HR Management & Compliance

What Can You Learn About Training from the World of Warcraft?

Professional gaming—that’s not an oxymoron—is gaining legitimacy in the United States. Even U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is on board. Just last year, a professional South Korean Starcraft player received a 5-year U.S. visa reserved for internationally recognized athletes in professional sports—only the second visa of its type to be awarded to a professional gamer. With several other gamers’ approval for such visas pending, international gamers will now be able to overcome one of the key impediments to success in their sport.
Online gaming as strategic HR training?
Video games are no longer just an after-homework distraction for teenagers and Millennials. Consider World of Warcraft (WoW), the most popular subscription-based Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) in the world. At its peak, WoW boasted a player base of over 12 million people—one of whom was yours truly. Yes, it’s true—I, too, am a gamer. Among other titles, I’ve played WoW in my spare time for the past 9 years.
During my time in WoW, I have engaged in a variety of competitive and collaborative activities including multiplayer cooperative “raid” scenarios in which between 9 and 39 of my closest online friends and I would work strategically to achieve a shared objective or conquer a common foe.
Coincidentally, many of the skills needed to successfully complete these objectives—leadership, diplomacy, collaboration, and even talent management—mirror valuable strategic skills for the workplace. In fact, there are several parallels between managing a collaborative team in an online gaming context and talent management in the strategic business context.

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Whether you’re a veteran gamer yourself, a Candy Crush dabbler, or you limit your gaming endeavors to the occasional round of Wii Golf, the following anecdotes may help talent management seem far more approachable. Don’t worry; no prior gaming experience is necessary.
1. The benefit of diversity, or “Why you don’t bring 20 orc warriors to a green dragon fight.”
Let’s start with an example. As with many video games, WoW is primarily based on the combat-based defeat of enemies in a fantasy world of mages, elves, gnomes, goblins, and dragons. Yet, in one classic WoW scenario, the objective can only be reached by healing—that is, not harming or otherwise defeating—the massive dragon in the center of the room.
In this challenge, a team filled only with axe-wielding warriors will be left scratching their heads in confusion as their perfectly honed melee fighting skills are secondary, at best, to the objective at hand. But introduce a little diversity to the team by bringing in a healing priest or two and instantly the impossible becomes approachable.
In the workplace, without diversity of skills, thought, culture, background, and experience, a team of otherwise perfectly skilled and capable workers may find themselves at an impasse when a situation arises requiring, for example, a highly clinical and analytical research team to apply a high-touch rather than high-tech response to a client.
A diverse team is particularly important when considering the global workplace and the specialized needs of international clients. The most talented of marketing teams will be at a loss if they are unequipped to consider cultural differences of the target audience.
If everyone on the team has the same skills, the same knowledge, and the same approach, then how will the output ever vary?
2. Strategic thinking, or “Don’t just think outside the box—climb on top of it to reach your objective.”
One of the key benefits of gaming is exercise of problem-solving and strategic thinking skills. A crate is rarely merely a crate—it may include important supplies or resources or, equally likely, be used as a tool itself to reach higher terrain.
Gamers are not merely trained to look for weaknesses but also to consider the possibilities of the resources that are available. Are there hidden passages here? Why is this stone a different color? What can I do with this rope I found?
In the workplace, considering the multifunctional utility of available resources, rather than focusing on those that are lacking, may be useful in identifying key candidates for lateral transfer, cross-training, or promotion. This type of creative and strategic thinking can also support more effective use of other limited resources—for example, proposals for telecommuting, open workspaces, and “hotelling” in a workplace where space is at a premium.

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3. Rewards matter, or “But this task is worth ten achievement points!”
WoW to Player: “How would you like to spend countless hours performing a menial, repetitive task that has no direct relationship to the improvement of your primary skill set?”
Player: “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
WoW: “What if we throw in an exclusive title meaningful only within the game community?”
Player: “It’s a deal!”
Rewards are motivating. Yet, in games such as WoW, these rewards are, by necessity, completely intangible. For the average player, there is no money, no sponsorship, and no celebrity status. Yet an exclusive in-game title, a unique character costume, or a flashy mode of transportation can still be enough to add value and purpose to the most tedious and meaningless of tasks.
One key element of these rewards is that they don’t just give warm feelings to the recipient; they also serve as notice to other players in the community that “this player is dedicated,” “this player is highly skilled,”” or even simply “this player is a veteran to the game.”
Business experts disagree on whether monetary rewards such as pay raises and bonuses actually motivate employees. But games such as WoW demonstrate that, even when it is impossible to give tangible rewards such as these or other perks, motivation is still possible. Reward systems that publicly recognize the recipient and alert colleagues of a worker’s dedication, achievements, and improvement are particularly effective. Just ask Jane Smith, MBA, Balancer of Budgets, Defender of the Bottom Line.
Holly K. Jones, J.D. is a legal editor for BLR’s human resources and employment law publications. She understands the existing and emerging needs and challenges of human resources professionals thanks to several years of experience managing, writing, and editing key legal and compliance publications for BLR. Before joining BLR, Jones worked for the Tennessee Legislature’s Office of Legal Services.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll discuss items 4–6, including performance metrics, cross-training, and employee learning, plus we’ll explore the benefits of SCORM online training.

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