Games are all the rage these days. From a commercial perspective, the gaming industry is a rising star. It is experiencing strong growth fueled by increasingly powerful chips, higher broadband penetration and more and more companies specializing in the development of immersive 3D environments that house impressive and elaborate narratives that are very sticky. Add to this the desire of the younger generation to interact with each other rather than sit passively on the couch like we did and you have a solid foundation for gaming and emotive networks.
In short, we are all accelerating up the hype curve on games whether we look at it from an industry, technology or demographic perspective. Games are hot! Want proof? Just pick up Business Week, WSJ, Wired, Fast Company, Business 2.0 or even the Economist and, over the past year you will see that there have been numerous large pieces covering games.
During my stint as an e-Business consultant in the very early days of Web 1.0 I marveled at the variance in predictions of how large the internet (and by association the e-learning) market would be in 5 years. Some of the predictions were more than an order of magnitude bigger than others. When you triangulate market predication variances that are orders of magnitude apart it is hard to be confident that the number you hone in on has any statistically relevant probability of coming to fruition. Not a very good way to build a business, but a good way to hype a fad if you want to make some quick cash.
I started to dig into these reports to try to find out the root-cause of the huge variance in predicted market size for e-business and e-learning and things became clear. The variance was due, in large part, to HOW the term e-business or e-learning was defined. The tighter the analyst defined the space, the lower the market prediction would be.
Games, I believe, are experiencing a similar meme to what is described above. Sure the gaming will be huge if you include everything from Pong, to Solitaire on my cell phone, to arcade games, to PC games, to game consoles, to massively multiplayer online role playing games, and then – for good measure – you throw in Virtual Social Worlds like Second Life. Tally all that up and it probably hammers both Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of size.
The problem for those of us who truly see value in technologies like Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games and/or Virtual Social Worlds as an enabler of experiential learning is that when they are defined as “Serious Games” they fall flat on their face.
First the name appears to be an oxymoron to the uninitiated. Games are not Serious…they are fun. Simulations are serious, games are not. Second Games are all about gratuitous sex and violence so they have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Why would we ever want to consider applying Serious Games to learning? It makes no sense!
Those of us who have spent any amount of time in the MMORPG and VSW spaces immediately begin to see the possibilities for learning that existing technologies simply cannot provide. There are things that Second Live can provide for interactive learning that Centra just simply cannot touch for instance.
All the while, the game meme is being propagated at accelerated levels all around us. Obfuscation abounds as new innovations shoot up the hype curve and learning is caught in the cross-hairs as it relates to games.
Do those of us who see potential ride the hype curve carefully or do we change the game by changing the name. Like Daniel Burruss likes to say “Figure out what everyone else is doing and do something different.”
Does the name “Game” help or hinder our desire to bring the sensibilities of MMORPGs and VSWs to learning where they can make a difference?
First, we need to separate the bit bucket that is games into its component parts. Pong is not the same as World of Warcraft.
Second, we need to separate the Games from Sims from VSWs. All have their benefits and pitfalls. My experience is that when I propose a VSW solution I meet resistance based on arguments about one-person-shooter games. To secure funding to push the envelope in learning we need to learn from our consulting bretheren.
We need to start by:
Defining the business opportunity or need
Defining the measures of success that would indicate that the opportunity or need has been addressed
Ensure that a knowledge or skill gap is indeed the biggest root-cause
Define what kind of learning (both topical content but kind of learning) needs to happen to address the need or opportunity
Understand what blend of learning intervention will most effectively and efficiently bring about the change required
Identify areas where the sensibilities and strengths of games, sims or VSWs can further enhance the learning
Design, Develop, Implement (in pilot form first)
Track the business indicators (NOT learning smile sheets)
Tweak, Repeat 1-8, Scale
Final Musing (Typing without Thinking)
All truly game changing (pun intended) innovations are ones whose impact are overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term. The web itself is a perfect example. As the web migrates from Web 1.0 (Access, Find, Sell) to Web 2.0 (Participate, Share, Collaborate) to Web 3.0, which is SIMULTANEOUSLY becoming web 3D, (Co-Create) we in learning have a responsibility to keep pace.
The future of business is not about denominator management (teaching people how do things we know how to do to save every last penny). Performance Support technology married to smart portal technology can take care of that. The future is in Numerator Expansion…..in other words REVENUE GROWTH. You grow by doing what no-one else has done before and capitalizing on your position in the market. You identify what should be done to grow by leveraging the grey matter in your firm. If you don’t the platforms that Web 3.0 provides will allow your best talent to work right out the door and set up shop themselves. People in the next generation are motivated to organize around the endeavor not the enterprise….and there are LESS of them. This does not bode well for the enterprise today.
Games, Sims and VSWs are exactly the kinds of technologies we need to be investigating to help our respective firms attract, engage, empower and execute against bold new ideas. Learning needs to quickly get out of the productivity side of the business and start focusing on innovation. In doing so, it is my sincere hope that we don’t fall into the routinization trap here (which is human nature) and start applying these fantastic new technologies to do what we have done before faster. Now more than ever, learning needs to be doing more things differently in service of the Innovation agenda.