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SGS 2006: "Putting Games to Work"

Putting Games to Work
Byron Reeves, Stanford University
Rob Martyn, game producer
Seriosity, Inc.

Key concepts:

  • Radical breadth
  • Enterprise / games / science
  • Establish a common "vocabulary"
  • Merging cultural diversity
We're going to be talking about games at work -- not training for work, but as part of work.

We're bringing together game experts, Stanford professors, and McKinsey consultants to work on this -- a broad range of expertise.

We're trying to create a taxonomy of work done in the enterprise and see how it's done in games like World of Warcraft. What are the implications of an interface like this for something that's boring, like databases?

Games and work -- the hypothesis:

  • Use the power of games to transform information work mediated by computers
  • Work too easy or too hard isn't fun
  • Games can align objectives of individuals and organizations
  • Beyond copying game features
  • Beyond learning and training

Why this might work #1 -- the game market:

  • Huge revenue
  • Broad penetration (100 million Americans played a video or computer game last week)
  • Changing demographics (mean age 26-29 in MMO; increasingly gender-balanced)
  • Time (mean play time = 22 hours/week)
  • Economics
  • 3G UI and the metaverse
Why this might work #2 -- the future of work:
  • Declining cost of communication (media rich interactions cheaper and face-to-face costlier)
  • Decentralization (power resides at lower levels in organization)
  • Democratization of work (greater participation in decisions that matter)
  • Coordinate and cooperate replaces command and control
The gamer generation:
  • Competition is fun and familiar
  • Failure doesn't hurt
  • Risk is part of the game
  • Feedback needs to be immediate
  • Trial and error the best plan
  • There's always an answer
  • Bonds beyond cultural background
  • Bosses and rules are less important
The first question is, what's success, anyway? This is the early learning market all over again. We want to think big, with multiple objectives, multiple consumers, and measurable results. Production versus design is a big issue -- in games, production has to adjudicate between engineers and artists; in our market, there are many more competing drivers.

Key gaming concepts:

  • Old school versus new school
  • Consistent levels of abstraction
  • Self representation and reputation
  • Multiple levels of engagement
  • Tangible versus virtual rewards (virtual rewards tend to be perceived as much more valuable)
  • The ether is coming... (wireless anywhere will change the dynamics)
  • ...but variety never goes away
Avatars versus agents -- does it matter if the other character is controlled by a real person?
  • Games are combination of reality and fantasy
  • Empathy for other players despite fantasy context
  • Activation in right inferior parietal region with real players
  • Brain region involved in self-other connectedness
We set up an experiment with people playing a simple game within an fMRI scanner. We told people they were playing with / against a) a human player and b) a computer player. In both cases, the other player was actually a computer. When you think that the other element is controlled by another person, your brain lights up completely different. You believe what's happening, you're excited, you're sweating. If you're playing with / against a player you believe to be a computer, it's a simple visual stimulus.

Showed an example of using Star Wars Galaxies. They've inserted video feeds of real cancer samples (as opposed to images of Star Wars characters) into gameplay that is already related to medical training. With 35 players and 20 hours of practice, the crowd of 35 players is more accurate at diagnosing samples (as a whole, not individually) than a trained pathologist.

Showed an example of using Puzzle Pirates, a 25,000-player MMO. Players advance their reputation by playing mini-puzzle games. They want to insert different games into the same overall context, so instead of puzzling, for example, a worker might be resolving customer service calls. They would use objective metrics of a call to judge how well the worker did, and give her all the same rewards for doing well that would be available to a normal puzzle player.

Possible pitfalls:

  • Who's in charge? (the game guy? the IT guy?)
  • The @##@($&#^%$ IT guy (is it true that you're screwed if you have to deal with IT? make it a big idea so that they'll break their rules)
  • Compelling gestalt for multiple buyers
  • Research? What research? (game makers don't care about research)
  • "Can't you just..."(different expecations between game makers and academics / consultants)
  • Beware the "they don't get it" environment
  • Cracking corporate usage (metrics for the enterprise, radical breadth (know about games and work), buyers aren't 20 year old gamers)
  • Opportunity (revolutionize the nature of work)

Q: In the fMRI simulation, how much is the player involvement related to the fidelity of the simulation?
A: We've seen the same results in both an extremely simplistic environment (two dots on a screen) and a complex environment, World of Warcraft.

Q: How much is fun related to the fact that I can quit a game at home, but if I'm at work, I can't end it when I want to end it?
A: We're not talking about casual games here. They need to be as engaging as an MMORPG. It may also be that you don't stick the design of the game into the design of work, but rather vice-versa.

Q: This is to me a pretty frightening future. You're mixing entertainment with reality, so I'm a pawn in someone else's game.
A: This is kind of dangerous, and powerful, like new drugs that are being developed. But as a customer, do you care why the call center wants to make you happy, as long as they want to make you happy? We want to line up corporate objectives with individual objectives.


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