Mark Henricks is reporting live at SXSW in Austin.
Players of games like World of Warcraft and Farmville display the kind of absorption and devotion that business owners would love to inspire in their employees. What entrepreneur hasn’t dreamed of workers willing to forego eating, sleeping and other seeming essentials in order to help their business fulfill its goals?
Don’t give up hope, suggests Bing Gordon, a partner at renowned Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Gamification, which tries to transfer design elements of successful computer games to other areas of work and life, offers a realistic opportunity for almost any entrepreneur to generate near-fanatical devotion from his staff.
“Architect a company like you’d architect a game,” Gordon (pictured) told an audience at SXSW Interactive in Austin on Friday. Gordon is a video game pioneer whose resume includes key work on design and marketing of John Madden Football, The Sims and other legendary games at Electronic Arts before joining Kleiner in 2008. As a venture capitalist, his coups include leading an investment in social gaming powerhouse Zynga.
What he’s learned from all that, more than anything, is to give employees rapid feedback. Games don’t give players quarterly performance evaluations. When they mess up or dominate, they know it instantly. Gordon advises similarly ramping up the speed with which you give feedback and direction to employees. “If you're going to build a company, you have to do it like World of Warcraft guild leaders build guilds,” he says. “Have weekly calendars and weekly check-ins.”
You should also have two currencies you use to compensate employees. Salary and benefits is one. The other is related to status or another nonfinancial value system. Gordon says he learned this from a casino gaming executive. In Las Vegas or Atlantic City, that is, players get a chance to win chips that can be turned into dollars. But big spenders also get hotel room upgrades, free meals and drinks, special gaming tables and other perks that identify them as VIPs. (Get more tips on rewarding employees.)
Finally, value your gamers and the gaming mentality they bring. Today’s workers who grew up playing games are more willing to take risks without hesitation because they see failing as essential to quickly learning where success lies. “Gamers know in virtual worlds if you see a door, you always open it,” Gordon says. “They know the way to win is to play as fast as you can so you find the edges.”
The gamification of business is one of the most noticeable topics this year at SXSW Interactive, the industry’s annual gathering where past innovations have included Twitter and foursquare. Gordon thinks gamification is only in its infancy, and that traditional leaders have much to learn from what has, until recently, been regarded as at best a harmless hobby.
“Every Fortune 500 company should have a gamer in the executive suite,” Gordon says. “Game design is the new MBA. If you don’t have an MBA, play World of Warcraft instead. It's only 12 bucks a month instead of $40,000 a year, and the people are nicer.”
Photo credit: Mark Henricks