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Gaming Technology And Business IT Begin To Meld

The two worlds have a lot to learn from each other as businesses try to make applications more fun, and game developers learn how to manage large projects.

Games are serious business, and business is a serious game. There's always been some crossover between frivolous entertainment and cutthroat commerce, but advances in user interfaces, graphics, interactivity, and visualization technologies, as well as the need to manage the complexities of modern game development, have brought the two worlds together.

Businesspeople and entertainers have a lot to learn from each other. "It goes both ways," says Edward Castronova, an associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University who studies the video game industry. Not only is the industry maturing and adopting the tools and techniques of software development from the business world, he says, but insights from gaming and virtual worlds are changing business.

Game companies, says Castronova, have figured out how to entertain people when what they're doing looks tedious. "A lot of times, the things that gamers do, when you look over their shoulders, look like rote work, pushing the same sequence of buttons 10,000 times," he says.

Game playing in the Army

Game playing in the Army
In other words, playing games often looks a lot like office work. But unlike gamers, office workers are seldom found hunched over their keyboards at 3 a.m., too engrossed to log off. Businesses could benefit if they find ways to use game technology to make repetitive work more entertaining, whether it's by introducing a more interactive way of accomplishing tasks or adding a competitive element to work.

The eroding distinction between work and play reflects the reality that, these days, work happens at the office--and everywhere else, too. It also reflects the expectations of a generation of workers that grew up with computer games. The changing demographics of the workplace are increasing the role of game technology in business, says David Milliken, founder of Blueline Simulations, a research firm focused on corporate gaming and a reseller of business-oriented simulations.

Bland, menu-driven training simulations have long been a part of computerized workplaces. But such tools are too simple today, Milliken argues. "If you grew up playing The Sims, that's not going to be enough for you," he says.

Play To Learn

Many of the lessons from gaming have shown up first in training and E-learning applications, says Bjorn Billhardt, CEO of E-learning vendor Enspire Learning. Companies initially saw learning-oriented simulations as a way to cut the cost of classroom teaching. But while costs dropped, so did retention of the information being taught. E-learning, essentially, was a bore. "Games and simulations are a way to better engage people," Billhardt says. (See "Gap Embraces E-Learning".) Enspire develops E-learning programs for businesses and lists several dozen companies as clients. One program, called Executive Challenge, places managers in teams and gives them a virtual company to lead. Players are promoted and demoted based on the decisions they make, and they're tested on leadership skills, teamwork, and their ability to make the company successful.

While the business world has only just begun to think about engaging the 36-and-under set, Milliken says the military is investing heavily in games. That makes sense, given that the typical recruit is a teenager.

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