Have you ever heard of Kim Hyun Wook? I didn’t think so. He is a South Korean professional racing car driver. As with most pro sportspeople, he has his own fan club, merchandise and a host of sponsors. He earns really good money. To his fans, he is known as (Korean for “love”) and they delight in watching his exploits on the track. But Kim is no ordinary sports star. He never leaves his house. He spends 8 hours every day on his computer, racing in an online game called . He is a cyber-star, with tens of thousands of people “watching” him race online every day. He receives a real salary from his key sponsor, real gifts from real fans, and additional marketing sponsors who pay him to ‘wear’ their company logo on his virtual character (avatar) and car in the game.

The designers of the game, Nexon Corp., not only grant access to the game but also sell online virtual clothes, accessories and sports gear for the avatars. In fact, it made $110 million last year doing so. That is real money selling digital stuff in a virtual world!

Nintendo and Sony’s PlayStation vie together with Microsoft’s X-Box for global domination of the video games market. It is big money and the stakes are high. Gaming is certainly not a fringe industry.

Marketers Get Excited

Obviously there are great opportunities for online, in-game advertising, promotional work and sponsorships. ‘Real world’ economics and decision-making algorithms should be applied when going virtual. Its not a new economy with new rules. It is just a new playing field.

In addition to placing adverts, games have also been used adverts. An early example of the advergame is (http://www.americasarmy.com/). This was first released by the US military as a recruitment tool in 2002. It is a free download and is a strikingly realistic war game, covering basic training, tactical planning and a variety of missions. It now has over 5 million registered players. Another example is the United Nations (http://www.food-force.com/). This was released by the World Food Program, intending to raise awareness for global hunger with players acting as emergency aid workers. There are also many similar browser based games on the Internet, and these are becoming more and more popular. Although most are free, they also attract advertising themselves, and obviously have a specific purpose to fulfil.

Beyond Online

But besides the economics, there are other reasons to take gaming seriously. A generation of young people who play video and computer games (sometimes known as “gamers”) has a very different approach to the world – probably because of the skills they learn while playing these games.

Gamers have never known a time without these games. They see them as a perfectly valid tool for learning about solving problems, relating to other human beings, and discovering one’s identity. Most Boomers (born 1940s to 1960s) have never understood video games as anything more than a simple toy and, as a result, are often shocked when they see what today’s games can do and how today’s gamers interact with the gaming world. Here are a few ways in which gaming has shaped the next generation of your employees and customers:

  • Gamers are natural problem solvers and strategic thinkers. In a computer game the gamer needs to be thinking several levels ahead of where he/she currently is, collecting possibly needless information and tools that will only be used later. They see every situation as a puzzle to be solved and are often good at applying lateral thinking to the solution. This tendency of being two steps ahead of themselves is a valuable strategic asset. They believe that there must be some way to come out with a solution, and they spare no effort to find it. Because of this, they are often very confident – even arrogant in their abilities. Like entrepreneurs, they would rather rely on their own abilities to succeed or fail. In fact, they may be a little overconfident in their own abilities, and may not believe something doesn’t work until they actually see it fail themselves.
  • Gamers often approach the business world a bit like a game. They see different companies, and maybe even the people they work with, as ‘players’. This often leads to overly competitive behaviour and a focus on ‘winning’. The game world is also not very hierarchical, and gamers can be a bit suspicious of corporate leaders.
  • My colleague, Raymond de Villiers, currently completing a Masters in Future Studies (Stellenbosch) and an innovation guru, points out that there are also significant implications for innovation. “Gamers see failure as part of the process of discovery. When you fail in a game you go back to begin and redo the things that successfully got you to the point of failure. At that point you then try something different until you are successful. From then on, every time you get to the same point you do what has worked before so that you can get onto the next challenge. For older generations, failure needs to be punished or managed out of the system, while for Gamers it is a critical part of the creative process of discovery & innovation.”
  • Gamers are sometimes accused of being loners and not working well within teams. But this is a misunderstanding of modern games. Gaming is actually much more social than older generations tend to understand. With friends, over networks, and online, games are often collaborative and interactive these days. Research is showing that gamers really value other people – more than people who didn’t play games growing up (see book recommendation below).
  • Recently, a business colleague of mine saw games assist in developing relationships in a blended family. Steve’s daughter was 10, and his new wife’s sons were 9 and 11. It dawned on these kids, as their parents were courting, that pretty soon, they would be brothers and sister – so they needed to connect. How did they build that relationship? What they DIDN’T do was sit down and chat together, asking about likes and dislikes, pop music, hobbies etc, as older generations might have done. What they did (continuously, hour after hour for about the first 5 weeks) was sit together in front of the Gamecube playing a James Bond ‘Nightfire’ spy mission game. They played as a team against ‘the enemy’. Steve gives some of the credit for his family’s current relationships to Gamecube as it taught his Gamer Generation children to “know” one another. They would find out about each other’s personality by which “character” they would adopt. They helped one another out against the enemy, taught one another new tricks, etc, and just built a relationship together around ‘Gaming Task’. It was fascinating to watch! The parents’ first instinct might have been to tell them to switch the Gamecube off and talk – but Steve and Jo soon realised what was going on – and it was amazing!!
  • The research quoted above also shows that Gamers firmly believe in a team environment. But they’re not egalitarians – they believe someone should lead. They’re often happy to share the leadership – leading this time, following the next, and they often have more inter-relational skills than other people their age, and more fluency with different leadership styles.
  • Gamers can often seem distracted and distant from their ‘real life’ work. If this is the case, the work task probably has not been “packaged” in such a way as to inspire them. (One Gamer also cheekily pointed out that those same managers who complain about young Gamers’ work ethics probably weren’t getting much done in their youth years right after Woodstock).
  • Sometimes it is scary to hear stories of how many hours (or even days!) a Gamer will spend struggling to complete a level, mission or scene. Perseverance and a no-matter-what-it-takes attitude can be a virtue taught by computer games, and extremely useful in the business world.

Don’t scorn Gamers. They are a great asset for your organisation in the 21st-century.

There is a great resource on this issue, and I must credit this book with the original concept of this article. Its: Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever (buy it online at Amazon.comhttp://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1578519497/theedge0f-20 and Kalahari.nethttp://www.kalahari.net/e-trader/referral.asp?linkid=5&partnerid=588&sku=27786943)

TomorrowToday Global