Massively Multi-Player Serious Supply Chain Games [Online]

Video games are morphing into serious games and competitive advantages

Consider what could happen if a massively multi-player online game (like World of Warcraft or EVE Online) was used to simulate and optimize the operation of a real world business activity like managing global supply chains. Games aren’t just for kids anymore (median age of video gamers is now 35), and they aren’t just for entertainment anymore either. There is a rapidly growing category of games called “serious games” used to deliver training and skills development for real world situations.

This supply chain game would be a game with some pretty challenging dynamics. Players would need to figure out how to deliver products where and when they are needed to meet demand while at the same time minimizing inventory levels and holding down transportation and manufacturing costs. If you succeed in keeping down inventory levels and costs but fail to meet product demand, you lose. And if you always deliver the products but fail to keep the other factors under control, then your costs get out of hand and you don’t make any money. So how do people and companies learn to excel in this kind of risky business environment?

[ I do lively presentations on this and related topics - mhugos@yahoo.com ]

Learning by Trial and Error Alone is a Lot Riskier than It Used to Be

In the old days, companies had to learn mostly by trial and error, making mistakes, and hoping to learn fast enough so they didn’t go out of business before they got good at what they did. But the learning curve is much steeper now. The rising costs of fuel oil and other raw materials are forcing companies around the world to rethink and redesign the supply chains built up over the last 25 years (IDC Supply Chain Predictions 2010). Supply chains must continually adjust as prices and product demand forecasts change. With profit margins so thin and markets evolving so quickly, learning by trial and error alone is an increasingly risky proposition.

Suppose companies could use a simulation game that provided a map of the world and on that map, companies working together in a supply chain could draw in their factories, warehouses, retail stores, and draw in the transportation routes such as roads, railways, and harbors that connect those locations. Figure 1 is a conceptual diagram of this idea. Then suppose companies could also define the production volumes of the factories, storage capacity of the warehouses, and movement capacity of the different modes of transportation. And finally, suppose they could associate operating costs with each facility and each mode of transportation.

As the players in this massively multi-player online game collaborated to design effective supply chains to respond to changing conditions, the game would constantly keep track of the operating characteristics of the supply chains that were created and the players could select those designs that provided the best results. And then once that supply chain was in operation, the game itself would collect live data feeds from the actual facilities and parties in the supply chain and display real time status of ongoing operations. This would be a powerful inter-company collaboration platform hosted in the cloud. It would always be on and available from anywhere. It would be a serious game whose object would be for its players to monitor and manage their supply chains so as to best respond to changing business conditions.

Figure 1.

Supply Chain Map

Games Support Collaborative Decision-Making

Then imagine a real time flow of data that showed inventory levels on hand at each location and in transit as well as forecasted product demand at each of the retail stores. Now you have a game. The simulation gaming software allows people to try different combinations of factories and warehouses and transportation modes for different products. People can see if a given combination will deliver enough products to the retail stores to meet projected demand and people can see the operating costs associated with each combination.

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