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Making Work More Like EVE Online

IBM ponders how enterprises can be rewired to be more like games, particularly massively multiplayer online games like fantasy-themed World of Warcraft.

In Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining, writer Jack Torrance hammers home the need for recreation. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," he types and types and types, as if to underscore his need for some rest and relaxation.

This assumes that work is soul-crushing tedium and play is liberating pleasure. It's a generalization, no doubt, but one that reflects the mundane, rote nature of many workplace activities.

Recently, IBM and collaboration software maker Seriosity issued a study that ponders how enterprises can be rewired to be more like games, particularly massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) such as fantasy-themed World of Warcraft or sci-fi themed EVE Online.

The reason to even consider such a thing is that games are engaging, unlike, say, cold calling sales leads or corporate meetings.

Some even believe games are beneficial. A recent survey of IBM's internal gaming community, which includes more than 200 gamers, found that nearly half believe game playing is improving their leadership ability in the real world and that four in 10 say they've applied MMOG leadership techniques to be lead more effectively at work.

(For IBM, it's no doubt a relief to find that its game-related technology, which powers games like EVE Online, is making better managers out of the gamers employed by its corporate customers. The alternative, that IBM is distributing weapons of mass distraction to game companies and ruining worker productivity, wouldn't do much for sales.)

"One hundred million Americans played a computer or video game last week," the study points out. It notes that in games, the "hours fly by for people engaged in online interactions, stealing time from relationships, television, and work, and providing alternative environments to meet people, learn a skill, and even get paid. Could real work ever be as much fun?"

Despite the evident subtext that games are "stealing time" from supposedly more legitimate activities like staring glassy-eyed into the TV, the question is a fair one: Can work be play?

"It may need to be," the report suggests. "Young people entering the workforce may show greatest interest in experiences that allow serious interactions to parallel playful ones."

The study argues that games can teach lessons about organizational leadership and how to manage distributed workforces, even as it acknowledges that "we should be cautious about the applicability of games to serious work."

Jason Schripsema, CEO of SolarBOS and a player of EVE Online, is similarly circumspect in his assessment of the lessons that games can teach workers. "I don't know if there are a lot of direct takeaways," he said. "There's some stuff you can learn from the game. The biggest one would be maximizing the use of your time and your money."

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