Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Out of work MMOG designers will rule the world

As I sit here contemplating business dashboards, it occurs to me (as it has occurred to many others) that game designers will ultimately rule our working lives.

Games and Business
Games are a formal system of tokens, verbs and the rules that bind all the elements together into a nested set of risks and rewards. The rules are basically a simulation, sometimes simple and sometimes complex. The tokens can represent pretty much anything, but they are usually well defined with specific and pertinent properties to the game at hand.

Business, on the other hand, is quite messy. A make or break sales opportunity might come from the fact that you sat next to a stranger on a plane. To bean counters such as myself (yes, scientific brains are merely bean counters with better pattern recognition skills), this randomness is unacceptable. A COO wants to ensure that he has a smoothly running, repeatable business process that leverages the skills of his employees in an optimal manner.

Businesses have always tended towards games-like exercises with their incentive systems, pay scales and feedback methods. This just makes a lot of sense when you are dealing with people. Games are a great way to get people to perform an arbitrary task in an optimal fashion. With the correct sequences of risks and rewards, you can teach a player to almost anything. This is the thought behind serious games, and quite honestly business folks have been applying the concept for many decades.

Digital dashboards: A big change
Over the last few years, we've seen a big change occurring on the data side of the business world. More and more of those fuzzy business events are being categorized and placed into databases. Take a CRM system like SalesForce.com. Who you talked to, when you talked to them and how that translates into the company's bottom line are all on display. Mix this with financial systems, email systems, procurement systems, inventory systems and PLM systems and almost every aspect of business is being placed in a computer.

From an end user's point of view, this giant pool of information and business rules is quite different from a game. From a developer's point of view, it all looks remarkably similar to the backend on a massively multiplayer online title. You've got your mobs in the form of customers. You have player records in the form of users. You've got your realm points in the form of business unit financial results.

Right now, the game that businesses play using the data at their finger tips is quite primitive. I liken it to the hardcore war simulations that took the game market by storm back in the 80's. The information displays are crude and focus on the simulation instead of the player psychology. The learning process for new employees tends to be sink or swim much like it was in the ancient MUD days. There's not concept of gradual level-based advancement where you only eventually gain super powers (such as the 'Call in the manager' super-strike!)

This will all change with time. Someone will mix an employee incentive program with a few existing business systems. When a pre-specified action is taken, the systems will pop out real-time alerts that give positive or negative feedback. Risk / Reward in action. Ultimately, they are going to need people who understand these concepts to design and manage the complex online community that is a next generation business.

An opportunity!
This naturally is where the out of work MMOG designers step in. Sure, your game ground to a halt after only a two-year run. The damn players hated your new weapon upgrade system and left in droves. You are bitter and tired of the game industry. An ad from Walmart catches your eye.
"Game designer wanted. Experience creating vibrant and productive communities a must Salary: Double what you are making now."
Your design, which ties together all major systems within the company will incent the minute by minute behavior of over 1 million employees. They'll have their scanners and cash registers all tied into a central system. The CEO can watch his realm points go up or down. He can stage events to encourage participation. He can experiment with rule changes on various shards of his empire.

And the best part? A game may be voluntary, but a job is not left so easily. In essence, you have the holy grail of MMOG at your finger tips: player lock-in.

All this is only reasonable considering the trends of technology. You could argue that I'm behind the times and it is happening right now. I, for one, welcome our game designer overlords. The world will be such a cleaner, more efficient, more predictable place. A formal system. And if I play my cards right, I can become one of the gods of this new glorious online universe.

Ah, sweet temptation...the root of all technological horrors.

take care
Danc.