99: Biz Sims

"What's more, these games - though inarguably games - feel different from those we play for fun. These sims are incredibly targeted. They pull you in because they're about your job and your co-workers at your company. When they work right, they engage you at levels you never knew existed, and you hate to stop playing. But they're not meant to be "fun," as such. In fact, though some of these consultants do let the word "game" sneak into their pitches, "fun" is an F-word. They aim for respectability. And believe it: In this respect, computer game publishers could learn from them."

Allen Varney on business simulations - games by any other name.

Biz Sims

Aren't we forgetting Eve Online? The FT seem to think it worth talking about, even if it's not entirely applicable to the real world.

I'm not sure how far I'd go with comparing Eve to a business simulation, what with, as you suggested, it's lack of practical application (the effective definition of a simulation), but I'm insanely curious to hear what Allen thinks.

"What businesses could you simulate? Many of the published Tycoon games would make good team multiplayer games."

I'm thinking _GTA_, _Scarface_, and _The Godfather_. No business would be more fun to simulate--or likely to embroil games in another controversy--than the business of organized crime. Like you said, it's the micromanagement that kills these games--I'm thinking of _Gangsters_ here.

Also maybe _Colonization_/_Alpha Centauri_: colony building seems pretty well suited to team simulation.

Ah, but these games are very explicit simulations of the real thing.

This is just another example of the extreme lengths that businesses are going to in order to try to predict the future. Albertson's, for example, has invested huge amounts of money in neural networks (which are, as far as I know, the cutting-edgest of the cutting edge in artificial intelligence) to determine exactly what prices to sell groceries at in each different region. The slight edge that comes from knowing in advance what will work and what won't is leading to huge increases in profit for those companies that do it right.

And what is a simulation of a business, but a means for that business to predict what hardships it will encounter?

I think it is also interesting to note the different approaches taken by industry and academia in the study of simulations. Obviously, the two very different research techniques they employ have led to widely divergent results, but this is extremely pronounced in their efforts to learn more about simulations. Why, one could even make a game simulating the process of studying simulations in an academic versus an industrial setting, and....

I'd like to see some longitudinal studies on these games. I'm somewhat skeptical. Sure, the workers utilized the information the next day, but what about weeks and years from now.

For example: team building became the big thing psychologist pushed in order to keep the science relevant in a capitalist society; however, the exercises have shown little long term affect on business productivity. It's not that I think these games are the same as team building, I'd just like to see them being studied over a long period in order to find out if they are as wonderful as they seem.

From Allen Varney (He's having forum trouble. Varney can't respond, so I respond for him):

In its way, EVE Online definitely embodies, more closely than any other MMOG I can think of, the online multiplayer business ideas I expressed in my "Biz Sims" article. But I think serious criminality and predation are a much bigger part of EVE's world than they are in real business life. No, really, stop laughing. Even the hardened cynic must admit that in modern corporate America you just don't see much assassination. Real-world shipping companies do still worry about piracy, but it's nothing like the routine menace it is in EVE. Most corporate crime nowadays happens not in the Straits of Malacca but in boardrooms and K Street lobbyist offices.

The more EVE players must think about ambushes, frontal assaults and hostile infiltrations, the better and more exciting a game it is, in its genre -- but to that same extent, it consequently becomes less interesting as a strict business simulator. Still, I noted the Financial Times article hinted intriguingly at EVE's ability to teach genuine business skills. If World of Warcraft is "the new golf," as in the preferred executive networking tool, I'll be interested to see if EVE Online becomes "the new MBA" that fosters executive careers.

-- Allen Varney

Another emerging leader in the business simulations space is TATA Interactive Systems. You can check them out here


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