ideal time to put an employee motivation program in place.

Final Considerations

In a way, my proposition is similar to the mostly forgotten “employee of the month”, but automated. Games have shown us how people can be motivated to do boring things. The WOW example has spawned a number of very successful imitators, such as Microsoft’s X-Box Live, Steam’s Achievements or the myriad of Facebook games with their levels and badges.

Implementing a similar system in corporate settings yields the following benefits:

  • Employees will work more efficiently because they are motivated
  • The atmosphere in the company will improve
  • There will be no added marginal costs (except for the possible game master and the software)
  • Employees can be conditioned to learn new skills (such as touch typing or using a new software)

All of this sounds great, but make no mistake: It is also difficult.

There is a reason that Blizzard employs a team of psychologists. Before this idea can be sold to companies, studies proving it’s success need to be conducted. This is probably something that can best be done in a university setting. In fact, this idea was the reason I accepted (and later turned down again) a graduate position in Neurocognitive Psychology last year. Given how obsessed I used to be with this idea, I’m glad I finally wrote it down :)

What do you guys think? I think this idea has a lot of potential and the payoff – if done correctly – is huge. Just writing this post makes me want to start. Now.

Business Idea of the Week Disclaimer: I just write these ideas down because it’s good training, I like them, don’t want to forget them and will most likely never have the time to actually implement them. If you know of a similar venture or are interested in the idea, I’d love to hear about that!

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10 Comments
  1. Excellent idea – hate to break it to you but this is exactly the objective of Seriosity, a startup by Leighton Read/

    Not saying that there isn’t large enough of a market for the both of you to be attacking, though! I think game theory can be applied to any industry, and that this is the exact direction everything is headed.

    http://www.seriosity.com/

    • Yes really. This is excellent idea. The points mentioned at the article are really useful to know about.

  2. I think your idea is really awesome. Assumed a proper software is available, your idea will not just boost productivity, but also creativity

  3. A great idea, I’m going to implement this as soon as I finish WOW!

  4. Finally :) You know I love this idea. Go ahead!

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