Why am I, an Agile Coach, so fascinated with MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games)?
At its heart the reason is fairly simple – because behaviour is unconstrained, and unconstrained behaviour makes for some very interesting human nature observations.
For those without much of an understanding of MMORPGs let me digress for a moment and describe them a little. You may have heard of some of them – World of Warcraft, Everquest, Second Life, Eve, Rift, Warhammer, the list does go on a while. Within these games people play on a server; sometimes there are hundreds of servers for the game. On a server can be tens of thousands of people playing. As long as a player is online on that server you can see them in front of you (assuming they are standing in the same virtual section of the virtual world). You can interact with them and others in the virtual world around you. You can also interact with virtual computerised characters inside of the world.
The motive for interaction is to ‘progress’ or ‘advance’ in the world, ie become an expert in what your chosen direction in virtual life is (sounds familiar right?). Once you reach this expert layer you can then tackle hard projects called ‘bosses’.
Now these ‘bosses’ don’t just fall over when you talk to them. Generally you won’t be able to defeat them by yourself. Depending on the conditions that have been setup for the boss you might require four other players or even up to thirty-nine other players to use all of their expert skills against the boss. In a situation of you and another nine or more people working together it is not a simple matter of doing one expert action over and over. In fact, the level of complexity needed to defeat these bosses requires amazing levels of co-ordination that would make an average person unaware of the domain of MMORPGs boggle.
To put it into content, one boss might take a coordinated effort of twenty people thirty hours before he is defeated. This is thirty hours of complete concentration where a single second of failure from one person might result in a total group failure.
It is in this environment that I find MMORPGs fascinating -
- What incentivizes individuals to spend hour upon hour with people they don’t like to defeat these bosses?
- How do these teams form where there are no real world boundaries constraining them?
- How do these teams reach peak performance when there is no body language to read?
- With absolute anonymity how to people behave differently than they would in the real world?
- How does a culture form inside MMORPGs?
- How safe to fail is it when a single error from one person might result in significant disappointment of nineteen other individuals?
- How does retention and recruitment work when there are no legal constraints on a system?
- How does virtual corporate purging and takeovers work when there are no legal constraints on a system?
- How does hierarchy and leadership naturally form and work optimally?
- Do similar problems of Manager vs Leader exist as in a real world business domain?
- Does storming, norming, forming, performing fit?
- How does burnout occur for highly motivated people?
But the most fascinating element is
Are MMORPGs the future of our world and consequently the unconstrained nature of them?
I predict the business world to change much in the next ten to twenty years. I predict a world where white collared workers conduct their activities from home in a virtualised business environment where they can virtually walk up to their team member (who might be physically in a different country) and have a discussion/collaborate on some work together. Each day we are inching closer and closer to this, but this will be a virtual world where you sit in many realities at once and that excites me tremendously.
What we are learning today within Agile I feel will be very important for the virtual world of the future.
This blog entry is dedicated to that vision but is also a nice little wrap up for some posts that I will do in the future about this relationship. Expect the dot points remarked above to be answered in future posts.