Games, Gamers and New Business Strategy

Corporate IT is making peace with social media and consumer IT and now a new challenge comes along - games

We IT people are getting over our need to control everything and we’re letting people in our companies use social media. And we agree there’s no point in continuing to resist the fact that people already have their own iPhones and iPads and Androids and netbooks and they’re going to use them whether we officially permit their use or not. But now something else is happening. 

We’re starting to hear talk about something called “gamification” as a way of increasing engagement with our company websites and people are talking about “serious games” as a way to provide training in real business skills. And we hear about massively multiplayer online role-playing games or “MMOs” like World of Warcraft or EVE Online. What is all this talk about games at a time like this? Shouldn’t we just be working harder instead?

[ I do lively presentations on this and related topics – www.MichaelHugos.com ]

The Gamers are Coming – No They’re Already Here

In 2009, the National Gamers Survey reported that 83% of the US population played video games during the year, and that includes 72% of men and women over the age of 50. A popular book called Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal tells us that 40% of gamers are women; 25% of gamers are over 50; the average gamer is 35 and has been playing for 12 years; and most gamers expect to keep playing for rest of their lives.

This year the National Gamers Survey reports that for populations aged 10-65 worldwide, with internet access, Germany has the highest proportion of active gamers, where 66% of the population are active players. Next is Mexico with 57%, Russia with 53%, UK with 52%, Brazil with 47% and USA with 42%. And China now has more gamers than the US but since their population is so large the percentage of gamers is still relatively small.

Here are some numbers from the 2011 National Gamers Survey for the US (courtesy of Newzoo). The average gamer plays games on about 4 different platforms from websites to mobile devices and PCs.

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And on any given day there are a lot of people spending a lot of time playing various different games on these platforms.

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Games are a Way for Companies to Connect with Customers and Prospects

The numbers above show that playing games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars and Café World are a major activity on social networks like Facebook. And companies are finding ways to participate in these games so as to make contact with potential customers. For instance Farmers Insurance now offers virtual services to players of Farmville; they offer a crop watering service performed by an in-game Farmer’s Insurance blimp that players can purchase with game money. 

To run with this idea a bit further, why don’t car manufacturers and auto parts and repair companies have teams on car racing sites like TrackMania where they can even create their company’s own track and racing challenge. Why don’t more physical fitness and nutrition companies have sports games like the Nike Running Game?

And why don’t those business strategy consulting companies show how good they are at building companies and devising growth strategies by creating their own companies and trading alliances in MMO games like EVE Online? McKinsey and Accenture and IBM should demonstrate their strategy skills in those games and see if they can produce the successes they claim to deliver to their clients. Or they can create their own worlds in games like World Zero and invite others to play.

Companies that do this will get good feedback. Nobody will play with them if they come off as just trying to push their products. They’ll have to figure out how to truly engage with other players. That’s what marketing folks say they should be doing anyway, right? If they can figure this out, those other players could well become customers. 

Beyond Social Media – Let’s Play Games at Work

So here’s another way for CIOs to add value to their businesses. Given those demographics quoted at the beginning of this article, lots of companies already have skilled gamers who are masquerading as mild-mannered Clark Kents and Lois Lanes during working hours (you might even be one yourself); ask around; you’ll be surprised. Find out who they are and talk to them. 

Then take a walk over to marketing and ask the CMO or one of the directors if you can buy them a cup of coffee. Explain the idea of starting a company gamer team and see what their reactions are. Tell them how it’s a great opportunity to build brand awareness and how you can start out small without a lot of money (little more than annual subscriptions for a handful of selected games - that's agile); the biggest expense will be the time of the players. 

Now tell the marketing folks that in the best interests of advancing the company’s reputation you’re going to put some IT staff on the project and let them play video games at work. You might be surprised at what happens.

[ Social technology, consumer IT and video games are blending together and changing the world - learn more - my newest book is Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business. ]

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