The business lessons of 'World of Warcraft'

AUSTIN, Texas--"World of Warcraft" is a game. There's no doubt about it. More than 6 million people around the world have signed up to go questing, kill beasts, search out loot, and have fun with friends and strangers alike.

But Joi Ito, a venture capitalist, blogger and longtime game player from Japan, thinks WoW is also a valuable business tool that can be used to help companies learn how to work better. That was the takeaway from his talk at the ScreenBurn beta festival, an adjunct group of presentations at the South by Southwest conference here.

And Ito should know about WoW and business. After all, he runs a guild that is chock full of C-level executives, venture capitalists, A-list bloggers and many of his employees. And when he and his cohorts are not marauding, they are often talking about work.

In any case, he thinks WoW can teach companies a lot about how to manage employees, though the lessons might not be things a lot of businesses are ready to hear.

After all, much of what he talked about had to do with realizing that people often do unpleasant tasks in the workplace only because they have to. Of course, that's no surprise, since that's the nature of a job: We work for pay, and do what our bosses tell us.

But Ito's point is that employers would do well to see that they can keep employees happy by being respectful to them and encouraging an environment in which people work together and chase common goals without autocratic leaders belligerently laying down arbitrary ground rules.

At least, he explained, that method isn't very successful in WoW, where guild leaders trying to organize 30 or 40 people for raids have to recognize that if their charges aren't happy, they'll just leave.

And of course, WoW is not a job, but Ito thinks that the nature of the game, which largely forces people to work together to get many things done, has enough parallels when it comes to groups solving problems that businesses should pay attention.

Anyway, it would be easy to dismiss Ito's arguments as fantasy, but this is a guy who has achieved a lot in business, and who is seen as a thought leader. So bosses out there: Maybe it's time to encourage your companies to consider letting workers spend part of their day as mages, chasing orcs and living inside a virtual world.

Their work might be better for it.

 

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