Gamification of work: a pointed critique

As you’re probably aware, there’s been a lot of interest over the past couple of years in ‘gamification’ – the application of gaming principles to work or any activity where the objective is greater participation. We reviewed one of the tomes dedicated to it last year – the arguments for the concept are appealing to say the least.

That said, I was just as engaged with the argument against gamification from Ian Bogost. He essentially argues that by trying to incorporate gaming into a workplace, you are killing the fundamental magic that makes games appealing. Have a read for yourself.

For what it’s worth, I think things fall somewhere in the middle. There’s no doubt some companies will latch onto the concept of ‘gamification’ (and I agree with Bogost that the term sucks), purely because it’s the latest ‘cool’ strategy and then implement it poorly. That said, I think the opportunity exists to do it right – have a look through these slides (linked by a commenter on Bogost’s post) for one powerful argument on how that could be achieved:

Like any emergent area there’s plenty of debate and until there are numerous engaging and effective examples of gaming applied to work, there will thankfully be sceptics questioning it and pushing the boundaries.

Large businesses in Second Life: they still exist

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked (after “Is Second Life still around?”), is what large businesses are still actively involved in Second Life. I noticed this afternoon while reading my RSS feeds that Daniel Voyager has compiled a list of those at the big end of town still involved.

They include Air France, Cisco Systems, Dell, IBM and Siemens (pictured). All businesses featured on Daniel’s list have SLURLs so you can have a look for yourself.

Telepresence bots: making meetings interesting

I doubt there’s anyone who’ll claim that teleconferences or videoconferences are the most engaging way to communicate. Sure, you can pull faces on a teleconference or play games on your smartphone out of camera shot, but at the end of the day both methods are poor substitutes for a face-to-face meeting.

Attempting to bridge that gap are companies like Anybots, who are creating telepresence robots that allow a videoconference participant to have a little more control and interaction with a remote team. Check it out:

I’m not convinced on this being adopted widely – I think some other telepresence options and virtual world options offer something even more engaging. That said, the bot is cute and mobile, so it’s definitely an improvement on the status quo.
[via Big Think]

Opportunity cost: not to be underestimated

Here’s a true story: Like a lot of players, I have a Level 2 character in World of Warcraft that exists purely as a banking / auction house conduit (bank alt). I have another character that is leveling one of their professions and they needed a particular item sold for a measly one silver, 18 copper from one of the vendors right across from the auction house where my bank alt hangs out. 42 virtual steps in fact (yes I counted). It occurred to me to check the auction house to see if anyone was entrepreneurial enough to be selling that same item on the auction house for a mark-up. Sure enough, someone was, at 200 times its cost if bought from the vendor (around 2 gold). Not to be outdone, since that time I’ve sold a couple of the items each day for the same 20,000% markup. I’ve also started selling other items from the vendor at 1000-2000% markups.

For the regular MMO player, this is nothing new, and there’s screeds of research and opinion on MMO economies and player behaviour. I just hadn’t realised how endemic the issue of laziness is. Laziness is probably too negative a term in some respects, as for some people it’s probably just time efficient to buy everything from the auction house. If you’ve got 20,000 gold sitting in your bag and the item is 2 gold, then even at a huge markup it’s a no-brainer compared to trying to remember which vendor has it, let alone the time spent getting to them. It’s a simple example of the concept of opportunity cost (here’s one gamers perspective on it).

This issue has some obvious applicability to virtual worlds more broadly. In Second Life, I will quite often just go browsing at clothing stores that I’ve landmarked rather than try to find something new via the search function – few will argue that the Second Life viewer’s search function is a time sink. Social virtual worlds from Habbo to Frontierville have this concept down pat, making it as easy as possible to provide variety without excessive time expense. It’s a lesson that the more mature worlds are absorbing – it’s the speed of learning that will determine who succeeds and who doesn’t. At this stage, platforms like Second Life, Twinity and Blue Mars are walking the fine line between innovation and an opportunity cost too big for a critical mass of people to bear.

Over to you: what aspects of virtual worlds do you avoid because the time / expense isn’t worth it for you?

Virtual worlds and business: 2010 overview

A little over a year ago we created a short discussion paper on the potential impact of virtual worlds on business. Since that time literally hundreds of people have downloaded the paper, so we thought it was worth updating it.

It remains a fairly succinct overview of the opportunities presented by virtual environments in the enterprise, as well as identifying some of the misconceptions around. The updated version now contains some discussion on trends for the coming 12-months (partly based on our 2010 predictions post) as well as a wrap-up of the major platforms to watch.

You can download Virtual Worlds and business: 2010 overview for free by going to this page.

As always, if there’s omissions or alterations needed, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Immersive environments and the enterprise: new report

Erica and Sam Driver from ThinkBalm have released a new report. Titled The Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide, the focus is obviously virtual environments suitable for business applications. For those not aware of ThinkBalm, they have a growing stable of reports on the state of play in virtual worlds industry, particularly from a business perspective.

Aside from detailing nineteen vendors out there, the guide provides some useful strategies to assist in choosing a virtual environment for an enterprise. It’s pretty standard project governance and needs analysis stuff, but tailored well to the topic.

One of the key points from the guide for me revolves around the regular question of “which platform is best?”:

The vendors come from a variety of backgrounds and have different specializations and strengths and weaknesses. They are not all targeting the same use cases. Just as office productivity suites today now include separate-yet-integrated applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more, immersive software product suites will evolve to focus on groups of related business problems. Eventually, we envision an immersion layer developing that will integrate with multiple enterprise systems and applications. But this is years away.

I’m a little more bullish on the ‘years away’ aspect. Two to three years, sure, but I’d be surprised if more widespread adoption took longer than that.

Overall, the guide appears to be a rigourous, well-researched piece of work that should provide a useful base for enterprises looking at integrating immersive environments into their operations.

You can view the full report here

World of Warcraft, your boss and succeeding at work

For a lot of people, politics, corporate strategy and philosophy are the sort of topics that lead to thoughts of using a cheese-grater on an inner thigh. If you’re a cubicle jockey in an office, or someone questioning their existence in the meatspace, then WoW may be able to help. When I say help, I don’t mean in the ‘yep I’ll call in sick and play WoW for three days straight to show those idiots’ sort of way. I’m talking about the real-world opportunities that WoW can provide you as far as leadership development, strategic thinking, political nous or plain old perspective on the important things in life.

And no, winning 100 Wintergrasp battles for your achievement is not ‘important’ in this context. I’m talking about improved work performance or perhaps (don’t laugh) improved relationships at work or home. It’s not Mana oil I’m trying to sell you, it’s more telling you some stuff you probably already know, but hadn’t thought about in this way. So onto the first instalment: talking about WoW at work, legitimately.

Chances are you’ve talked about WoW at work. In order of likelihood, you’ll have talked to a fellow player, a good friend who humors your WoW passion, or a vague acquaintance that is your only conversation option on a particular day at lunch (the same person that will avoid you the following lunchtime). Unless your colleague plays and has the odd Level 80 or two, the reality is they can’t understand why you’re passionate about WoW, let alone being able to see any real-world outcomes. This is where a change of tack is required. Let’s cross to a typical office lunch room:

Colleague: I’m not sure what to say to my boss in my performance review tomorrow.

You: (deciding colleague would be a ranged DPS if they played) Are you happy with your performance?

Colleague: Yeah pretty much, I haven’t had any complaints.

You: (knowing how a sucky ranged DPS can hide in a big raid) Well, have you ever had people say you have been doing a good job?

Colleague: Not really.

You: (having used the ‘Gear Score is crap as a raid effectiveness measure’ argument many times yourself) Well, there’s your strategy for the performance review. Tell your boss you’re happy with your performance to date, but that you’re really interested in getting better job definition so you can improve further. It’s not reasonable for you to be penalised if the ground rules haven’t been clearly laid out.

Colleague: Yeah that might work. Is that what you did?

You: (Being a leet melee DPS) Nope – I had plenty of positive feedback from people that I was able to show my boss. I actually applied some of the teamwork stuff I’ve learnt in World of Warcraft to my job, and it seems to have helped a bit.

Colleague: Really? What are you doing for lunch tomorrow / can I marry you / omfg I’m signing up for WoW tonight.

It may sound cheesy, but conversations similar to the one above happen all the time. Sure, your chances of getting hitched by providing some WoW-based advice is pretty low, but the odds are better than embarking on a 25-minute discussion with same colleague, of how the well-geared but stupid tank you had to heal in the Pit of Saron wiped your 5-man run three times. All that will lead to is you being tied to your desk and pelted with staplers. Plus, those sort of discussions need to be saved for work friends who actually play and may even laugh at your WoW anecdotes. Maybe.

Over to you: have you ever discussed WoW in the workplace, and if so, did it work for you?

The reverse argument for virtual worlds in the enterprise

With thanks to Tateru Nino for the heads up, this machinima just about perfectly encapsulates the tug-of-war within the enterprise in regards to adoption of virtual worlds as a collaborative tool. It’s an incisive piece that strips bare some of the stereotypes and barriers put forward by business as ‘arguments’ against utilising virtual worlds in their operations.

It’s the sort of piece that may be useful after some initial discussions have been had within an enterprise. It would probably make some people defensive if used up front, but its power is likely to be found after the stereotypical arguments have been made by those less convinced of the opportunities virtual worlds provide.

Watch and enjoy:

Surfing the virtual world hype

Riding the hype wave of a new technology with a “world-first” isn’t exactly unusual. We’ve seen this a lot with Second Life, right?

But there’s actually other, more interesting lessons to be learned.

Firstly, the newspapers and magazines don’t really check if you’re first, so if you want you can just copy what someone else is doing. This happened a whole heck of a lot. If anyone actually does ask, you just slice it more finely. “First by a Fortune 500 company”, “First by a West-coast marketing firm run by octogenarian teachers”. Slice it finely enough and you can pretty much always claim a world first – and by golly, they do.

There were, from memory, four national embassies that opened in Second Life. Each claimed to be the first one (presumably using the slicing technique above, or just not doing the research). That brings us to the second technique, the one that gives you the most PR bang for the least buck:

Don’t actually do it. Seriously, this is a proven strategy.

Write and issue your press-release, outlining what amazing world-first you’ll be performing – then don’t follow through. By the time that peak of the hype cycle wore off, nobody noticed that you actually didn’t. Instead it became a fait accompli. Everyone more or less assumes that you did do it.

Assorted media pieces still refer to pizza-deliveries, programmes and concerts by famed celebrities that never actually happened, but the writers just assume that they did.

There’s your return-on-investment right there. All the hype, and none of the work. All you have to do is hit the timing right on the cyclical hype.

There’s a whole lot of businesses and organizations using Second Life in various ways. Many of the ones that you can name from media-coverage though, never actually did. However it didn’t apparently actually harm their PR efforts at all.

Anyone want to bet that this won’t happen with future virtual environments?

Interview – Simon Newstead, CEO of Frenzoo

Simon Newstead of FrenzooBack in May, we covered Frenzoo, a fashion-centric world with a lot of promise. Since that time, Frenzoo has continue to grow and has received further funding to continue its development.

CEO Simon Newstead is an expatriate Australian based in Hong Kong, and I took the opportunity to get some insight into Frenzoo‘s progress and future plans. He also discusses the role of Robin Harper and Anshe Chung, integration with services like Facebook and quite a bit more.

The take-home message for me is Frenzoo‘s focus on content creation, placing it amongst a handful of other players dedicated to that space. Fashion’s about creativity, so it’ll be interesting to see what growth trajectory Frenzoo takes. Read on for the interview:

Lowell: Can you give a brief biography of your career pre-Frenzoo?

Simon: Sure, before jumping into the online world with Frenzoo, I worked in Internet networking with Juniper Networks, the upstart competitor to Cisco.

There I was leading the Emerging Technologies team for Asia. That was a great job, dealing with customers in Korea and Japan through to emerging countries like India and Vietnam. Learning how and how not-to introduce new solutions to market, winning over early adopters, feeding requirements back to development teams – a lot of fun.

Before that I was in Melbourne with Juniper where I worked with Telstra to help design their 2nd generation broadband infrastructure (their DSL network). That was a great job for a young engineer, although I recall a lot of late nights living in their labs 🙂

Lowell: How would you describe Frenzoo’s progress over the past 12 months?

Simon: Great! After a slow start we’re starting to find our groove – a fledgling online world and 3d chat & creation community is up and running. Still early days but revenue starting to come in and growth picking up.

When we started our beta a year ago we had nothing – no users and a website with virtually no functionality: I remember an early tester making a comment “I love my avatar so much… but ummm what can I do with it?” It was a rude awakening, but all the early feedback helped us learn and adapt quickly – I really do subscribe to the “Fail Fast” startup school of thinking.

Since then we have learned a lot on what makes people them invest time and money and what they want out of Frenzoo. We’ve added and iterated our product countless times based on all the customer feedback: a big part of our culture – we gather a lot of user feedback, run regular usability tests, analyze usage data etc.

A turning point was introducing User generated content via our own web creation tool as well as 3ds modeling and collada import function. This has been great – the creative folks just love to design new things. When the world around you changes so much there is always inspiration for something new. People who love to mod sims love our environment – in fact some of our top content creators today are huge The Sims modders and creators.

Six months ago, the only things in the shop were made by Frenzoo, with limited choice. Now all the content on the marketplace is coming from the community and there are many thousands of diverse creator items to shop from and growing each day.

Lowell: What’s the company’s funding situation at present?

Simon: Earlier in the year we secured a solid round of funding from ASI – the Skype co-founders and other important angel investors. That takes us a long way to realizing our vision – by the time we consider the next phase of funding we should have completed the core development and started to ramp up audience and monetization.

Lowell: Virtual goods commerce is currently the core of your revenue model – can you explain a little how both you and designers can make money?

Simon: Sure. We run a dual currency system – we have silver and gold coins. Silver coins are the earned currency (being active on the site), gold coins are bought currency. When an item is purchased by a user using Gold coins, the creator of that item gains the Gold Coins (Frenzoo takes a small commission). Gold Coins can be sold for real money on 3rd party sites like First Meta Exchange and Anshe X. Those sites also allow transfer to and from other virtual currencies such as Linden dollars and IMVU credits.

Lowell: How many staff does Frenzoo have and are they still all based in Hong Kong?

Simon: We have a team of 10 folks – 7 engineers and 3 designers. Apart from that it’s myself, and Ceci, our marketing lead. We’re based in Hong Kong and we also have a couple of fantastic remote interns in the US who do a fantastic job helping with the community management.

We’re also lucky to have three very helpful strategic advisors – Robin Harper (ex Linden Labs) and Anshe Chung – Ailin Graef and Guntram Graef have really helped with giving us guidance and the insights from their considerable experience.

Lowell: What’s the geographic breakdown of your userbase at present?

Simon: Most members are coming from the US, however we have a healthy international mix from Europe and Asia. Australia is in the mix, a few percent of our base. We have localization to over 10 languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, German, Russian, Dutch etc It’s one of the many advantages of being purely browser based – it’s easy to add this. Right from the start we wanted to make this a global offering, not just English only.

Lowell: What percentage of the designers are making significant money?

Simon: We’re just getting going, no millionaires I’m aware of yet 🙂

The majority of our creators are doing it for enjoyment – it’s a lot of fun dreaming up new designs, meeting people, entering contests, being creative.

For those folks when they earn a few bucks in the process that’s just a bonus. However we’re now starting to see the first few professional operations coming onto the site with the aim to make money. Anshe Chung Studios is one example, it’s also easy for them to publish their created items to both Frenzoo and other platforms like IMVU. We’re also looking forward to introducing 3D scenes so, for example, creators of Second Life environments and props can explore our platform.

Lowell: What mistakes that competitors have made are you hoping to avoid?

Simon: I have a lot of respect for the other avatar communities out there, I’m a big fan of Second Life in particular for their creative and open content environment. One thing we are striving to do is make our user interface really simple to use, and also make creation fun and accessible to everyone – in fact most of our active active members have created their own items.

As we are web online world compared with most others who are client based, we have our own unique set of challenges and opportunities. For example cross browser differences and testing is a hassle (don’t get me started on IE6!), but on other hand web based means we support Mac and PC as well as being able to quickly mash up and integrate – e.g. post pics to Facebook etc.

Lowell: Speaking of Facebook, do you have any plans for integration with other web applications like that?

Simon: We’d like to do more web integration next year for sure. Once we have built out most of our core platform we plan to swing back and look at off site integration and add what makes sense, be it Facebook app or other platforms and techniques. Whether that app might be avatar chat or creation or a mix is still something we have to think about.

Mobile is something also we considered when we settled on our 3D rendering engine – in fact Unity3d which we use is one of the leading engines for iPhone 3D games today. It’s an interesting future possibility for us and technically feasible.

Lowell: Who do you see as Frenzoo’s main competitors?

Simon: In terms of web 3D community with UGC marketplace and creation tools we are first to market, to my knowledge. Actually even in client solutions, I haven’t seen similar to our accessible fashion design tool.

Actually most of our energy is built on listening to our users and improving our service. Whilst we monitor and learn lessons from other virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life and IMVU who have built up successful economies), we’re mainly focussed on our users and improving for them.

Online World Frenzoo - 3D Avatar of Simon_is_yetiLowell: Do you have an estimated date for Frenzoo coming out of beta?

Simon: Not for some time yet…

Beta really is a mark that we are in constant iteration and improvement, it’s a label that encourages us to always be listening and improving. Of course, we’re running a virtual economy today and security and robustness are important but we like the idea of being in beta mode and responsive – it’s a cultural attribute.

Lowell: What’s the roadmap for Frenzoo over the coming year?

Simon: Now UGC is kicked off, our next big move is “social”. The first step is 3D chat, which we just launched 2 months ago. It’s pretty sparse now but we will be building it out. As part of the social drive we’ll be introducing 3D scenes, which will be the biggest upgrade to the site since launch. This will let people be creative and social a lot more than today where the avatar is in 3D but the scene is just in static 2D. A 3D online world in Frenzoo has been one of the top requests from our community.

Our goal within the next few months is to have a fun user created environments – dance parties people can hang out and virtual chat in, maybe beaches for moonlight walks, glamorous catwalk shows, and hopefully lots of ridiculously pimped out apartments 🙂

We’ll also continue to build out the creative tools and then start to do more mashups and integrations on the web to help people share their experiences easier.

Lowell: Can you shed light on the core Frenzoo user?

Simon: Sure. Our age ranges from 13 all the way to 30 and beyond. Several of our most active members are in their 30s, 40s and older. Our average age today is hovering around 18-20 years old, and we skew very heavily towards female. One of our goals over coming months is to also make Frenzoo interesting and engaging for us guys.

Lowell: As an expat Aussie, what’s your take on the virtual worlds industry here?

Simon: Well, I’m a big fan of some of the virtual world personalities who live in Australia – folks such as metaverse bloggers Tateru, Anstia and yourself, Steve Cropper who runs the Life On-Line show etc Also it’s nice to see some virtual world developers in Australia such as VSide/Exit Reality…and in general some great tech projects such as Google Wave out of Sydney. I’m always rooting for more Aussies to make it on the global stage 🙂

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