How do you motivate gamers?

I am not CEO of my Wormhole corp in EVE Online – thank god.  It is about as much work as being a real CEO but it will never put real bread on the real table.  As a pure hobby, it is an inordinate amount of work and often thankless.  CEOs of MMORPG routinely burn out and quit the game or have other forms of personal events that are upsetting and unsavory.

So while I know little about leading a game corp, I know a fair amount about how real life (RL in gamer parlance) companies work.

All starts with motivation.  A CEO has to ask herself why she is in this position, why the corporation exists and what the goals are.  The goals have to be manageable but yet enough of a stretch for things to be interesting.  Otherwise the market, leadership, competitors (the chief source of customers and new employees) don’t have respect.

Employees also need to know why there are in the corp and find their personal goals aligned with those of the corporation – at least mostly.  Money of course is a big motivator today and job security.  Large companies can pay reasonably well and create (the illusion of) job security better than smaller outfits.  Those need to stretch themselves and promise shares, fast advance or the sheer exhilaration of being part of something greater.  The last point often is the fuel of smaller start-ups and works extremely well when the back is to the wall.  I.e. we don’t close this deal, we are bust.  In that environment, the team becomes (as described before) a closely knit group under pressure where the failure of the team is seen and taken as personal.  Nobody holds that pressure for long of course which is why these companies sell themselves, burn out or grow.  Steve Jobs is famous for running Apple this way, but many technology firms operate by constantly keeping the company at a cliff and rotating people in/out as they fail to the pressure.

So far, so pedestrian, normal MBA stuff, can be found in virtually all business books.  But how does this translate to gaming groups, clans, World of Warcraft guilds or (in EVE Online), corporations and alliances?

Looking closer it is not all that different.  Generally they are fronted by a charismatic CEO who lays out the goals of the corp in clear enough terms but fuzzy enough that they don’t exclude too many.  Also, generally, the goals of these groups is set rather high and only borderline realistic.  Lastly, the team members know that they can achieve more than the sum of individuals.  The “epicness” and greatness of a team almost always comes out when the overall situation is not ideal.  In EVE Online, maybe the corp assets are being attacked or Star systems are being lost.  That is the back-to-the-wall motivation that I mentioned earlier.

The positive motivation is of course achieving corporate goals or “having fun”. And that is where things get hairy as the definition of “fun” is much more personal and with shorter attention span in games than in Real Life.  If my job is un-fun for one year, I still take it.  If my game starts become un-fun, I play another.   So, game CEOs have to respond faster to factors that dis-align the team member’s goals from that of the corp and also keep adjusting the goals of the corp to reality.

Corporate goals can be set withing the game mechanics fairly well.  Word of Warcraft has the “achievements” system as a quantifier to compare yourself against other players.  Raiding – the endgame of WoW, has many different tiers and groups who can do it fastest or most frequently are rewarded with shiny things and bragging rights.  EVE Online is a bit more subtle since there is no defined end game.  But the mechanics is the same, team members buy into the overall goal and seek that the team achieves it.  Motivating the members along the way again is quite similar to RL corporations and I daresay that external pressure (getting attacked or competitors at the gate for example) absolutely enhance the team cohesion and the motivation of the members.  I mean, who wants to be part of a game where everything is safe and easy? (actually, quite a few do, but that is stuff for a different post).

So, like in real life corporations, attraction and retention of members in the game world requires alignment of goals between the individual and the team.  Perceived outside pressure enhances this but too much can also crack a team to the point of being dysfunctional.

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