Over the last several years, the so-called "serious games" movement has picked up a lot of steam.
Among the many things this encompasses is the use of games in education, health care, and the military.
But perhaps nowhere are serious games having a greater impact than in the business world, an arena always searching for new tools to improve efficiency and keep employees and customers engaged.
With this phenomenon having gained a critical velocity, the time has come for a book chronicling it, and David Edery and Ethan Mollick have answered the call.
With their new book, Changing the Game, Edery, the worldwide games portfolio manager for Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, and Mollick, a consultant at MIT's Sloan School of Management, have pulled together what is likely the most comprehensive examination of the use of games in business. I recently interviewed the pair by telephone; scroll down to hear the audio, and please excuse the occasional static.
The book's first few chapters are introductions, first to the various genres of video games, and then to the concepts of advertising in video games, and "advergames," games created for companies as a way to promote their brands and attract consumers to them.
Much of these introductory chapters go over ground well-covered in the media over the last few years, though they do build an important base for the rest of the book.
Where Changing the Game really earns its keep is when Edery and Mollick delve into the idea of how companies, large and small, can use games as a way to recruit, integrate, and maintain their employees.
An example that I like is Rise of the Shadow Specters, a game designed for use by new Sun Microsystems workers, especially those who mainly telecommute, as a way to learn the culture and business units of the mammoth technology company.
All told, Rise of the Shadow Specters cost Sun $150,000 to develop, but the payoff for the company has been huge, Edery and Mollick write.
Thousands of Sun employees played the game, and its lessons apparently took: the authors write that even months after playing it, they could still recall much of the information it imparted.
And while not every business will have the resources or the will to turn to a video game to educate their employees, the authors make a clear argument that the benefits are certainly there for those enterprises that do follow Sun's example.
There are many other areas, of course, where businesses can use games to improve their bottom line, and Edery and Mollick do examine many of them in detail.
They look, for example, at the idea of alternate-reality games, a type of multimedia experience that a growing number of companies have used to build excitement and mystique around new products. For example, Microsoft commissioned an ARG known as I Love Bees, which crafted a large narrative related to, but not directly about, the story line of its Halo 2.
But games can also be used, the authors argue, to motivate employees, user communities and just about anyone that a business would want to engage. All it takes is an understanding of what the purpose is, as well as the skills and know-how to design the kind of game that meets the needs of the question at hand.
It is about time that a book like this came along, and with their backgrounds, Edery and Mollick seem like the right team to have written it. As the economy sours and companies look for every edge they can find, they might just discover that games, in one form or another, give them a way to stay afloat while less enlightened competitors sink.
Changing the Game authors David Edery and Ethan Mollick talk to CNET News reporter Daniel Terdiman about why games can help companies develop more efficient employees and build stronger brands.
Download mp3 (8.19MB)