Generation X is the first generation to grow up with computer games rather than with board games as a means of entertainment. As the Millennials follow Generation X into the workplace the recreation habits of these groups are changing the way they do business.
There are numerous implications for business but they can be simplified into two generic areas; the impact on organisational structures and culture, and the impact on the way we lead, manage and train. Gamers bring critical skills and perspectives to companies that now operate in a rapidly changing reality.
Who Are They?
There is a common misperception that gamers are geeks with poor social and leadership skills. The reality is that gaming is so pervasive today that the young man or woman sitting close to you probably falls into the group…and they look no different from you.
John Beck & Mitchell Wade wrote a book examining the impact of gamers on the business world. In the book they described the following traits that gamers bring with them into business as a result of their gaming based worldview:
In light of these traits, companies and their leaders have two choices. They can fight against them and try to force gamers into the traditional mould, or they can roll with them and modify organisations to get the best out of gamers as employees.
South African companies need to embrace unique, gamer-friendly work environments. As the corporate world is being exposed to the gamers' virtual worlds, it will see a growing influence on how companies train and communicate.
The trend of utilising gaming in the workplace is largely driven by the rising influence and profile of virtual online worlds. These online worlds allow users to create alternate realities such as that offered by Second Life, and in a similar vein the computer game SIMS. This is a trend that is expected to continue throughout 2009 as organisations begin to recognise the merits of incorporating gaming into their basket of tools. As a universal social dynamic, computer gaming is an increasingly influential reality.
It is safe to say therefore that in the future we can expect more uptakes of the opportunities offered by these environments. There are several reasons for anticipating this; some of which are rooted in the economic experiences of late 2008 and those expected in 2009, while others are driven by the desire for innovation and competitive advantage endemic within corporate culture. The economic meltdown will continue to see companies seeking out ways to save money and extract costs out of the business.
Appealingly, virtual worlds and business simulations, built using computer gaming technology, offer significant cost savings.
An important area for the growth of virtual corporate environments is staff training. The virtualising of company training programmes will allow a company to achieve significant decreases in the cost of delivery and also the costs of supporting the training. As the environments are largely self-contained, less trainee support is required when delivering material. Furthermore, this training can be delivered directly into the person's working environment using existing internal infrastructure.
While discussions have revolved around the benefits these environments offer business, there are early adopters who critiqued the value they managed to extract from these tools. This largely because from a South African perspective, high data costs and bandwidth constraints led to early adopters experiencing issues unique to the local environment.
The lessons learnt by the early adopters will serve as ‘school fees' for the future. Companies that engage in the virtual and game-based business simulation areas will have adjusted expectations accordingly. Virtual environments will be used less for marketing and product placement, and more for global project teams and collaboration, along with a healthy dose of training activity.
In the ‘war for talent' that is being experienced in South Africa and the rest of the world, it is the professional industries that are seeing the most migration to other fields. The accounting profession has been particularly affected by this movement of employees. In this dynamic, the industry needs to capitalise on the opportunities offered by virtual worlds to harness and capture the wisdom of key talent, and establish how to integrate this wisdom into employee interactions.
In 2009, South Africa will still largely be a trend-follower rather than a trendsetter within corporate gaming. But, with the rise of innovative local companies building applications specifically for the local market, with its own unique constraints and dynamics, significant local innovation can be expected.
Raymond de Villiers is CEO, Wisdom Games