Gamers, it turns out, aren’t just wasting away their lives online.
Skills needed to effectively lead in a globalized business environment are apparently the same that millions of gamers are developing in the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as the World of Warcraft, Everquest and Lord of the Rings. And companies seeking competitive advantage in the marketplace might be well served by learning a lesson or two from game leaders.
These are some of the findings of two recent research studies from IBM Corp., brought out in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Palo Alto-based software start-up Seriosity.
The research team captured some 50 hours of online gameplay from five different games, reviewed 173 anonymous online surveys of gamers and conducted interviews with 10 gaming leaders. Some 214 managers at IBM who played games were studied as part of an effort to understand what aspects of gaming can be applied to businesses.
The study says transparent environments created in online games make leadership easier to assume. Online gam-es give leaders the freedom to fail, and experiment with different approaches and techni-ques, something that any firm that hopes to innovate needs to understand, says the study.
Executives in India, too, see similarities between skills adopted by gamers and its application in business environment. “Dynamic online business simulations exercises can be successfully applied in bus-iness,” says R. Raghuram, director, human resources, Asia Pacific staffing and mobile devices India, Motorola Inc.
Nearly 50% of the gamers surveyed believed that playing online multiplayer games improved their real-world leadership capabilities and around 75% of them believed that the tools used in the games to collaborate and connect could be applied to enhance leadership effectiveness for the globally integrated enterprise, the study said.
JUST PLAY ON (Graphic)
“The three basic skills, competitiveness, strategy and leadership, required in MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) are very much needed in businesses too,” says Rohit Sharma, chief operating officer, Zapak Digital Entertainment Ltd. “In fact, playing these games can help hone leadership capabilities.”
Experts say that as corporate leaders find themselves operating in more virtual environments, many of the tools and capabilities used by game lea-ders become more applicable.
“If you want to see what business leadership will look like in three to five years, look at what’s happening in online games,” wrote Byron Reeves, the Paul C. Edwards Professor of Communication at Stanford and co-founder of Seriosity as part of the study. That’s because massively multiplayer online games enable thousands of players to interact, compete and collaborate with one another in real time. Players must make rapid-fire decisions based on multiple and constantly shifting inputs.
Given the increasing importance of developing leadership skills, companies such as Motorola India encourage their top and middle management to engage in business simulation exercises.
“We have used business simulation exercises both offline and online and they have proved to be effective in bringing in high business awareness,” says Raghuram.
“The simulation exercises enable understanding of strategy and tactics and also the right balance between short-term and long-term deliverables.”
The multiplayer games market represents a growing business that, according to the research and consulting firm TowerGroup, will touch 40 million people and generate over $9 billion in revenue by 2010. The number of gamers in India is also growing at a considerable pace though data is hard to obtain.
“At Zapak, gamers in the age group of 20-30, mostly comprising professionals, have been growing at 15-20%,” says Sharma. But multiplayer games are yet to take off in a big way. There are only a few multiplayer games such as A3 and Ragnarok, hosted by Level Up Games, available in India.
“But all that is set to change,” predicts Sharma. “In the next 10-18 months, the gaming space will see the launch of many massive multiplayer games. We are going to launch two in the next month.”
Some management consultants, however, say gaming environment doesn’t fully apply to businesses.
For instance, games offer very fast feedback. If an experiment fails, players can communicate and analyse the situation, devise a new strategy and try again at a very low cost. This is not true in a business environment, they say. In fact, the toughest management problems arrive when there is a long lag time between effort and result.
“Small teams working on short-term, straightforward projects can probably benefit from (multiplayer games) leadership,” says John Boddie, senior associate, Innosight Asia Pvt. Ltd, a Singapore-based management consulting firm. “Complex, longer-term projects requiring more staff or resources demand managers who can operate in environments with less feedback and more unpredictability.”
(Rahul Bhatia in Mumbai contributed to this story.)