I’ve never been a big online game player (the third world bandwidth here in Australia has been enough to discourage many like me). But, having observed the development of online games and the gamer communities since the early days of the internet, I can see clearly that this is a significant phenomenon. One need only to look at the size of the global games market. Here I am drawing a distinction between online games and online gaming (the latter is the online equivalent of going to the casino).
The session that I attended recently on The Future of Games: enterprises, education, social + more really got me thinking about how we can use games and games-like technology for better results in the workplace and education.
I learned new words like ‘gamification‘ and discovered that the power harnessed by computer games can also be channeled to achieve better health results or to drive changes in consumer and employee behaviour.
As a non-gamer I had never really stopped to think about this before. Although Chris Penn often writes about what he learns about business, the world and human behaviour from World of Warcraft (aka WoW) I had not generalised this thinking to the broader category of games and beyond to business and government applications.
But the mechanic of games touches on important human urges and needs in ways that other kinds of technology interactions do not. The popularity of games is not surprising when you consider, and not just hard core gamers, but games played by ordinary people (such as Farmville). One of the drivers of Facebook’s popularity has been the number of games available through its interface. My partner often plays chess on Facebook, while many other friends play word games and sudoku on a daily basis.
Consider also the millions of people – young and old – who play games on various devices everyday. No longer is the player tied to a PC or television, now the devices for playing games have gone mobile with access via mobile phones and portable games devices.
Thus with sites like Facebook we are seeing a broad majority of people being trained to use online games and to collaborate together using online tools. This new tendency has hardly been touched on in the workplace.
For many years we have struggled to get messages across at work or for public service – about important things like safety, diversity, legal compliance, health – with limited success. Admittedly our training methods were relatively primitive. Although there is a large body of work around adult education and online learning it has been a challenge to adopt these on a grand scale for workplace education. But games offer us a new channel to get these messages out more effectively.
The other part of the equation is that our customers have also been educated to use games and associated technology. This opens up new possibilities for our customer relationships. This is not to say that every brand needs to go out and develop a game (although that is probably what we can expect to see next from voracious marketers). Instead brands and products that need to drive behavioural change can leverage the repetitive nature of game play to build up that change over time. For instance, products like medications that require high levels of compliance and regularity of schedule to work properly could be tied to a game mechanic to assist consumers in achieving the full benefits of the treatment regime.
Games are not only a serious business for pleasure. They also offer significant promise for reshaping business and consumer interactions. Watch this space to grow over the next few years and expect to see various experiments of varying success as we evolve new ways of using games in mainstream business and marketing.