I’m hired as a consultant for a global positioning system (GPS) firm, helping it make the shift from primarily military clients to a more commercial market.
After pinpointing the company’s problems and mapping some core strategies, I make the move: find the biggest troublemaker and fire his ass. Yet when I’m done, nobody has to leave the office that day gripping a cardboard box of plants and broken dreams.
I’ve just been playing ExperienceChange, a training video game made by Toronto-based developers ExperiencePoint, who create business simulations like this one for companies like GE, Bell Canada, even the U.S. Navy. During a typical session, which takes the place of a seminar or training day, the client’s managers will come in and compete in a scenario. And competition is everything.
“Games like this really depend on the type-A personalities we see in the business world,” says James Chisolm, co-founder of ExperiencePoint. “When a group of executives get together, they like nothing better than to rub in how well they fared, and that really ups the emotional engagement people have. They don’t want to fail. They don’t want to be the last team coming in at the end of the day.”
The business of business games is booming. An average session with ExperiencePoint can cost $7,000 a day, more if you’re looking for something customized. The games are fairly simple: a point-and-click top-down view of a cube farm, with an emphasis on communication with the employees before setting plans in motion.
But it wasn’t always this way. Video-game-based learning is a concept people are just now coming around to.
“There’s a lot more research in the area of gaming and learning, and the whole video game movement has become mainstream. The industry – folks like Electronic Arts, Sony – is looking beyond entertainment at organizations like ours, trying to understand what the world’s going to look like 10 years from now.”
ExperiencePoint is part of a larger trend called serious games – those that use the video game format for purposes other than breaking speed limits or blasting robots. Common examples include flight simulators for pilots and interactive marketing in ads on websites. You can bet on the market for serious games in education getting bigger.
“Video games allow you to get instant feedback on decisions. We try to base situations on the real world while drawing as direct a line as we can between cause and effect. When somebody makes a decision, we want it to be clear right away whether it was a good decision or a bad one.”
While educational games may still seem counterintuitive, everyone knows that you learn best by doing. And learning is a natural fit for gamers, too, accustomed as we are to skipping the instruction manual and jumping right in.
Anyone who’s tried Portal, last season’s physics-friendly puzzler, knows that it teaches you how to play in its early levels before letting you loose on the real mindbenders. Taking this method into the workplace could be the next logical step.
Companies like ExperiencePoint create a safe arena for junior executives to butt heads without burning millions of dollars. Seems like a fair, if not quite exact, replica of the corporate world. What their games are missing are the low-ball tactics, the dirt that creates a real-life simulation.
First, you should be hepped up on coffee. Maybe sleep-deprived, too, and there should probably be some sort of family trouble, cuz you’re not home that much. Do the people in this game have their own personal crises? If not, there should be a tactic that lets you slowly strip away their power and self-respect until they leave. Then save time on lobbying the government for contracts by sliding them some sweet graft instead.
Does management in video games lead to management in the real world? Once these business simulations are unleashed in the wider world, basement executives and armchair moguls will be budget-slashing and downsizing on the streets. And if you’re good, there’ll be cake.