Leadership Skills and MMORPG

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on June 11, 2011

Ram gets up in the morning and opens his laptop. In his new virtual work environment, he is immediately online and can view how many of his team members are online; many of them from different countries. He gets a live status report on the progress of his project on the top right end of his screen and at the bottom he can view the exact effort put in by each member of his team.  He can chat with them online and communicates the new tasks and new strategies in real time. Suddenly a new pop up brings him a memo from client asking him to change a new requirement , which Ram immediately updates in his tasks for the team . Ram checks the expertise of each member of his team by clicking the profiles of the members and identifies the best person for the job and assigns him the task. His team members can also access all these resource and everybody knows why this selection is made.


Massive Multiplayer Gaming and leadership

Does this scenario sound familiar?  Welcome to next generation workplace where cross functional virtual teams work across geographical boundaries, taking split second decisions, much like today’s MMORPG’s ie massively multiplayer online role-playing games like “World of Warcraft”.

As per Byron Reeves, professor of communications at Stanford, many people are honing their leadership in MMORPG games. This would in fact change the way leaders would function in future. He adds that a lot of work would be handled by global teams. It will be composed of people on whom leader has no formal authority. The means used would be digital.

Byron Reeves, Thomas W Malone and Tony O’ Driscoll conducted an extensive study of more than 500 IBM managers who are also online gamers. The results were startling and threw new insights in to ongoing researches in this area. One of the key findings was successful leadership in online games has less to do with the attributes of individual leaders than with the game environment. The startling implication: Getting the leadership environment right may be at least as important to an organization as choosing the right people to lead.

It is interesting to note that many of these online game leaders also face with organizational challenges like recruiting, assessing, motivating, rewarding, and retaining talented and culturally diverse team members.

What can we learn from Games ?


In a game, actions that might take weeks or months to unfold in real life are often compressed into hours or even minutes online. For example, in a game like World of Warcraft battle, a hastily formed team of 10 players might decide who would lead the assault, assess the strengths and weaknesses of its rivals from another team, formulate an attack plan, and coordinate battle assignments—all before the game clock had counted down one minute. Similarly in a game like Counter strike, for a 5 minute battle, strategies are planned weeks in advance. An analogy can be easily drawn to real life projects where the final installation or deployment would take hardly 5 minutes but the planning phase could last for years.

The fast pace of leadership has some interesting consequences. For example, the need for ultra-quick decision making may occasionally trump team consensus—a tension the leader must carefully manage because of the need to constantly motivate people who are free to leave the team on a whim. Another implication of speed: Decisions are nearly always based on incomplete information and then modified as more data become available.

The lightning pace of games is unlikely to become widespread anytime soon in the business world, except perhaps in selected contexts such as high-velocity financial trading.

Risk Taking:

Trial and error play a big role in accomplishing game tasks. Failure, instead of being viewed as a career killer, is accepted as a frequent and necessary antecedent to success. This in turn improves the skill and confidence of the team and team members. In real life even though the stakes are high, the concept of giving more freedom to decision makers is catching up.

Organizations can help prepare leaders by fostering a culture in which failure is tolerated. They can expose leaders to risk by mimicking the structure of games, breaking down big challenges into small projects. Failure, after all, is clearly more palatable for the individual and more affordable for the organization when it happens at the project level rather than on a larger scale.

Leadership roles:

Perhaps the most striking aspect of leadership in online games is the way in which leaders naturally switch roles, directing others one minute and taking orders the next. Put another way, leadership in games is a task, not an identity—a state that a player enters and exits rather than a personal trait that emerges and thereafter defines the individual.

According to Reeves, leaders must be (in many cases they are) good followers too. This swapout helps them avoid the burnout.

The Future:

There are many ways one can conceptualize MMORPG environments. They are places where people socialize with alternative identities (avatars), they are places where quests are real, teamwork works, strategies are formed, relationships are made and broken, and leaders are looked up on as Gods.  Games like “second life” have already become testing grounds for many researchers and anthropologists. The question is, how well can we utilize these resources in enhancing current business? Even though there is a long way to go before we can come up with conclusive answers, one thing is clear. They are no more just games.

About the Author: Balesh Lakshminarayanan, MBA (TAPMI), is a Senior Associate Consultant with Infosys. Views are personal. He can be reached on balesh.lakshminarayanan@gmail.com.

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