METANOMICS: TOTAL ENGAGEMENT - GAMING THE WORKPLACE
DECEMBER 2, 2009
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is brought to you by Remedy Communications and
Dusan Writer's Metaverse.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I'm Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University's
Johnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds
in the larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our
discussion about Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is
ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in
Second Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome
discussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the
show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at
Cornell University and Immersive Workspaces. Welcome. This is Metanomics.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome to Metanomics. You know most people who look at
the enterprise uses of Virtual Worlds bend over backwards to avoid what I call the
‘game taint’. As far as I can tell, the only thing more frightening than having employees
play games on the job is having them nap. Well, sleep researchers have been telling us,
for years, that napping at work is a good thing, even to the point that the FAA is
considering proposals to allow pilots to nap in the cockpit, one at a time, of course.
Today's guest is Byron Reeves, professor of communications at Stanford University, a
researcher on the psychology of media. And he and his colleagues will be telling us, for
years to come, that playing games at work is as good as napping. He makes his case in
his newest book Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the
Way People Work and Businesses Compete, published by Harvard Business School.
The book is co-written with Leighton Read, and Byron and Leighton have also co-
founded a company, Seriosity. Quoting from their materials, their mission is to "change
the way people work together in functions requiring a high level of collaboration,
communication and feedback in today's information-intensive business environments."
Byron, welcome to Metanomics.
BYRON REEVES: Thank you, Rob, and nice to be here.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So welcome also to everyone watching on the web or at
metanomics.net or in Second Life at our Metanomics Sim or any of our event partners.
We'll be tracking the text chat, so please keep those questions and comments coming.
Before we jump into the interview, I do want to take a moment to report some sad news.
Just over a month ago, we had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Jarmon on
Metanomics. Leslie was instrumental in bringing the entire University of Texas system in
to Second Life, and she told us about her experiences. Leslie passed away last week,
succumbing to cancer. So on behalf of the Metanomics community, I'd like to offer my
condolences to Leslie's family, friends and colleagues. I'll have more to say about this
later in the show. But, for now, I'll simply say that this episode of Metanomics is
dedicated to the memory of Leslie Jarmon.
Byron, I first learned about you through your Seriosity research study on leadership,
called Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders, and you're quoted on the frontispiece of that article,
saying, "If you want to see what business leadership may look like in three to five years,
look at what's happening now in online games." Why do you say that?
BYRON REEVES: Well, actually a couple reasons. One has to do with the people that
will be the leaders coming up. There's a new generation that's becoming much more
familiar with the environments like the one we're in now and also environments that add
to this, the "g” word--game sensibilities--and the psychology of reinforcement and
economies and whatnot that overlay games on there. So this new generation is coming
in to the workforce expecting that their work technology is at least as good as the stuff
they're playing with at home and in other communities and finding that's not the case
and are quite interested in the idea. So I think that the generational issue is one
I think the second one is that it kind of works when it's done well so, if people are able to
play games, are able to be engaged in a way in work, maybe work that's otherwise
pretty dull, tedious, they might be able to be engaged in a way that makes them more
productive and actually increases quality of life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know you have a lot of very impassioned arguments for the
benefits of games, but I thought maybe we'd take a minute just to get your views on why
there is this game taint. Why is it, do you think, that we work so hard, especially those of
us in Virtual Worlds, always trying to draw the distinction between Virtual Worlds and
games. Yes, there are games that take place in Virtual Worlds, but they're not the same,
and a lot of people who are making the pitch to their businesses do everything they can
to avoid the "g" word. So why do you think that is?
BYRON REEVES: I think we tried to answer that in our book, in a chapter called
"Danger." And while we're really interested in the benefits of virtual communities and
worlds and game psychology, we're really more convinced that it's dangerous and
perhaps dangerous in an interesting way. My co-author, Leighton, is a life science
investor, including pharmaceutical investments and entrepreneur, a very successful one
in that area, and this language came really from him, that, in that area, people are
interested in things that are dangerous: If you take this much of it, it will save your life. If
you take a little bit more, it may kill you. I think that actually is one of the reasons why
there are some allergies to both these virtual environments and games. They can
certainly be used in both directions so I think what we've got here really is fire.
And what I would advocate is that there are enough utilities and sensibilities that will do
things like increase productivity in the enterprise, that people try to take control of how
these tools are developed and used in the enterprise. They will be, we think, almost
regardless of whatever allergies may persist. So I think that's an important first thing to
say. So you can certainly play games or be in a Virtual World to the extent that you
develop a classical addiction or you spend more time than you should doing things that
are bad for you; there's no doubt about that. But there's also no doubt that they can be
used for good as well. So I think that double-edged sword is a good first thing to keep in
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I'm looking at the comment stream as you're talking, and I
see first Troy McLuhan is recalling a big edit war in Wikipedia, on whether Second Life's
entry should begin by saying Second Life is a game. I'm not going to go there. I also
notice Buffy Beale mentioning that the game issue is a big problem at her organization,
which I'm assuming she is referring to TechSoup, the nonprofit that helps nonprofits,
and she says reputations were at stake. One of the glories of running events like
Metanomics, using ChatBridge technology, is that we can have multiple conversations
at once. I would love to see Buffy, if you can elaborate on that a little bit in text, as Byron
and I talk. I think that would be a big benefit to everyone, assuming those are, of course,
stories you can mention.
Let's move on a little bit. So in your book, one of the first things that you do in the book
is, you draw a number of parallels between work and online games. You actually have
40 different ways in which the things that people do when they're playing World of
Warcraft, for example, are very similar to what goes on in a real business. You have
examples like getting information and inspecting equipment, structures or material,
monitoring processes, developing objectives. My concern with that is, I wonder if you
could say the same about just about any form of play. Is it stronger than just making
BYRON REEVES: Well, I think it is a little bit stronger. There's no doubt that, if our
team goes out and completes a rope course together one afternoon on the mountain
range, that we may be closer when we get to the office. Or that if we bring the
sensibilities of Texas Hold'em into decision-making process in a company, that those
games might be beneficial. But I think that what the games and the environments in
which they're constructed offers is a much more complete sense of actually living the
process together. So in there, there are all these metrics, all these ways to
communicate with each other, re-configurability, the self-representation, all the
economies. It's just, I think, a much more complete representation of what's going on.
And maybe the key point is that, and what we really try to make in the book, is that
we're not as interested in going into these Worlds to learn how to do work or to have a
conversation that will then be useful in the Real World, although that certainly happens.
You can go into Second Life. You can maybe have a better learning experience than
you would have on a typical corporate website and then take that learning back into
your work. But what we're interested in is having these environments actually be the
places where the work is conducted so all the affordances, all the data and the maps
and everything that make this a complete experience are actually related to the work I'm
doing right now. So if I work in a call center, my call center is in Second Life or in the
virtual environment and if I add game components to that, if there's a leader board, of
there's an economy where I'm reinforced or reputations and levels, etcetera, all that is
right there, right next to my work.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you talked about, I guess, two of the things. First there's
the virtual environment that we think of when we think of games. And the second is sort
of the competition and the scoring. I'd actually like to start with one that you didn't
mention. In chapter four of your book, you actually go through ten features of great
games, and the first one you talk about is one you didn't just mention then, which is
avatars. The notion of working online is pretty familiar. AM radio, it's astonishing how
often I hear ads for WebEX and their competitors, while listening just to basic talk radio
As far as games in compensation, we see those all the time: who's going to win the
sales competition and get the trip to Hawaii sort of stuff, which basically is a game. But
avatars are unusual at best and often accused of being distracting or creepy. I'd like to
start here. One of the more memorable lines in that part of the book, for me, is when
you quantified the impact of having an avatar as "ten heartbeats per minute." Maybe
you could start there. What do you mean by that?
BYRON REEVES: Well, we could actually do the experiment. We don't have anybody
hooked up to electrodes to know whether their heart is accelerating or decelerating. But
just imagine the experiment with the two of us on the stage, and everybody in the
audience is actually watching us. So here's what the experiments look like in our lab. So
I'm participating in this virtual environment. You're sitting next to me. If you were to say
something to me that was interesting or maybe even arousing, if you were to touch me,
if you were to stand close to me, my heart would beat ten beats per minute faster if I
have the certain knowledge that you are actually controlled.
Your avatar, your little bits on my screen, are controlled by the real human being
Robert. So that is this model that we create, that not only am I represented by the
character that's speaking right now, but that I believe your character is actually
represented by another human being creates this belief about socialness that is
So two things happen. There's a counterpart to the heartbeat problem, so a result. One
is that, if you actually interact with me, that is arousing in a way that is very much like
real life and it's also interesting to me. I mean my brain actually mirrors an activation the
same kind of activation that would exist in real life. So if you were to reach out and
actually touch my avatar right now, I am invested enough in that character that I actually
have neuro-activation in the same regions that would be true if we were actually
standing next to each other on a real stage. So there's a real acceptance of this. Yes,
they're creepy. They're a little bit different. We like to celebrate the differences and talk
about them, but there's a fundamental, social relationship that's occurring with these
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It sounds a lot like something I heard from Sandra Kearney,
when she was at IBM. Actually she was the first guest that we ever had on Metanomics.
She was giving a demonstration of Second Life in a classroom here at Cornell, and one
avatar accidentally bumped into another avatar and said, "I'm sorry." And she pointed
out that was when--the first time she saw that happen, that was when she realized the
importance of an avatar.
But Buffy Beale, I guess this is going to be the Beyers and Buffy show today maybe.
She has an interesting question, which is, well, she asks, "What if the avatar is a
cloud?" Which, of course, is a problem that we often have in Second Life. It's something
they use to restrict bandwidth and so on.
But I guess, more generally, let me expand on that a bit and say I know you changed
out of you--I understand you had 2004 clothes on, which you could probably sell as
classics these days. But you switched into a tie, and now I'm feeling a little bad. I'm too
business casual today, without the tie. But how are businesses going to navigate all the
hazards of appropriate dress? What are the effects? And is it okay to be an elf?
BYRON REEVES: The default answer, I think, that covers a lot of situations is that they
will have to navigate these issues the same way they do now. Initially there may be
things like IBM took a shot at a style sheet for avatars, with the thousands of people that
they have meeting regularly in their Intraverse. And you can imagine what some of them
are. But largely, whatever works in real life is probably going to work in the Virtual
World. There'll be some augmentation of that world. I can actually look out in the
audience and see that there are at least a couple different social actors out there that
don't represent anything like the folks that I meet regularly, which is interesting, and
that's actually an interesting difference here.
But the same things are going to work. Be nice. Be polite. Obey the same rules of
personal space that seem to work in the Real World. I know my aha moment was
similar to Sandra's, was when an avatar initially came up to me, and this was again in
2004, and stood quite close, and I backed away. And I thought to myself, "Why do I
need to back away to a bunch of digital bits on a screen," in florescent light at that time.
So I think the first answer is the same stuff's going to work.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You mentioned personal space, and let's talk about just
space in general. Virtual Worlds have 3D spaces. You refer to that as one of the
features of great games. What does a 3D space mean for business?
BYRON REEVES: Well, I think in general it means that, just for being a human, you
know a whole lot about the physics of this world and how things operate, and it doesn't
mean that you can't fly and that you can't bend the rules in ways that really accelerate
life in interesting ways, but there's a familiarity. There's a familiarity in the social
dimension. I know what to say to people, therefore, I at least have some idea of what to
say to avatars, and I know how to navigate physical spaces just for being a human. So I
think that's one important part of this.
In business, there's a lot of really interesting primitive uses of space. For example,
space is often used to indicate expertise. A guy in that office or the guy that occupies
that space is the one that knows about this. First of all, you remember where he or she
is easily because it has a spatial location. You go there to actually communicate about
the issue that you want to communicate. So bodies and spaces are extremely important
in memory. The human brain has evolved to process best that kind of information. And
so it's really quite useful in business as well.
Plus, the other use of this whole thing, and this is really the engagement order that we
really try to use here is that there's really something pretty primitive and fun and
engaging and interesting and curious. I want to do more. Maybe it's a little weird
sometimes, but there's this fundamental primitive curiosity that exists that's enabled by
the familiarity of space and social actors.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You don't think that's just a novelty factor, and once
businesses implement avatars in 3D spaces, that they’ll then just become same-old
BYRON REEVES: Well, I think to sustain it you need to change it, just like real life. If
we were sharing an office together in a business, the tenth time you walked in it
wouldn't be as interesting to meet you and say hello as the first time. So maybe you say
something differently, wear something different, reconfigure the space in some way that
was interesting. That's certainly a heck of a lot easier to do in the digital world than in
the Real World. So there's a lot of opportunity to freshen environments and
appearances and do things that might sustain what is naturally given as attention to
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Redecoration is certainly a lot cheaper here, huh.
BYRON REEVES: Yeah, absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So now sticking with the engagement theme, two of the
things you identify as being very important in great games are, one, having a narrative
and a context, a story. And the other which I think is closely related is having feedback.
Let's start with the narrative. It's clear to me that, if you're creating a game, you're going
to want it to have some sort of narrative. How do you see that playing out in a business
BYRON REEVES: Well, you have an opportunity to build narrative. There's probably no
game that we could imagine or even have played that you couldn't build an environment
like we're in now. But one thing it would probably have, almost all of them have, is this
notion of story, that I am playing a role in a story. There's a fantasy element to this, but
there's also a familiarity here. I can be kind of an extemporaneous actor, but, if I'm in
World of Warcraft, I'm a warrior or a priest or a mage, and I kind of know the role of that
character in the story; if it's in space, galaxies of war for the last thousand years. I
wonder who will win. This is the back story and the history.
And what we know about the psychology of engagement is that similar interactions,
experiencing similar objects in a narrative is more engaging. I mean it's literally more
arousing. The same "ten heartbeats per minute" result applies to experiences that are
done in a context of a narrative. And a lot of that research has been done more on the
antisocial side, so it's more arousing to shoot people, the same characters and the
same first-person shooter game when you know the back story and the narrative of the
game than when you don't, so building that narrative.
Now transfer that to business. There are some wonderful narratives in business that are
hard to maintain, hard to keep track of, hard to get in front of everybody at the same
time, but you could easily do that if you're building a work environment where you get to
write the narrative, whether it's obvious narrative like companies in competition or it
could be even a narrative something that's much more fantasy oriented. We've actually
experimented with some of these. And mine could be different from yours. My team
might actually like the Medieval theme, and another might like the futuristic theme, and
another might like the present.
There could be many different ways that that narrative could be constructed. But I think
all of them would have a better chance of engaging people. Obviously there's an artistic
execution issue here. The ones that tell the best stories are going to win and construct
the best stories, but I think it really gives us all a chance to get more involved in the
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We've got some comments on that. Devon Alderton notes
that business is more and more using story as a way to create relationships with
BYRON REEVES: Absolutely.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And [GracefullyOn?] also chimes in on organizations having
narratives. So I guess we're going to have to bring the marketing departments in here,
to make sure that the narrative that's being used is not only appropriate to motivate
workers, but is going to fit with the narrative that the whole organization sees for itself.
BYRON REEVES: I think that's actually a really important comment. I think a lot of
these virtual spaces and places and games will be used to gather people that are using
a brand or that want to gather around a brand, and the brands and companies are going
to want to own those interactions and create them themselves. So I think that creating a
narrative that glues those audiences or those actors together is really increasingly
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let's turn to feedback, and here's where the cost accountant
in me comes out. I teach managerial accounting and have for longer than I want to say
on the air. One of the things that accountants know is that strong incentives are a
dangerous game, for a number of reasons. And the most important is that there's
always some slippage between what we want to get people to do and what we actually
end up encouraging by the feedback and the incentives that we create. How worried
should we be that there will be slippage between the game and the actual business
goals and will be driving people to do things that aren't in our business's interest?
BYRON REEVES: There certainly could be issues with incenting the wrong kinds of
behavior, giving feedback that move people in the wrong dimensions. And maybe we
could come back to that. I think one of the first things to notice about it, if we were all
part of the same team in an organization, working in this environment right now--so we
just started a company right here--one thing that we have the ability to do with all the
affordances in this screen that I'm looking at right now is to indicate to people how
things are going in a time domain that's much shorter than they're used to in their
current jobs. So right now, if you're lucky, you get a quarterly review. Maybe it's an
annual review and ad hoc comments from your boss, in emails.
But, in the games especially and even in this environment because we can be
exchanging virtual currencies. We could have leader boards pop up anywhere we
wanted. We could have indications of how things are going relative to a goal that
occupy all time domains so we could stay with the quarterly-annual stuff. But, we could
add to that what is one of the real secret sauces of the engagement of these game
environments that is, "I know how things are going." Numbers are flying out all the time.
I complete a quest in the course of an hour. We do well or not. We start it up again. We
get feedback on how things went.
We have all kinds of data about individual contributions. We know which individuals
contributed the most so there's just all this information that maps extremely well onto the
psychology of conditioning and behavior change and the influence of feedback that
maps extremely well because most of that psychology is in the time domain that we're
talking about, in shorter time domains. It's not so much in the longer time domain. So we
get the advantage of doing all that in the short time domains.
Now to go back to the first part of that question, if these environments are going to be
useful in work, the key goal in designing work in these environments and games and
virtual environments is the notion of alignment, and that is, we have to make what is fun
contribute to what is productive or what the objective function of the organization is.
And, to the extent we get that alignment right, then we've done something for the
individuals contributing, as well as the organization that's benefiting from their
contribution. If we get that wrong, we could easily encourage people in the wrong
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks. I see Decka Mah has anticipated my next question,
with a couple of comments. First, "Watch Dan Pink's Ted Talk on the Surprising Science
of Motivation. A carrot and stick are not the best motivators." And then Decka goes on
to say, "Pink's research shows that autonomy, mastery, purpose and self-direction are
the key motivators, and all these exist in games." Now the way I was thinking of this
issue is when we talk about things like autonomy, mastery, purpose and self-direction,
those are intrinsic motivations. When we turn to feedback and pay and getting your
name on the leader board, those are external, extrinsic motivations. And there's a lot of
research that shows that you give people payment to do something, and it can actually
crowd out, reduce, the internal motivation.
BYRON REEVES: Right. Right.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I think my favorite example of this: Alfie Kohn is a guy who's
written extensively on this topic, and he talked about, I think, Pizza Hut had a program
for kids. You read a book, you get it marked on a card, and, when you've read enough
books, you get a free pizza. And well he says--in his book is something along the lines
of, "This is a great way to generate fat kids who hate reading." Do you think this would
cause a problem, as we ramp up the incentives and make them even more compelling
through games? Is that going to--
BYRON REEVES: Yeah, it could cause a problem, I think, Rob. It really could cause a
problem. But one of the promises here--and, again, this could be done poorly and
fail--one of the promises is the alignment, I mean we could even use the words
"internal" and "external" motivations in the context of this alignment. So when I play a
game like Warcraft, for example, one of the things I think they get right that's most
interesting for the enterprise is they help people answer the question of what I get when
we win. So there's a "we," and there's an "I" in the game, and I can't even get to the
next level unless "we" win.
So I have a vested interest in the "we" and whatever external motivations might come
from helping that group. So that has to be in sync with the internal motivation of the
engagement or the participation or I'm having fun or the feeling of achievement,
whatever those internal motivations are, but it's getting those in sync that I think are
really interesting opportunity here. So in the games, if you’ve made it to Second Life,
you’ve probably made it some of the games at least enough to see that a lot of this
group action is critical for advancement in a game. But the guilds and the groups that
actually sponsor this group action have concocted some of the most interesting and
sophisticated collaborative tools to share games and to share success and wealth. We
go into detail on something called DKP in these multiplayer online games.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Dragon Kill Points?
BYRON REEVES: Dragon Kill Points. Yes. And this is a vestige of old games, but what
it stands for is different ways to develop empirical, quantitative tracking of who's helping
achieve and how people are helping achieve group goals. So there's this real I-we sync
there that's really, really quite interesting in the game. So I think that's an interesting
take on the internal-external motivations. If you can get those in sync and it's not for
free, just because you make a game doesn't mean you got them in sync, but I think
there's a real opportunity to really accelerate the value of the experiences.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Fascinating. We're just past the bottom of the hour now, and,
as we have been doing all season long, we will take a short clip from a prior show and
come back with more questions for our guest, Stanford professor Byron Reeves,
co-author of the book Total Engagement. Our clip today is going to be actually just from
about a month ago. We're going to listen to Leslie Jarmon, from the University of Texas,
talk about the research component of her Virtual World Initiative. So here is a quick look
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: With Metanomics now in its third season, we thought it'd be
fun to take a look back at some of our past shows and guests, since September of
2007. With over 80 episodes to choose from, we chose some of the most interesting,
engaging and occasionally contentious discussions. As always, you can see the
complete episodes at metanomics.net or on our iTunes channel.
METANOMICS: BUILDING IMMERSIVE INSTRUCTIONAL EXPERIENCE
AND LEARNING COMMUNITIES IN SECOND LIFE
OCTOBER 21, 2009
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Leslie, I’d like to start this last segment of the show by talking
about research and metrics. The goal here, as I understand it, is not just to do things,
but to collect enough data so you know what worked and what didn’t. Could you talk a
bit about what you’re trying to do?
LESLIE JARMON: Great, Rob. Yeah, the research component is very, very important
to us so the design of the proposal is actually to collect data at three significant levels
over the course of the year. The highest level or most meta level is collecting data at the
stage of the system, that is to address the question: What does it look like when an
entire public state system of higher education moves into a Virtual Worlds? So we’re
collecting data on that since day one. We did rough pre-surveys of all the campuses,
sort of the Second Life climate, which, in some cases, was zero, on the campuses
before we started the grant.
And then the campus leads and my team meets every two weeks in Second Life. And
there were five questions that they address every week, and we’re tracking all of those.
Probably after December we’ll start gathering metrics on actual space and usage and
object usage and participation and particularly, particularly collaboration across
campuses, between campuses and with other campuses outside of the system.
So in a nutshell, we’re collecting data at the system level, but we’re also collecting data
at the campus level. Remember, these are 15 campuses, very, very diverse in nature,
some simply because they’re medical or health-science center institutions, others
because they’re academic institutions. So that already is a big difference. But also
across the state of Texas, the different campuses have different levels of resources,
different kinds of information technology support. They have different populations of
faculty and students. And so those who decide to step forward and explore and discover
and learn with us on their campus, on any given campus, can be very, very different. On
one campus it might be engineers and art historians. On another campus it might be the
nursing community that steps forward. So we’re collecting data at the campus level.
And finally, although it’s not required, we have in place a pretty easy way for individual
instructors at the campuses to collect data about the learning effectiveness, for
example, of Second Life, for their course at the student level, at the individual course
level, as well as research questions that individual faculty member may want.
So we’ve moved beyond anecdotes. We’re collecting metrics and data at all three
levels, and we then hope to be able to share that information, what have we learned,
what obstacles did we face, how did we overcome them, what did we not overcome,
what continues to be a problem and so forth.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks. We have a bunch of questions, one following up on
what you were just talking about. Corcosman Voom is asking what lessons you have
learned from other universities that have been in Second Life for a while. You’re not
starting from scratch. Were you able to take what you learned from others’ successes
LESLIE JARMON: That’s a wonderful question, and, again, as I said at the beginning,
for me it’s all about collaboration and the extreme generosity of the educational
community in Second Life. As I said, I’m one of the cofounders of the Educators Co-Op,
and those members represent all different kinds of universities and campuses. Some
are K through 12 teachers. I’ve learned so much from them, particularly not only at the
level of the class, how to teach a class in Second Life or what seems to work and what
doesn’t, but also taking a note, for example, from Ohio University. They have built a
very representational kind of presence, in Second Life, of their campus.
If you go to Athens, Ohio, and you walk across the campus, and then you log into
Second Life, you will recognize some of the buildings in the space there. And that’s
serving them very well, for a number of purposes: for development, for outreach, for
recruitment to high school students and families. They can go to that Sim and see
something that’s recognizable and not too far out or different, as they think about their
child or daughter or son going to Ohio University. So there are many different tracks,
and we’ve learned a lot from everybody.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is also when you’re also supposed to say that you study
all the Metanomics archives and have learned a tremendous amount from that.
LESLIE JARMON: And I will say, about a year ago, I think, Rob, you interviewed
Joe Santos and I on this show, and we talked about the Educators Co-op. It’s a
wonderful website, everybody, so you can definitely go there and hear the various
interviews. There’s so much to learn from the discussion sessions in 25 groups, which is
all you can be in, and I’m having to switch one of those out every week because some
new wonderful group is coming in. But we’ve learned from--SciLands. Please don’t let
me forget to mention SciLands and the wonderful cooperation and collaboration with
that marvelous consortium of agencies and organizations and communities of scientists
and researchers and explorers in this Virtual World. They’ve been fantastic.
We actually requested that our archipelago be located just across a little bit of water
from the SciLands continent so that the population of people we’re going to be now able
to bring into Second Life, whether that’s faculty, students, researchers, scientists or
administrators, the first places they might fly to will be some of the incredible
educational builds that are part of SciLands.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We're back with Stanford professor Byron Reeves, co-author
of the book Total Engagement and co-founder of the consulting business Seriosity. We
had a chance, during that clip of Leslie Jarmon, who just passed away but was talking
about the University of Texas. And while she was talking about that, actually Byron and
I had a chance to figure out all the points we missed elaborating on in the first part of
the show. Byron, you wanted to talk a little bit more about how your Stanford students
distinguish between Virtual Worlds and games.
BYRON REEVES: Yeah. I'm very interested in this, especially the natural reactions that
a lot of the students had. So the first people, in fact the most important people that
we've had kind of drive the exposure of these games and Virtual Worlds to business
folks are students that applied for jobs. "Get Paid to Play" was the headline, and you
can imagine a lot of them wanted to do that. And they had to send in résumés that not
only listed the courses they'd taken but level they were in various games or what
characters they had in various Virtual Worlds. And one of the really interesting things to
us was the crispness of distinction that they made between virtual environments, like
Second Life, and virtual environments that had a game sensibility added on, like World
of Warcraft, that that was a very important distinction. Or even to games that were
non-visual, that just were text-based or number-based, whatever. We thought that was
I think there's a useful confusion of games and Virtual Worlds for people that are trying
to make arguments about using these tools in the enterprise. But for a lot of the
students, there was a nice crisp distinction there, and they thought that it felt different.
Certainly, I mean there's self-representation. There are virtual economies, etcetera, in
these virtual environments, and they are exactly the same things that are in the game
worlds. But the addition of competition and levels and leader boards, even if done lightly
in a very social sense was really quite important to them.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You sparked a couple comments there, one in particular.
Someone's asking, "Will I have to create a separate résumé for my avatar?" That's a
question from LOM Runner. I'm guessing that was inspired by the fact that, in their
résumé, you want to know whether they're a 35th level mage or something like that. And
you talk about one of the features of great games you mention in your book is the
existence of ranks and levels and reputations and so on. First of all, right, it's a natural
fit to business where people really worry about their titles in just about any business you
can think of, and so it's a nice fit. I'm wondering how you see the difference between the
ranks people would be achieving if you made it more explicitly a game.
BYRON REEVES: I think I could imagine things that I could put on my résumé that,
even right today, would be useful in applying to a job at Accenture or at IBM, at very
substantial places. That would probably come from both of the worlds of games and
Virtual Worlds. So if you say, "I'm a guild leader, and have been for the last nine
months, of a 200-person guild that spans three continents," you've said, "I know how to
make a website. I know how to motivate people. I know how to arbitrate a lot of
foolishness with respect to who gets what when they do this." I mean you've actually
communicated a lot to people that I know, because I've met them, who also play in
those Worlds, who would share that recognition, share the knowledge of what went into
that kind of recognition. So I don't think that's for next year or next decade. I think that
could actually be useful now.
But the same thing could be true for a Virtual World. You could say, "I run a business in
a Virtual World, that has this revenue and this number of employees, and I negotiate
independent contractor deals." There's just so much that gets done that's just right on
target with what happens in real business. And so much that gets done that would
probably have to wait in a real job, so I think that's the other really important part of this,
that you get to do things that you might have to wait several years to take a shot at in
the Real World.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, of course. I generally agree with you. On the other
hand, Brigit Ranger points out here, "So you think it's okay to put on your real life
résumé that you've been a member of a specific Virtual World?" Evad Slade says, "A lot
of employers may think it's creepy." I don't know that we're there yet.
BYRON REEVES: No, I wouldn't do it as just a scatter shot, but I would definitely think
about it as a targeted add-on to a résumé for a particular company, especially if the job
you were applying for included any mention of social networks, new media, these kinds
of things. It can't be done casually and humorously and with tongue in cheek. There's a
very substantial background that comes with all these achievements. And, if you were to
make a comment about the relationship between the activities, I think it would be well
I'll mention one good story is that when we were first working at IBM, thinking about
leadership in the games and leadership in a real business, there was all this discussion
about allergies and people just aren't going to be able to see the complexity of these
games and what not.
So one of the things that you can do in your company, I think, that is really important is
to allow the people that are currently in the choir with games, that have the experience,
that are playing these games to be discovered and ask them, first of all, find out who
they are. At IBM, we went and announced the possibility of participating in a survey
about the relationship of leadership in games and business, and you had to have
participated in a guild to participate in the survey. We wondered whether anyone would
want to do that. We had hundreds of people, mid-level managers who say, "I'm part of
this guild, and I think all the time about managing my group at work and managing how
the guild is managing."
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. That was a very interesting read. Let me just put in a
pitch that the Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders, describes that wonderfully, I think.
BYRON REEVES: I think, in general--you had mentioned when we were off air, Rob,
about a lot of people in the audience are having to make arguments in their organization
that this is something to explore, if not buy wholesale. And I think the kind of stories and
especially the kind of science that is being gathered around this, a lot of this reviewed in
the book, can be really useful air cover to explore these ideas. That these are not trivial
things that 14-year-old adolescent boys do in windowless basements, that these are
things, you know--
The average age in the game worlds that we're studying is in the mid-30s. These are
people with spouses and mortgages and yard work, that are leading Real World groups
and some of the psychology that we mention around this. So there's a scientific
community that's developing around this. And there are some interesting business
cases around this, and having all that to help make the argument should be useful and
maybe accelerate tests in your company.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Just to weigh in on this myself, I'd just like to point out that I'm
one of those frightening people, frightening to young people anyway because I use the
web if I'm going to be making a hiring decision or consider taking on a student to advise
or something like that. I'll go onto Facebook. I'll go on Google. I'll try to learn more about
them. There are times I haven't hired people because of something I found that way.
And now I've lost track of who asked the question, "Would you actually hire someone
who's saying, 'Oh, I spent 14 hours a day, seven days a week for two years managing a
guild of 40 people. You want to hire me?'?"
You know what an academic research career is like. It's all-consuming. And to know
that someone is able to dive in with such dedication into any project and manage all that
complexity and that many people. Oh, I guess it's Melchizedek Blauvelt mentioned this.
Can you have a job? That's when I'm going to say, "Yeah." That's the kind of person I
need because most people--
BYRON REEVES: I would at least be inclined to interview them and talk to them, more
so than someone that hadn't done that, that had just had a different trajectory and really
hadn't had those experiences.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I don't know that this is something we should be devoting a
whole lot of time to on this show, but one of the things I'd point out is, I'm going back to
thinking of what Buffy Beale was saying early on, with the problems that she found. I
misspoke. She's not part of TechSoup. She's just part of the Nonprofit Commons that is
managed by them, actually it’s in provincial government. But she talked about how just
these little things. There was bad press because of what she called yucky stuff, and I
won't go into the details. But you know what goes on in games. I think a lot of the issue
right now is that we're in a soundbite world, and, if it sounds bad in one sentence, you
may have lost the battle. I would say people need to start thinking of better sentences
so we can have a better pitch to organizations. But just, I guess, an aside there.
I actually like to move on to something that I think is fascinating, which is, you and
Leighton Read, through Seriosity, made email into a game, with Serios. So
Ted Castranova, many of you in the audience will know him, and he's been on
Metanomics before, he wrote a blog post on Terra Nova. This is an email he sent to
people, "No big news. I'm just letting you know that, from now on, I'm going to be sorting
my in-box using the Attent program developed by Seriosity. Attent allows senders to
attach a virtual currency called the Serio to emails. By design, Serios are in limited
supply. An email with more Serios attached means more to the sender. By attaching
Serios to the messages, senders help receivers prioritize the flood of incoming
messages. It's the sort of thing that appeals to me." This is Ted Castranova saying it.
"Virtual currency, economics, scarcity, fun. Therefore, starting today, I'll be responding
first to emails with the highest incoming Serio values. Look at it this way: if you want to
help me give your message the attention it deserves, go to seriosity.com and get some
Serios, then attach them to your message."
Now there was just an incredible comment stream and not all of it positive. So give us
an update on how that has progressed.
BYRON REEVES: Sure. So the first thing to say is that, as we look at the possibilities
of games and the enterprise are two different directions you can go. One is the full
monty, where you say, "We're going to build World of Warcraft for sales tracking, and all
the salespeople are going to sell their stuff." Or, "We're going to build a call center in
World of Warcraft, and that every single element that works in these games, we're going
to put in our software." That's on one end of the bookend.
The other is to take the elements one at a time and use them to an advantage in the
enterprise, and this is a little bit better or more consistent with the spirit in companies of
building technology, very incrementally and iterate and try things out. So what we did
was pick one of the elements that we review in chapter four, that Rob mentioned, and
that is the notion of synthetic currency. So you can create economies that have every bit
as much of psychological reinforcement value, even though they're gold pieces; it's not
real dollars. They work quite well. People know how to use virtual currency. They know
more is better. They know about trading it. They know about pricing different objects. So
we're now thinking, "Well, let's try just that and put that into the context where people
are doing work."
So one of the things that we're really stuck on is either bring the world of work into these
game worlds, or take an element from these game worlds and put it into a place in the
enterprise where people spend most of their time. So that's generally a browser or an
in-box and screens like that. So what we tried to do was use this virtual currency to
allow people to price the importance of messages that they were sending, or, in fact, to
use the virtual currency that they were allocated to exchange currency for anything. I
could say, "Rob, here's 50. Thanks for inviting me onto the program." So I've actually
priced the value of me being on this program. What we enable people to do is use email
pretty much like a checkbook so the way I would give Rob 50 was not having him log
into a separate application, but send it as a very one- or two-second trouble attachment
So the kind of enterprise problems that we were trying to tackle with that, there were
several of them, but the one that we really concentrated on the most was this notion of
information overload. That there's more stuff in my in-box than I'll ever get to. How do I
know what's the most important stuff? Well, I can read all the words; that takes a long
time, or I can just look at how people price it, with a scarce resource, which is this
synthetic currency that we had called Serios. What I think is interesting about Ted's
comment or what's interesting about when you use this in general is that [AUDIO
GLITCH] what games allow you to do is, especially the virtual currencies in games, is to
put a price on things that typically don't have a price.
When I first went into Second Life, somebody walked up to me and said, "Nice hat.
Here's ten Linden dollars." And that had a really interesting meaning. It wasn't just the
fact that it was the adjective "nice" on the object hat, but it was that it had a price. So
now I can do this with email. So what Ted was saying was that, "Guess what, folks?" I'm
paraphrasing here, and I'm not suggesting that Ted actually said this, but an
interpretation is that, "I can't get to all this stuff in my in-box. Everybody that's sending
me things might think they have an intimate relationship with me that deserves my
immediate attention, but the arithmetic doesn't add up there, and I just can't get to
everything. Please price the importance of your input. And then when it's a price and a
number, I can do all kinds of interesting things. I can order information according to
price, etcetera. I can keep track of it." So that's a longwinded background of that
comment. But I think he was saying, "Help! I have a real problem. I can't get to
everything, and maybe an element from a game in Virtual Worlds could be important
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I see iSkye Silverweb says, "I get worried when we start
monetizing everything." I understand the sentiment. I mean the one thing I'd point is that
the economic theory of the firm basically says, "Look. We know we use prices to
mediate interactions between the firm and the parties they contract with. And usually
inside the firm, the idea is firms arise and get as big as they do, to avoid having to
create all these prices because there are frictions in dealing with markets as well.
What's interesting here is that something like Serios is a technology that makes it a little
easier to create a market where you otherwise wouldn't have one. And so it is
interesting, just like all of the technology that we're seeing, those of us in the
Metanomics community are looking at, with all the virtualization. It really is going to
change the outline, the definition of what's inside and outside the firm.
BYRON REEVES: Well, I think, for me, you could make a good argument that Linden
dollars are just WD40 or the grease that really makes a lot of the activity in Second Life
possible. A lot of the things that are priced in Virtual Worlds also have prices in their
real-life counterparts, but many of them don't. And it's just real easy. It's just like a
micro-social credit, something that's very easily exchanged, that allows you to quantify
exchanges in ways that are really helpful and get things moving.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Byron, this has been fascinating. I wish we could
continue, but I'm afraid we are out of time so maybe we'll get you back before you write
your next book and continue the conversation.
BYRON REEVES: Well, I appreciate the invitation, Rob. Thank you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you so much, Byron Reeves, from Stanford University.
BYRON REEVES: Thank you. And I've enjoyed reading all the--I'm sorry I spoke over
you. I just wanted to mention I enjoyed reading all the chat logs.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, the chat is great. The chat is what makes this so much
better than television. So thanks a lot.
BYRON REEVES: Thank you, everyone, for your comments.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So, as always, we will close Metanomics with a brief
commentary Connecting The Dots. As I mentioned before today’s interview with
Stanford Professor Byron Reeves, today’s episode of Metanomics is dedicated to the
memory of Leslie Jarmon, who was instrumental in engineering the presence of the
entire University of Texas system, all 15 campuses of it, into Second Life. Leslie, sadly,
passed away just this week. Every death is a personal tragedy for friends and family.
But I knew Leslie only by her accomplishments and her energy and enthusiasm in
promoting the use of Virtual Worlds in the many facets of her university's mission.
Rather than trying to recount Leslie’s successes, I will simply direct you to the
Metanomics archive from October 21st of this year and let Leslie speak for herself.
But I do want to make one point inspired by something I learned from my wife when she
was studying geology. We tend to think of erosion as a slow, gradual process, that the
Grand Canyon was carved by the constant drips and trickles of the Colorado River. The
classic Chinese text Tao Te Ching seems to reinforce that misconception, when it says,
"Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for dissolving the hard and
inflexible, nothing can surpass it." It’s easy to read this passage as saying that water
dissolves the hard and inflexible when it is soft and yielding. But, in fact, geologists tell
us that the truth is rather different. The vast majority of erosion occurs during rare
events, like raging floods, when water is anything but soft and yielding.
In this sense, innovation is much like erosion. Countless people try out new ideas every
day, but it isn’t the constant drip and trickle that accomplishes something like bringing
one of the world’s largest university systems into Second Life. No, that's accomplished
by the raging flood of a Leslie Jarmon, who takes matters into her own hands and,
through her energy, determination and good nature, carves a gully though which the
rest of us can follow her. So as we who knew Leslie only professionally remember and
celebrate her, let’s remember this: It is within us to accomplish what she did. But we
need to be the raging flood, not the trickle.
Thanks. That's all we have for today on Metanomics. Join us next week when we take a
look at lessons learned from the World's AIDS Day events that took place just a couple
days ago in Second Life. And remember, you can download about 90 episodes of
Metanomics from iTunes. See you next week. Bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com