BPM, Space and Gamification nostalgia: the year is 1984 and I am Mostly Harmless

In 1984 a bit of a phenomenon hit the scene. It had nothing to do with Big Brother or Orwell’s vision of a dysfunctional future but everything to do with business, process and gamification. And Space. Elite, a space trading adventure game hit the streets and immediately swallowed up weeks of my childhood when I was supposed to be studying for exams. Armed with an Amstrad CPC-464, green screen monitor, Atari joystick and endless cups of tea I quickly had my first taste of business in the space lane.

So, what does it have to do with process and gamification ?

Well, in a way quite a lot. You were given the rather open ended task of ‘make shit loads of money’ and how you achieved this was up to you. But in the same way a process can be defined by business rules the game had constraints too despite it’s open feel and you could relate this to the modern equivalent of case management and knowledge working in that the goal to trade in certain items meant you could achieve this in many ways but the most adaptive and repeatable route had to be chosen to avoid risk, loss of profit, and certain death (bit extreme in the business world these days!) Let me explain:

  • You would chart your path across a star system depending on what you wanted to trade or action to perform (so, we have a process and an expected outcome)
  • Your path would be dictated by amount of fuel required, stops along the way, what you were trading (we have business rules, hand-offs, and the reason for the process in the first place)
  • Potentially you’ll face off to pirates looking to kill and loot your booty (according to the business rules, there may be some alternate processes and exceptions to tackle)
  • Finding an optimal route you could repeat the trade knowing the acceptable risks involved (repeatable process, known risks)
  • On rare occasions you’d be thrown out of hyperspace – “witch space” – and have to battle your way back (unstructured process with no clear determinable path)

There were infrequent missions which cropped up depending on your Elite rating, and in the business focused element of the game the addition of a pilot ranking system added the gamification piece. By taking the riskier routes you would certainly face off to pirates and kill for bounty, and every kill would add to your pilot ranking, rising through the ranks from Harmless through many others to reach Dangerous, Deadly then Elite itself. The rating system added impetus and more reason to play, without it the pure mechanics of space trading would have quickly become dull.

So, again what does it have to do with process and gamification ?

If you combine the mechanics in the right way a merit system adds intrinsic value and urgency to the person performing the process and when playing Elite you were, for your own reasons, compelled to seek out the better opportunities and more effective route or process to achieve the ranking. Where gamification in business falls short just now is that companies selling the concept don’t fully understand the engagement model required and how it is interlinked with the business process itself on an individual process basis, they design a one-badge-fits-all approach in most cases and little in the way of motivational understanding of the individual performing it.

In some ways, Ian Bell and David Braben designed perhaps the best example of the combination of business process and gamification almost 30 years before our esteemed analyst peers released a misguided whitepaper on a misunderstood subject.

The year was 1984, I was a wet behind the ears space trader with a rating of Harmless when I started. Now it’s 2012, I’m still a bit of a space cadet but I’m far more deadlier than I was back then.

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