I like games. I’ve been playing them since forever, and I’ve never really stopped.

As the technology has changed, the medium I’ve played in has changed over the years too.  From a child running around playing hide and seek,  to board games, to Space Invaders and on to the Spectrum (48k for those that remember) and on to swathe of popular consoles such as the Sega’s, Nintendo 64’s  and the first Playstation, then to PC’s.

Then finally, the advent of online games…

Boom! That was me sucked in and lost forever. Off  with me to the worlds of Project Gotham,  Counter-strike, Battlefield, Dirt, Gran Turismo, Halo, and countless others.  And for the largest part, I never really gave a moments thought about examining what it was that kept me coming back for more.

But, over the past few years I started to look  a little more carefully at what makes gaming so engaging. What is it that keeps you motivated to improve your skills, work better with your team, think harder about how you can all Capture the Flag together?

And that inescapable  feeling of “I’ll just try one more time…”

Here’s the thing that I find interesting. The principles behind good game design encourage the players t0 improve their skill,  their  teamwork, their collaborative planning and their joint persistence in achieving a shared goal.

So, can these principles be applied to other areas, such as say – work?

In a way, some have already been applied. As long as recognition for individuals and their achievements in the workplace has existed, so has ‘Gamification’ – the method of employing game mechanics to encourage  productivity. Albeit unwittingly.

But,  traditionally its always been at a fairly rudimentary level, such as individuals achieving and amassing  points/scores/kudos.  The totted up score results in metaphoric pats to the head for those individuals that are perceived do well, and less happy metaphorical experiences for those individuals that are not.

Here’s the good news.  Business/work focused collaboration tools are following where gaming technology has led. We now have the ability to collaborate, share ideas and effort in the achievement of a business goal, as opposed to Capturing a Flag.  And many forward looking organisations are actively looking to implement these tools and encourage employees to use them, both internally using things like IBM Connections, as well as externally, like Twitter/LinkdIn etc.

But here is the dichotomy, and the sound of the other shoe dropping.  Typical organisations that seek to look to the future and implement these social tools, will be enabling and encouraging employees to collaborate  together as a fluid team as never before,  in the achievement of each others goals. Resulting in a collective WIN! for the organisation.

However, the culture of  recognising those achievements, is still going to be lagging behind, and focused at an individual level. Where each  individuals achievements will be totted up and compared to all the other individual scores on the big work scoreboard, in a very large, very real competition.

So on the one hand we have the tools and the need to change the culture of large organisations to encourage collaboration between individuals, in the achievement of each others goals, for the collective good of the organisation. But on the other, the recognition of those same achievements will be focused at the individual level, with competition to drive each individual  to have more achievements than anyone else.

How does that work?

The difference becomes even more apparent if we try a thought experiment. Say we popped into a time machine and went back a couple of thousand years to Rome, back when corporate culture was first born. We then managed to corner an employee of a corporation and  tried to explain all  the ways that in the 21st century, employees could collaborate together to collectively achieve goals at work. It would sound like magic, and that’s if they were even able to grasp the  fundamental concepts.  But if you explained how corporate culture recognised those achievements, he would probably say ‘Yeah. Same thing happens where I work chief’.

There does seem to be a bit of a gap between the way corporate culture encourages employees to achieve goals and the way in which it recognises and rewards them.

To be far this gap also existed in gaming  (and in some cases still does) when online collaborative games first appeared.  In fact, the problem was spookily similar.  Let’s say we have an online game  between two teams. The goal of each team, is to defend/attack a position that is held by the opposing team. To achieve this goal, the members of each team should work together seamlessly, which they do using the collaborative tools they have at their disposal. Here is the problem, a term phrased as Kill Stealing.

Check it out. Sound familiar?

Effectively, it’s where a sub-group within a team end up working together  (by chance or design) to bring down a single enemy, but because of the poor game recognition system, only one of the group will  end up being rewarded for doing so.  This  gap between achievement and recognition, led to all sorts of problems. Gamers who despite being on the same team, would effectively work in isolation , or worse still,  some gamers would even keep tabs on other team members (using the collaborative tools), and choose the right moment to swoop in and steal their kill (and the achievement) at the last second. At the end of the game, all the players scores where totted up and ranked with kudos and praised bestowed upon the high ranking players and loserdom bestowed upon lower ranking ones.

So, how can the workplace game model evolve in the same way that the online game model did? Wouldn’t be great if  organisations could learn from the lessons from the gaming community, and  benefit from the  productivity and creativity that our technologically accellerated social culture brings?

Well, in the same way that gamers defined what the problem was in their community  and then crucially defined solutions to solve it, maybe large organisations can follow suit?  So, instead of large scale culture change being pushed top down (which often has less than awesome consequences), the gamers (employees) attempt to nudge in organic changes the culture themselves.

For example. Next week at work we are having some collective fun in the guise of a project to help our gamers become more familiar with tools that will help make life a bit easier. To drive it, we are using the vehicle of a game, along with all of its mechanics with prizes and rewards and kudos. The difference is, that we are actively encouraging collaboration with each other. Encourage and recognise the creation and promotion of information that will help others complete the game, rewarding those that enable others, no matter who actually finishes first or last.

Effectively, we will be solving a ‘crime’ and rewarding those that identify the perpetrator, but with the focus on collaboration and sharing of information. So if you are new to the game, pick up handy hints from others and achieve the result quickly, more power to you. If you are one of those who created the content, that enabled the others to achieve the goal quickly by sharing on forums, blog posts and status updates…well you’re awesome and you will be seen for being just that.

It’s a largish type of ‘game’, and it goes on for two weeks. I’ll let you know how it turns out.