UC Berkeley School of Information

Why Do We Have to Pay People to Work? (J. Leighton Read)

April 29, 2010

Have you ever watched someone deeply engaged in a video game and performing a highly complex but completely artificial task with incredible competence? Could that focus and attention be bottled and used for something serious? We're convinced it can. In the world of collaboration taking place in the online role-playing games, every day (and night) tens of thousands of teams of 5 to 100's of people from multiple time zones, countries and cultures, each with different and highly complementary skills self-assemble around extremely challenging goals. This sounds a lot like the new world of global business collaboration. The psychological principles and affordances found in MMOs have much to teach us about teamwork, leadership, innovation, urgency, and incentives. To be clear, we are not talking about just using games for training and simulation, although these are wonderful applications. We expect a range of uses that range from borrowing a few of the key psychological ingredients from great games like World of Warcraft that will make the workplace more interesting all the way to the full Monty: re-engineering entire jobs so that workers become their avatars, building transparent and persistent reputations for tackling graded challenges with teammates inside a virtual online world as part of a compelling narrative. If this sounds fantastic, it is worth noting that tens of millions of MMO players are already carrying out tasks inside their games that look exactly like the kinds of information work that companies have to pay people to do! Because business today is dependent on voluntary creativity and collaboration of workers using their tacit knowledge, ignoring game inspired design principles is a huge missed opportunity. Games offer powerful tools for creating alignment, performance and engagement. And like any powerful technology, they can be dangerous if the implications for stakeholders aren't thoughtfully considered.

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