Massively Multiplayer Online Games as Business Collaboration Platforms

Massively multiplayer online games are pushing the envelope in technology and player engagement - they point the way to business collaboration systems in the not too distant future

One of the fastest growing trends in  video games is  where multiple players play together. Players are not as interested in competing one-to-one as they are in forming guilds or corporations with other players and working together to accomplish common goals. Collaboration may be more powerful than competition. And these games are setting standards for what business collaboration platforms could soon look like. 

As these games enable larger and larger groups of simultaneous players to cooperate and work together in real-time, they become what are known as “massively multiplayer online role-playing games” or MMOs for short. On any popular MMO tens of thousands of simultaneous players from around the world work together to plan and carry out challenging and complicated missions. Corporate collaboration software is tame and boring by comparison. Ready or not, MMOs are going to change the game of business collaboration.

[ I’m doing a talk at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 5 titled “Running Supply Chains is Like a Massively Multiplayer Online Game ]

MMO as Model for a Real Time Collaboration Platform

A popular MMO that is also closely aligned with actual business practices is EVE Online so it makes a good case study for how MMO technology and practices can be applied to solve problems in the business world. Technology from an MMO like EVE can provide companies with a real-time collaboration platform to address the challenges of working with extended value chains in our real-time global economy.

EVE is a highly realistic 3D virtual world in that it accurately simulates the laws of physics (such as gravity, mass and motion) and the laws of economics (such as supply and demand and market prices). Within the constraints of these laws players are free to do whatever they wish and interact with other players as they see fit. Players take on the roles of miners, traders, pilots, engineers and corporate executives (EVE home screen is shown below). Situations in the game evolve as a result of the combined actions of all the players; nothing is pre-scripted by the game. This world is an “unscripted, emergent experience” that comes about through the actions of the players – just like the real world. 


(Screenshot courtesy of EVE Online)

Note the three bold titles at the bottom of the screen: Career Options; Working with Others; and Massive Community. How is this different from what you would see on the home page of any global corporation today? 

Overcoming Obstacles and Issues to get Things Done

The game dynamics of EVE start with the constraints imposed by the limited availability of raw materials which are mined in the asteroid fields scattered through the EVE universe. The big money in the game comes from controlling the sources of raw materials and protecting the transport ships and building and operating processing and manufacturing facilities. The pictures below show an engineer in a manufacturing facility designing a spaceship and a warship escorting a convoy of transport ships.

Almost 95% of every item from clothing to spaceships and processing plants in EVE is made by the players from scratch and sold through EVE’s economic market system. Players form corporations to mine and transport natural resources and to design, build and sell products. Corporations form alliances with other corporations to compete for economic and military success. As players interact, other dynamics of the real world are also manifested in this virtual world, dynamics like psychology, sociology, politics and culture. This is very much like the real world.


(Screenshots courtesy of EVE Online)

In EVE, as in many MMOs, the action that occurs when players compete is almost as realistic and fast-paced as the battle sequences in the serious games used by military organizations. Battles in EVE are often the clash of large fleets of warships of different sizes and capabilities. Players operating the different space ships must coordinate with other players in their fleet and use battle tactics that combine capabilities of the ships available to win against the opposing forces. 

Heads-Up Displays and Other Technology

Business intelligence and analytics software has something to learn from games and from MMOs in particular. MMOs use well designed heads-up displays that combine data analysis with group collaboration capabilities. This is illustrated below in screenshots showing two of the heads-up displays used by players flying spaceships in a battle. Note how they use moving 3D displays to present information from real-time data feeds provided by the game. 

In addition to the moving 3D displays in the center of the screens, notice the other information shown around the edges of the screens. There are dials and readouts with relevant data, and thumbnail displays showing their status and the actions of other players they are collaborating with. To supplement these visual displays, players also communicate with each other moment to moment using text messages via chat features and Internet-based voice messages that can be directed to individual players or the entire group through headphones and microphones.  


(Screenshots courtesy of EVE Online)

Process dynamics from MMOs such as EVE Online are creative examples for how to design systems to support operations and enable collaboration. Does the example of EVE give you ideas for how companies can engage people and drive collaboration across their value chains by using rich data displays and player communication in real-time?

Gamification” is something you’ll hear a lot about this year. Companies are starting to use common video game techniques such as points, badges and leaderboards to make their websites more interactive and reward people for their contributions. But this is just a start.

MMOs point the way to a much deeper application of game dynamics in business. 

[ Learn more  – games are as powerful a model for organizing knowledge and creative work today as the assembly line once was for organizing industrial and repetitive work - my newest book is Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business.]


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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