HR Systems in videogames? You bet.

World of Warcraft Logo

When not doing I/O type stuff, I’ve been playing a computer game called “World of Warcraft.” For you philistines who haven’t heard of it, it’s an online, fantasy-themed game where you create a character and play with (or against) thousands of other, real people from all over the world. This human element adds all kinds of new twists to things, one of which is the organization of, well, organizations in the virtual world.

These assemblies of players, called “guilds,” come together for a variety of reasons. Many of them are just social groups comprised of people who know each other outside of the game or who have become friends through it. Others, as I’ve recently found out, are way more like businesses. They have officers, jobs/roles, rules, policies, budgets, mission statements, performance appraisals, and selection processes for new members. Some of them even have formal work (or in this case, play) hours where you’re expected to show up on time and put your virtual nose to the virtual grindstone!

My friend, who is in one of these guilds, was telling me about them today and all this made me think how much their operations sometimes resemble real organizations. When my friend applied for membership in the guild, they took his application and reviewed his qualifications and work/play history. They then brought him along for an employment test of sorts –a foray into a particularly dangerous part of the game world that demands skillful performance and cooperation with other team members in order to succeed. During this test, the guild’s officers evaluated my friend’s performance with a number of tools that gave hard data on his and others’ performance.

These tools assessed things like how much damage team members did to enemies, how much they endangered their teammates, and how well they used their special talents. It was, in effect, the data-driven decision making of Total Quality Management adapted for use in a video game. Certain players were expected to fulfill certain roles or jobs (attacking, healing, enhancing, controlling the actions of enemies, etc.), and these statistics made it easy to see who was doing his job and who wasn’t. If someone consistently failed, there were escalating levels of reprimand. Depending on the nature of the infraction, there could be warnings, performance improvement plans, training, demotions, or even expulsion from the group. These guilds were handling things more efficiently than many real life businesses I’ve seen!

There are differences, I know, so I’ll try not to overstate things. Consequences in real life are more dear, though you may have difficulty convincing the more fanatical players of that. And there are completely different mores in games and in business. You wouldn’t, for example, tolerate an office full of people screaming vulgarities when your Hunter adds two elite MOBs while trying to kite an instance boss. …So to speak.

Anyway, I don’t have much of a point beyond the observation that organizations and various Human (or Elf or Orc) Resources functions almost seem endemic to human nature when the circumstances are right. Similar problems in real-life and in games lead to similar solutions, even if one results in increased stock price while another results in a dead dragon.

Also, I love posts that I can categorize in both “Gaming” and “I/O Psychology.”

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2 thoughts on “HR Systems in videogames? You bet.

  1. Yeeeeeeah, Jamie, I’m going to need you to go ahead and log in on Saturday. If you could just…you know, get those mageweave bags in my mailbox by, oh, 3pm that’d be greeeeeeat.

  2. Hellchick, I have like EIGHT different guild officers right now. Eight. And they’re all on my ass about that TPS quest. And don’t even get me started on how many pieces of epic flair they want me to wear.

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