Running a guild or pack of players in an online game is good practise for running a real corporation – or any other leadership position. That’s the message from a report from IBM (specifically their Global Innovation Outlook).
Online games, and specifically massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), offer a glimpse at how leaders develop and operate in environments that are highly distributed, global, hyper-competitive, and virtual.
Hundreds of thousands of players — sometimes millions — interact daily in highly complex virtual environments. These players self-organize, develop skills, and settle into various roles. Leaders emerge that are capable of recruiting, organizing, motivating, and directing large groups of players toward a common goal. And decisions are made quickly, with ample, but imperfect, information. Sound familiar?
MMORPGs mirror the business context more than you would assume,” says Byron Reeves, Ph.D., the Paul C. Edwards Professor of Communication at Stanford University and Faculty Director of the Stanford Media X Partners Program. “They presage one possible future for business — one that is open, virtual, knowledge-driven, and comprised of a largely volunteer or at least transient workforce.”
Makes sense, after all. If you’re organising a raid in World of Warcraft, you need to coordinate 40 people from various time zones, whose ages range from 15 to 55, with a wild mix of skills and playing styles. You need to motivate them and get them to come together at one place and time, and to work together in a precisely coordinated way. That doesn’t happen by accident.
When you play an MMO you’re interacting, cooperating and competing with real people. There are guilds or organisations in most MMOs. Some, like EVE Online, have a phenomenally well-developed network of corporations that players can create and join.
(EVE as a virtual world is particularly complex – the uncharitable call it ‘gaming through spreadheets’. But any game where players can speculate in a futures market for virtual minerals has got to be building some pretty interesting skills. I mean, could you understand this without Financial Markets 101?)
Of course, if you lose three billion credits in EVE Online, there’s no harm done to you. The stakes in the gaming world are lower. But that doesn’t demean the value of the skills you’re gaining. On the contrary, it’s a plus. Says the IBM report:
The stakes in the real world are obviously much higher. But it’s easy to see how some of the qualities of gifted gaming leaders could translate into a corporate setting. The collaborative influence that online leaders exhibit is extraordinary in some cases. Gaming leaders are more comfortable with risk, accepting failure, and the resulting iterative improvement, as part of their reality. Many of these leaders are able to make sense of disparate and constantly changing data, translating it all into a compelling vision. And the relationship skills of the best gaming leaders would put many Fortune 500
managers to shame.
Games aren’t just training the next generation of fighter pilots and anti-terrorist cops. They might be training your boss . . . business people take note:
While these games attract players of all ages, the first generation that grew up navigating these environments is beginning to enter the workforce in earnest, and managers will need to adjust their styles accordingly. Winning in business will require enterprises to fully understand how these games are shaping the next generation of leaders and to apply those learnings to their own operations.
. . . or so says IBM. The whole report is well worth a read.