Why video games are the future of business and women are getting on board
Gaming is reaching a new audience in the business world, where it functions as a superb training and operations tool. In videogames, employers are also finding exercises for brainstorming and collaboration as well as performance evaluation. The trend is palpable and growing.
Women are increasingly eager to ride the game wave. Many find gaming helps them increase their comfort level with technology and assist their career advancement. "The average age of gamers in the U.S. is 35," says Phaedra Boinidiris, founder of WomenGamers.com and product manager for IBM's Serious Games Group. "In fact, 38 per cent of console gamers and 43 per cent of PC gamers are women. The stereotype of a gamer as a 14-year-old boy couldn't be further from the truth."
Entertainment Arts' Sims empire, which has been thriving since 2000, and the blockbuster Nintendo Wii have played a large role in luring women to the challenge, changing the perception of games and the way developers create content. Pauline Moller, SVP and studio general manager of the EA Sports division, an industry leader, says being even a casual gamer uniquely positions her to help the company expand its portfolio of games.
As women are increasingly drawn into the realm of console and online games for pleasure and, in the case of Nintendo Wii, certain health benefits, it's estimated that by 2015, 1 in 5 of the U.S.'s biggest companies will be investing in games for training and development. Already Innov8, developed by IBM's Serious Games Group, is used in more than 1,000 universities' business programs globally to teach process management in traffic, customer service and supply-chain scenarios.
New York City's Office of Emergency Management uses a program designed by Kognito Interactive to simulate evacuations of the city in the event of a disaster. In Ontario border-crossing guards show a 30 per cent improvement in effectiveness when trained to properly interrogate drivers through gaming simulations.
While using games to simulate real-life events seems safe, reliable and financially prudent, the skills gained can be directly applied to business. Esther Lim, CEO of digital-marketing firm The Estuary, says game play teaches collaboration, a critical management skill. "Often serious games are built to be collaborative," she says."That means you share information, brainstorm and problem solve with others to achieve the next level of interaction, story or outcome."
Role-playing games help with job training
In addition, gaming allows users to see things from different perspectives — more perspectives than in the real world, which can lead them to consider multiple solutions. Boinidiris agrees, adding a laundry list of lessons learned from gaming: "Budgeting, rank, supply-chain optimization, team communication, transparency and time pressure."
Games also are cost effective for training employees, says Scott Steinberg, videogame analyst and CEO of TechSavvy. It's better, after all, to have a customer-service employee fail six times virtually than fail in a real scenario and risk losing a potential client or sale. And games enable employers to gather performance information and distinguish analytical thinkers from weaker employees.
"In a real-world scenario you might be denigrated for attempting a task and not succeeding," says Steinberg, but "gaming gives the opportunity to experiment with different approaches, to try new things."
Consider "World of Warcraft," developed by Blizzard Studios, which holds the Guinness World Record for the most subscribed massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), with over 10 million players worldwide. "We see grade schoolers managing guilds of players from around the globe, participating in teamwork, assigning special tasks," says Steinberg.
'Games are a good space for women to grow more comfortable in being assertive decision makers and leaders.'—Laura Staniland, CivicsLab LLC
Each player's skill levels are completely transparent to the other players, which enable team members to assess one another's skill sets and collaboratively select the best leader for any given task. "What if that were adopted in the corporate realm?" adds Boinidiris. "What if the leader of a business could be selected solely for his skill set?" Office politics might go out the window.
Videogames are actually much closer to the way we already work than many realize, making the leap to computer- or Web-based training and operations platforms much more navigable. "Teams are spread across countries and continents, and much of the communication is not happening one-on-one, in person or even in real time," says Steinberg.
The situations presented in games also prepare women players for stress in the workplace, believes Jennifer Estaris, a game designer for Nickelodeon. "In a game, panicking can reduce accuracy and result in a faulty decision-making process. Exuding calm leadership while under pressure not only allows the leader to make better decisions but also influences team dynamics."
"Games are a good space for women to grow more comfortable in being assertive decision makers and leaders," says Laura Staniland, co-founder of CivicsLab LLC, where she leads game creation.
What further distinguishes gaming is its social element. The Facebook game FarmVille currently boasts over 82 million active users. While it teaches supply chain and budget management at an accessible level, "Women seem to be responding because of the social aspect," Boinidiris says. And if getting involved with videogames means your teenage son, your husband or your Facebook BFFs will spend more time with you, that's a win-win.