We're All Gamers Now


The Gaming of Business and Life

by Samuel Greengard

It's nearly impossible to navigate a day without bumping headfirst into some type of game. Whether you're clicking through Farmville or Mafia Wars online or racking up airline miles or credit card points in the physical world, the reality is that we're playing games every day. In many instances, we just don't realize it.

Jesse Schell, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a video game designer, believes that real-life games will increasingly be stacked on top of reality. It's an intriguing concept that spins a tight orbit around business and IT.

Schell believes that everything from Weight Watchers to Fantasy Football could be designed around rewards built into games. Already, the Ford Fusion features a virtual tree. The more economical your driving, the more the tree grows. This game influences the way people drive.

Schell points out that sensors have become so inexpensive that they will soon be embedded in everything from shoes to cereal boxes. Add W-Fi connectivity and you wind up with a lifestyle network. Within this scenario, when you brush your teeth or munch a granola bar, you receive credits from the manufacturer. These might lead to discounts or rewards later on. When you take public transportation or ride a bicycle to work, you receive a tax break.

Shopping? Points. Travel? Points. Fitness? Points.

You get the idea. We all respond to rewards. Young people, weaned on the Xbox and World of Warcraft, have already been conditioned to earn rewards from games. Fast Company notes that 35 percent of C-suite execs also play video games. And a growing number of companies, including Google and Microsoft, are turning to games to improve internal processes and amp up training.

Look for the trend to grow. A Facebook game called HealthSeeker, offered by the Diabetes Hands Foundation, rewards players for healthy behavior. Another game, ZamZee, encourages kids to adopt a healthy lifestyle through exercise. It uses an activity monitor that connects to a Website and offers points for rewards.

Mobile platforms are also attracting attention. For example, a mobile-commerce system called Scvngr is now offering badges and rewards for using and sharing information about various products. Coca Cola and 7-Eleven are among the companies participating.

Expect these emerging games to transform work, education and commerce in the years ahead. Expect games to become serious business.