image from softsupplier.com

there has been a bit more attention paid to video games since it became a multi-billion dollar industry. and even though sales were down last year, those figures don’t include many of the emerging facets of the industry such as downloadable content (game add-ons and such) or mobile gaming (angry birds alone raked in $12m). with that much money flowing around, it’s hard to ignore it.

but what if we didn’t just analyze video games as a business and instead thought about how business can be more like a video game? jane mcgonigal gave a fantastic talk at TED in 2010 pointing out what gamers are good at, and why they spend so much time playing them. why not try shaping our businesses to engage and leverage these ‘virtuosos’ as jane calls them?

one of the great things about video games is the constant feeling of progress towards a goal. but it’s not just the progress, it’s also the measurement of that progress — many times in terms of experience points, or XP. it’s what keeps people playing. “i only need 200 more XP before i level up!” and that’s where i think we have things backwards in business today.

we like to use salary as a reward for hard work, but in considering rewards you must also consider the social implications of them. after all, as humans, we are social creatures. i don’t know why, but it seems that business often forgets about this fact. salary is nice, and financial rewards do certainly help because someone has to pay the bills. however, when you look at it, no one really knows how much another person earns. you can make assumptions based on various factors, but still, you’re never really 100% certain unless that person has told you. and when yearly performance reviews occur, and someone gets a bump in pay, it’s generally done behind closed doors with just that person and their manager. not much of a reward, if you ask me.

but when people are promoted, it’s often made public some way, and those persons are greeted by co-workers with smiles, congratulations, and handshakes (i prefer fist bumps) — all of those social things that make people feel good about themselves. but because there are so few levels for people to climb in business, it’s not a feedback mechanism that people get very often.

in games, however, it’s not uncommon to have 20 levels or more for you to strive towards. each action of yours gaining you XP, and each level up earning you more and more options and bonuses. all along the way, you discover things — in treasure chests, or getting to a hard-to-reach place, etc. — things that you can use to help you in your next quest or to make your character different from the others. why can’t we do some of the same things in business?

primary author on a deliverable: 5XP. give a presentation to the client: 10XP. go outside your workstream to help solve a problem: 20XP. speak at an industry event: 250XP. be the keynote speaker at an industry event: 500XP. all different scales of things that we do on a normal basis, we add on a measurement to, and in order to get to the next level, you have to gain enough XP. since you know how much XP it takes to get to the next level, you know exactly what you need to be doing to level up. and with each level getting progressively harder to move to the next, it’s a simple formula: if you want to level up, get the biggest XP items or be prepared to put in lot of time taking out a lot of small items. it becomes a motivator to get people to seek out industry events to speak at, or to spend time developing that new idea.

but we can’t just have the standard 4 levels ofhierarchy, we need a lot of these levels. we need 20 levels for people to strive towards because if there’s too much distance between the one they’re currently in and the next level up, they’ll just be discouraged and feel defeated; that it’s not even worth trying for. why is it that there are so many people stuck in professional levels and never make middle-management? is it because they don’t have the ability, or is it because there’s no motivation to get there, or because they feel it’s a gap too far?

constant feedback. social rewards. understanding progress towards a goal. earning things better than what’s provided by default. these are all things that make video games so appealing. these are the things that motivate us as gamers to keep picking up that controller, even when you’ve failed the mission on multiple occasions. it’s that intrinsic drive to prove our mastery, to prove that we’re capable of being that level 20, that keeps us in the game. it’s these very qualities that are blatantly missing fromcorporate life as we know it.