Serious Games for Decision Management

on May 20, 2011
SMARTS™ Data-Powered Decision Management Platform

Gamification is an intriguing concept with tremendous potential when well applied.  I got to experiment, for several years in a row, how it could benefit my Product Management role.  I shared some of my findings at Product Camp this year.  This is only one facet of Serious Games though and I wanted to elaborate on other aspects that are more directly related to Decision Management.

Gamification versus Serious Games

Gamification, as I see it, is about applying Game Mechanics to enterprise software.  When you think about it, the game industry has been incredibly successful at exposing super complex user interfaces to youngsters and get them both proficient and addicted without the frustration of a steep learning curve and the need to enroll in a formal training class.  Looking at a World of Warcraft screen, I am impressed by the number of things” the gamer needs to pay attention to.  I have never played that game but the impressive number of players in the world is a good indication that it can be mastered without the pain we hear about in the business world.

Gamification is about User Experience of course.  The UI and its navigation must be intuitive enough to be learned quickly.  We, enterprise software people, have been struggling to find the right dosage of flexibility versus complexity.  You might argue that the gaming industry did a much better job at exposing the concepts more gradually.  When you start, much “powers” or “levels” are still locked until you prove your proficiency at the simple tasks.  We have done very poorly in comparison.  Typically we limited ourselves to showing / hiding options based on configuration!  There is much to be learned from them.

Gamification is also about engaging the users.  Games become addicting, not because they are “easy” to master, but because they are rewarding, pleasant, fulfilling.  I admit being guilty of finding pleasure in my work…  I have always been attracted to “emerging technologies” because I find them challenging and rewarding.  Like a game of Sudoku, solving a customer problem with technology is exciting.  I personally love getting challenged by new problems, new technologies, new ideas.  Others find pleasure in perfecting one specific area.  There is no right or wrong of course.  The fascinating idea emerging out of the talks on Gamification is to tap into this passion to engage the users and leverage their full potential in a pleasing fashion.  This is very tricky.  You do not want to manipulate the users into doing something they do not want to — like “casino” games tend to do.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic though to get the same satisfaction out of a day of work than we do out of our games?  Enterprise 2.0 solutions have introduced badges and leaderboard to exploit our egos’ vanity.  This is okay though to allow us to brag about what we do well, if we do it well.  There is more we can do there though to create this addiction.

My friend Tom Grant at Forrester has complained to me that some of the concepts I talk about are more Serious Games than Gamification.  He knows much more than I do about the subject so I have no choice but to agree.  In particular, Tom posted yesterday in his blog a great argument for using Serious Games for solving complex problems.

I would like to talk about Serious Games in the context of Business Rules Elicitation to prove him right.  There are ways games can be applied to our line of work, not just for Product Management.  I came across a couple of examples that I would like to share today.

Serious Games for Negotiation

Andrew Waterman presented at Rules Fest a project he has been working on in Mexico.  The challenge is to come up with a set of governing rules for the management of a preserve.  Unlike the traditional underwriting project we are used to, the rules involve many stakeholders with diverging objectives: exploiting the land, protecting the environment or governing the territory.

The idea is to use a board game to model the utilization of resources.  The team collaborates on the creation of governing rules for this game.  Then, they can together develop the land according to the agreed upon rules.  The simulation allows all stakeholders to appreciate the impact of the rules.

This is a very interesting approach that allows stakeholders to come to an agreement.  It requires to think outside the box and takes the emotions out.  This is brilliant.

Serious Games for Elicitation

Carlos introduced Social Logic in a recent post.  Sparkling Logic SMART does include some Gamification concepts but I do not want to talk much about the product here.  You can always check out our website for product information.  In this post, I want to touch on the serious games that you can leverage in your Decision Management projects.

Jim Sinur has coined the concept of “Design by Doing”.  “Doing” could be replaced, with a little faith, by “Playing”.  If you consider that your job is something you are passionate about, making decisions could be viewed as playing.  You can play with various scenarios; very much like Andrew, you can simulate the impact of your decisions; you can even make different strategies or teams compete for the best results.

Making actual decisions and tuning the associated thresholds — which is the Social Logic way — feels more like playing than documenting the rules of the game — which was what we used to do in the “old days”…  uh…  in the traditional way of writing code or writing rules and then waiting for the result once deployed into production.

This type of User Experience can ultimately bring the actual decision-makers to the table and get them engaged.  As IT users, we can implement what business users ask for of course but implementing ideas, hunches they may have often falls through the cracks.  It typically ends up as “nice to have” capabilities that none of them has time for.  If they could play on their own, then they would be able to experiment more, be more creative…

Let Business Users play!

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