How World Of Warcraft Could Change The Workplace

Stanford University communications professor Byron Reeves talks to The Washington Post about how the collaborative online model of games like World of Warcraft can help change real world workplaces and empower better leaders.

Reeves is the co-author of Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the Way People Work and Businesses Compete. With a title that long and involved, you know he has to be an authority of the subject of plumbing virtual worlds for ways to enhance our workplace interactions, so you should listen to what the man says.


As a once-rabid MMO player, I've often marveled at the difference between the way large video game guilds work and how your average office operates. I would spend hours online with people from all over the world, with one or two leaders flawlessly orchestrating the actions of 25 to 40 different individuals, none of whom had ever met in person.

Then I'd go into my old graphic design job the next day to find that four people sitting within a 20 foot square office couldn't collaborate without some sort of miscommunication, clashing personalities, or inter-office politics getting in the way.

So why not adopt a virtual office, as Reeves suggests? We could create our own avatars, raid important projects for experience points, gain special equipment for particularly good work - it would be a fun and engaging way to work.

It's something I could see cropping up in the near future, as new bosses come to power and the older ones retire. Many employers still can't imagine managing employees who aren't directly in front of them, much less trust them to be productive when they're a hundred miles away from the office.

It'll happen.

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On Leadership: How video games build leaders [The Washington Post - thanks Riddilem!]


I see a lot of people pointing out what they seem to think are flaws in this argument, but I believe some of you are missing the point it's getting at.

Participating in end-game events in MMOs can instill you with a lot useful skills that you may otherwise not obtain. Some of the comments have mentioned how skills gained in MMOs don't accurately represent those found in the workplace because people want to play games, but not everyone wants to be at their jobs. However, this is precisely the reason why said abilities can be gained and applied in the workplace. It's the same concept as Edutainment.

Now, before I go on, here's a bit about info myself. I used to be the Guild Leader of a very successful WoW guild (one of the best in the world mind you, not your average raid guild). With that said, let me tell you what I've learned and how they're effective in a work environment:

Managing Schedules: Raids need people to be full. And not just random bodies, but the right amount of people who fill the alloted role. As a Guild or Raid leader, it's your obligation to make sure everything fits together. And unlike a job where people will show up for their paycheck, you can't always guarantee that Joe Somebody will ditch his plans Saturday night to make it to your raid.

It's a complicated process, making sure you're going to have the right people when you need them. Just like a retail manager needs to make sure he has a few extra stock workers on days when truck shipments arrive, or to have someone fill a position when someone is off sick or on vacation. "But Kanji", you say. "Any dummy can look at schedules and switch a couple people around to fill in the blanks!". Don't worry my friend. MMOs can teach you a lot more skills than this.

The Right Man for the Job: For most raiding guilds, there's an application process. One would say it's even like applying for a job! And while some guilds are just happy with a competent person who doesn't die, advanced leaders look for a number of criteria under very close scrutiny. I've interviewed potential applicants for well over an hour before, critiquing their answers and judging the way they speak.

Learning how to pick apart the good from the bad is an essential process in hiring new employees. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The more you go through this process, the better you learn to read people and in the end you'll benefit by having a skilled body of workers.

Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em: Everybody hates being the axeman, but somebody's gotta do it. Because of this, you learn how to weigh the pros and cons of an individual's worth. Do the skills they bring outweigh the negative influence they have? Adversely, is it worth keeping a nice guy around if they don't carry their own weight?

It really forces you to make tough decisions, especially in high-end guilds where "being friends" and "having fun" takes a backseat to "having a productive raid to kill stuff with" (and telling your friend you can't raid with him because it's srs bsns and he's not good enough to kill pixels is a pretty hard point to make sometimes for people who don't understand hardcore raiding). In addition to this, it also teaches you how to handle it in a mature and respectable fashion. No one likes to be responsible for this burden, but being prepared and ready to handle it is a valuable asset.

Communication is Key: One of the biggest things you gain by raiding in MMOs is learning to communicate. While this may not seem like a big deal, let me ask you: Who is more effective at getting their voice heard and point across: Bush or Obama? . . . Exactly.

It's important to quickly and effectively convey your ideas or ideals to the group of people you're trying to lead and in a manner that they understand. For the followers, it teaches you how to speak up, have your voice heard. To give you an idea of how effective this can be, I've met people who've overcome their social anxiety by learning to communicate with others in their guild. It's a very powerful tool, and communication is important, not just for work, but in every facet of life.

Follow the Leader: While all the above skills can be attributed to being a good leader, I'd also like to single out the personal element. Some would say a good leader is a calm, calculating robot. An emotionless entity who does what's required for success. Others might say a good leader is a cool guy. Someone whose more of a friend than they are a superior. Well, they're both right.

The more you lead, the more you learn to utilize not one, but both these entities into an effective powerhouse: One that everyone likes, but also one that they know not to take lightly, least they suffer the consequences. Whether you're leading a raid through Icecrown Citadel or workers on a job, being a person that people both like and respect will help immensely.

Can't We All Just Get Along?: Just like it's good to be a leader people will like, it's just as important to have an enjoyable environment for them to participate in. While some of you may raid exclusively with your pals, some guilds do not afford that luxury. Especially those more concerned with skill than personal satisfaction. Believe me when I say that all my raiders definitely did not get along.

Thus, you learn to do the best with what you can. Resolving personal conflicts and making sure everyone plays nice, even if they don't always see eye to eye. By creating such an environment, you'll have a lower turnover rate because people enjoy the group they raid with / place they work at. Not only this, but you'll also have more people willing to put forth 110% as opposed to logging out when it's quittin' time.

Weight of the World: As you've noticed if you're reading this far, MMOs can teach you a lot of skills. However, it's hard for any one man to carry it all by himself. The last on my list is also one of the most important: Establishing a foundation for everything to work. You need to know that when you're offline or can't make a raid, things will still go smoothly.

Applying the skills above, you learn who you can trust and who is most appropriate for handling certain task. People who can run things when you're not there. Building an effective foundation is the most important part of keeping a structure standing. Anyone who has raided for any length of time has probably seen a guild or two that has fallen apart over ridiculous and inane reasons, but with a strong base for support, it removes a lot of the smaller elements that can cripple others.

In closing:

I'm sure after reading all of this, some people will have some counter-arguments. "Anyone can learn about those skills." or, "Only 1 out of ~30ish people is a raid leader. Not all of those skills apply to everyone".

To point 1, learning and doing are two different things. Just because you past the written exam for your Driver's License doesn't mean you can drive. It mean you know how to drive, but not that you are effective at it. Actively practicing these leadership skills while being in charge of a large group of individuals will allow you to apply your knowledge and actually become an effective leader.

For point 2, almost all of the above skills have some use to everyone, even if you're not the Guild Leader. No.1 teaches you how to keep your schedule in line. No.2 teaches you how to make a good resume/application and handle yourself well under the pressure of an interview. So on and so forth. Just do a bit of reworking and you'll see how these skills can be applied to a lot more people than just the guy running the show.

Anywho, this post has gone on for way too long, and I thank you if you've managed to read this far. I just wanted to enlighten everyone as to how MMOs can have a positive benefit on people and not just make them slaves with a digital addiction.