In March 2023, more than 100,000 people traveled to the Boston Convention Center for the annual PAX East game convention. The event, going strong for more than a decade, is a celebration of gaming culture – including board game and video game showcases, as well as a host of panels, contests, competitions, and giveaways. This year, representatives of PTC will join professionals from IBM and Emerson College to lead a conversation around gaming and its relationship with the professional space.
The panel and this blog will explore how gaming can impact expectations in the professional space.
Before diving it, it is important to define the focus of games for this blog. The word “game” has many definitions, but we will focus on this angle: A game is a simulation without real-world risk. Every game, regardless of genre or format, puts the player in a situation where the stakes – no matter how heightened – do not impact the physical world. As such, the game environment is free for experimentation. Have to defeat an enemy? You can try using every weapon in your arsenal, or even just being unarmed. Trying to build a civilization using only wood and sheep? Go for it. The simulation is free and encourages experimentation.
This is not the usual way games are thought of, but we believe it is vital to understanding not just why gaming matters, but how game development and its industry have laid a path that is often followed by other industries in years to come.
Hybrid and flexible work have been a hot topic for the past several years, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees like the freedom of being able to work where they like, in a way that best suits their lifestyle and preferences. Gaming went through a similar transformation…albeit two decades earlier.
Online gaming has existed since the 1970s but did not become commonplace until the early 2000s. In the console market, Microsoft launched its Xbox Live gaming service in 2002, and the mega-popular massive multiplayer online (MMO) game World of Warcraft launched in late 2004. Suddenly, many gamers could play collaborative or competitive experiences with players who were half the world away. Online gaming became a sensation and, to this day, almost every mainstream multiplayer title comes with the option for an online experience.
Think about the timing: 20 years ago. The children of then – even 5- and 6-year-old kids – are now in their twenties and in the workforce. They are used to being able to play with their friends, completely unrestrained by physical location. While no research has yet been done to track this correlation, it is realistic to deduce that their experience in the gaming space informed their work preferences.
Further, it should be noted that online gaming, however popular, has not killed in-person gaming experiences. For many players, the question of “how to play” comes down to the specifics of the game in question. Gaming became a hybrid experience long before companies had to seriously think about accommodating employee preferences. The fact that in-person gaming not only survives but thrives should be of comfort to all those executives bemoaning the loss of the office experience – however, it is also a challenge. Games that are primarily played in-person bring compelling advantages to that experience. Will in-person work be able to replicate this environment in a way that people want to travel in to engage?
MMOs like World of Warcraft are worth mentioning for another reason, and it’s likely not one many people have considered. Prior to online experiences like Everquest, it was the expectation that games operate on-premises. The user bought the game, installed it (if on a computer), played the game, deleted the game, and was genuinely responsible for every bit of data included in that copy. Was it possible to overwrite game discs…well yes, but the player would lose access to the game.
Enter the MMO. Suddenly, the experience shifted. Yes, the player had to purchase and download the game – but they weren’t really downloading “the game” anymore, just access to the game. MMOs are played on dedicated servers and maintained by the software developer. Early on, it was standard for the player to pay an additional recurring fee, in addition to their purchase. This was to ensure the game was maintained and patched on a consistent basis, ensuring the product evolved as the player continued to experience it.
World of Warcraft was essentially the first ultra-popular software as a service (SaaS) application and it’s still used by millions of people worldwide. Here, the gaming industry was far ahead of the game, and even now continues to evolve. Many games are now released under the “game as a service” format, granting access to the basic platform for free and allowing users to custom purchase any additional expansions for a price. Not only has this led to a more sustainable model for certain kinds of game development, but also allows the player quicker satisfaction, more opportunities for feedback, and a stronger feeling of community to play in and bond with a game that is constantly evolving and improving its product.
This mirrors the overall growth of the “as-a-service” market, as many organizations rethink their product delivery models to better align with faster time-to-market and evolving consumer preferences.
Much has been made (and dismissed) of the coming metaverse. While many qualities of the platform remain up in the air, one aspect is for certain: All forms of metaverse, retail and industrial included, will take design strategies and user interface expectations from gaming. In certain games, the player tends to have almost complete control of their environment, able to change camera angles, zoom in and out, and reposition their interface as necessary to view the most relevant information. They can also influence non-playable character (NPC) behaviors to find the most efficient method of performing a certain task.
This reflects the absolute control that is possible in gaming and one of the ambitions of the industrial metaverse. Real life is full of variables and limited control, but PTC has been developing technology in this vein in its Reality Lab. In the video below, you can see how a mobile interface (similar to what you’d find in certain game genres) is used to program robotic movements.
This is still the industrial metaverse in its early stages, but the signs of gaming’s influence are present. In other areas of the metaverse, it’s clear that gaming will set multiple precedents. Games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox have already been held up as early examples of metaverse platforms, as each has gone beyond its initial gaming expectations and become something more immersive and varied.
The business world may have exploded with talk of artificial intelligence (AI) programs like ChatGPT this year, but many know that AI has been developing across the board for some time. The world of gaming is no exception. Whether playing chess, StarCraft, or The Sims, players often play against “computer players” or interact with NPCs. While these interactions can be entirely scripted, most games are too complex for such systems to work properly; it has been common for many games to feature AI to at least some degree.
As such, gaming has been almost as consumed with AI as big tech, as this 2021 article from The Guardian illustrates, and there are many questions around how it will evolve. Just like in business, the questions are fundamentally the same: How will AI make a better experience for the user?
Also just like in business, many of the same strategies apply to enterprise AI usage. Watch this video from independent game developer, Mark Brown, if you’re curious to know more. It may seem specific, but substitute “player” with “user” and imagine these initiatives being applied to chatbots, virtual assistants, training, and many other focus points of enterprise AI development:
Studying how and when AI has been implemented in games can help organizations brainstorm new and creative ways of utilizing it in-house, beyond the adoption of large language models like ChatGPT. It’s a reminder that AI has been evolving everywhere for some time with widely varied goals and behavior models.
For too long, people on both sides have respected this imaginary line – one that separates gaming from more serious pursuits like a daily workflow. The reality, however, is that games – especially games as simulations without risk – are perfect for teaching users to think creatively, problem solve, and experiment with innovative solutions. This is what has given rise to the gamification movement, but many organizations stop too short of seeing its full potential.
Successful integration is beyond just badges, points, and leaderboards. It requires examining gameplay loops and seeing what keeps people engaged. Human beings may be forced to work in current society, but billions choose to play games. This motivation should not be discounted. The new generation of employees have many expectations, consciously or unconsciously, set by their experiences with gaming.
Now is the time for creative problem solving at both the employee and executive level. It’s time to look at the gaming industry and its products, not as diversions, but as compelling software platforms that have a multitude of lessons regarding user interface, feedback cycles, and interesting design infrastructures.
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