A recent survey of over 70 Fortune 500 CIO's identified enabling "collaboration across remote locations" as one of their significant challenges over the next 3 years. Yet, we have seen a number of different applications and technologies developed to address the problem of collaboration across a distributed workforce. Audio Conferencing, Web Conferencing, Video Conferencing, Instant Messaging, Social Software, Mobility solutions and more have all emerged as communication and collaboration apps focused on helping users collaborate across remote locations.
In most cases, these collaborative technologies have been deployed for some time and are available for today's business users. But many of these tools are under utilized by enterprise users. While some business users will never be ready or willing to adopt next generation comm & collaboration applications, I believe that most are ready... they just need to be fully engaged.
Most communication and collaboration applications are on the path to improving the overall user experience, but to engage business users it will take more than just clean interaction design or appealing visual design. Yes, understanding the job, the needs or behaviors of a business user and integrating that into the interaction flow of a collaboration application is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
To engage business users in a compelling and continuously productive collaboration experience, enterprise apps need to tap the user's individual motivation, unleash the user's curiosity and align the user's incentives, unique skills and social networks. Are there proxies for this type of engagement? Yes; in multiplayer gaming applications. A powerful example of users who are engaged in self-motivated, aligned, collaborative efforts can be found in massive, multi-player on-line games.
Today’s massive multiplayer online (MMO) games provide powerful and engaging collaboration software that appeals to the user's motivation, curiosity and social awareness. To me, they hint at important design elements for future enterprise collaboration applications. Nick Yee at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and Stanford's VHIL has focused his research on social interaction and self-representation in virtual environments. According to Yee, "..the purpose of of all video games is to train players to work harder while still enjoying it. The success of on-line games demonstrates how seductive and concealed the work treadmill can be." Imagine if you could get your work colleagues to collaborate at the same level of engagement and collaboration found in MMOs. It is coming.
Many business users in the enterprise today are playing MMO games and the numbers will increase. As a result, we should expect to see their impact on the communication & collaboration market. Just as we're seeing the social / Web 2.0 generation demand social collaboration software at work, the emerging MMO generation of business users will demand that their work experience mirror in some way the engagement and enjoyment of their gaming experience.
Games at Work are becoming serious business. A number of academic and industry researchers have been investigating how MMOs deliver both user engagement and collaborative productivity across remote or distributed locations.
By applying the insights of researchers like Jane McGonigal, Elan Lee, Sean Stewart, Nick Yee, Byron Reeves and IBM, we can draft a set of guiding principles worth considering as we envision future communication and collaboration applications in the enterprise. Let's take a quick look at the research of Jane, Byron and IBM to highlight the opportunity of engaging users through game design:
Jane McGonigal is a game designer, a games researcher, a future forecaster, and a very playful human being. Jane's research scope extends from analyzing and forecasting the "Engagement Economy" at the Institute for the Future, to helping create the genre of "Alternate Reality Games" (ARGs) that connect game worlds with the real world. Her work highlights that collaborative MMOs succeed because they offer clear boundaries, a shared problem and build a community of collaboration. Jane's vision of the "Engagement Economy" builds on her research of human engagement and behaviors of players in successful, extreme scale collaboration MMOs. Based on her research, MMO games succeed because they fully engage the user by providing:
(1) Satisfying Work to Do
(2) Experience at Being Good at Something
(3) Time spent with people they like
(4) The chance of being part of something Bigger
Byron Reeves is a Professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, and Co-Founder and Faculty Co-Director of the H-STAR Institute (Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research) and its industrial affiliate program, Media X. He is also on the Board of Directors for Seriosity - a company he co-founded with J. Leighton Reed. From the Seriosity web site:
Seriosity's mission is to change the way people work together in functions requiring a high level of collaboration, communication, and feedback in today's information-intensive business environments.
Our software products and services improve collaboration, innovation, and leadership by using game principles that create focus and motivation to align personal and corporate goals. Up to now, these design elements have been missing from traditional enterprise software applications.
We combine the best of these principles to create a synthetic economy, tailor-made for today’s information-intensive enterprise. Combined with our applications to support knowledge workers, the Seriosity solution facilitates a dynamic marketplace of ideas, attention, analysis, persuasion, and resource allocation.
IBM and Seriosity have done in depth research to understand how multiplayer online game environments in the virtual world apply to the business world to enhance productivity, innovation and leadership in a distributed world. Researchers studied people who headed up teams in online games and they also sought the insights of gamers who have led real-world business teams at IBM. Their most important finding is that getting the leadership environment right can be as important as choosing the right leader. They point out important aspects of game environments that companies might consider adopting as part of their communication and collaboration strategy.
So, what are the guiding principles of game design that we might apply to improve engagement and productivity of communication / collaboration apps for business users across the enterprise? The details can be found in the research linked here... and numerous other resources found in the fields of game theory, game design and game psychology... but here's the start of a draft list:
Guiding Principles of Game Design @ Work - DRAFT
Make it easy for collaboration leaders and business users to:
1. Define clear boundaries, shared problem(s) and a community of collaborative business users
2. Assign satisfying tasks or roles that enable business users to excel and be part of something "Bigger"
3. Build nonmonetary incentives into a game economy to strongly motivate individuals to accomplish group aims.
4. Deliver hyper- transparency of information about users' skills and teams’ real-time performance
5. Create a virtual economic marketplace for information and collaboration
6. Open multiple real-time sources of information and communication upon which to make decisions
7. Structure as a project-oriented organization that can easily be disbanded and reformed based on tasks and skills
8. Recognize individual, group and company achievements in a clear, specific way
9. Open visibility into all skills / project / social networks of communication across an organization
10. Adapt multiple, purpose-specific communications mediums to improve speed and efficiency of collaboration.
I'll continue to refine and add to this draft list of guiding principles. With a little vision, strategy and design, it is not hard to see how game design principles will be shaping the future of communication and collaboration applications.