There are dozens of articles out there about how technology has impacted the gaming industry.
This is no surprise to anybody: We all know that technology for video games has improved since the days of Galaga and Centipede.
The better, maybe more important perspective in the gaming/technology relationship is to investigate it from the other way around: how gaming has progressed technology. Because it has had a profound impact: Gaming has positively influenced business innovation, become a force for improved communications, and it certainly has had its hand in organization theory as well.
Gaming Theory and Business Innovation
There is a strong theory that gaming has done some serious good, that elements of the artificial reality experienced in the multiplayer gaming environment have benefits that may be useful in other environments, like business. The playful organization which is the gaming environment is, in fact, a new variation of human organization and a new dimension of organizational culture. And there are shades of this playful organization that can be seen in new collaboration technologies for the business environment.
In gaming, the emphasis of individual merit is placed on individual contribution. The online gaming environment cloaks all participants in a veil of equality. Your value as a player is judged strictly on merit: what you contribute is what’s important and all that people see. It does not take much of a leap of thought to see how this organization of persons in the virtual gaming environment can be applied to a business environment, and the proof of this can be found in the new collaboration technologies that are emerging. Cisco’s Webex division is brandishing a full line of collaborative software products called Teams, Meetings, and Training, allowing for participants to all be in an environment of equality. All contributors have easier access to communicate with each other from whatever smart device they have handy. The inventive thought that will advance the innovative product or service is now given the emphasis. That’s good for business, and it happened in gaming first.
Gaming Theory and Business Communication
There is history of business enterprise communication solutions coming from observation of gaming behaviors. Fairly early in the era of online gaming, inventive minds seeking technology solutions for business communications looked to the gaming world for inspiration. Game enthusiast and blogger Keith Stuart in his article Gamer Communities: The Positive Side observes:
…researchers at Xerox PARC learned about virtual environments and information spaces through observing MUD players – the PARC’s Jupiter project led to new ways of thinking about online collaboration for global businesses. But something more important was also happening – people were sharing ideas and interests in MUD space, and as they have done in countless online multiplayer games ever since…
In short, virtual gaming environments were studied for collaborative possibilities for the sake of improving production, but what was maybe more important was that people were simply communicating more effectively, making for meaningful bonds between individuals. This, too, has wonderful application for the business and industrial world, where we all spend about a third of our lives.
Gaming Theory and Business Organization
If you are a gamer you know that part of the fun of gaming is that you are in an environment that is very free. Access is free in that you can enter and exit at any time. Participants are free to choose and develop their roles. There is freedom to accept and confer leadership… and leadership is key to organizations.
Many theories on leadership have been tested out in the virtual gaming environment, and other theories have been developed from it. Bottom line, however, leadership in the gaming world has been grounded strictly in the value of the leadership provided. Gaming is at the epicenter of new approaches to business technology for better business leadership structures.
Yet part of the good of the Gaming Theory approach to business organization is that it allows for fluid structures… therefore, there is little to no rigidity or hierarchy. The summer intern can contribute a great idea just as well as a senior partner, and get credit for it. The office can include the joys of personal life, all while remaining highly productive. In his thesis Towards Playful Organizations: How online gamers organize themselves (and what organizations can learn from them), Harald Jan Gerrit Warmelink notes:
The playful organization needs to have [Information and Communication Technologies] with which all employees can discuss potentially interesting opportunities. The organization also needs to have an outlet for teachability and conviviality. It needs ICTs to enable employees to ask for and offer help at any time, and to talk about their lives openly and humorously as a form of escaping their roles and the potentially negative consequences of their actions. Moreover, the organization needs to be open to conviviality to allow employees to become and stay close-knit. In turn becoming and staying close-knit reinforces the values of agility, equality and teachability.
If you have been deliberating whether the expense of collaboration software would be worth it for your business, and whether it would invite a new approach to conducting business that might be worthwhile, I want to encourage you that you might find it a liberating experience to you and your whole team. The philosophy that back this new approach is, truly, the philosophy that there are no small parts or roles in the game of business. The collaboration technologies that have largely developed under the influence of gaming theory might broaden access to all of your employees and contributors to have an improved voice and influence, making business better in every conceivable way.