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Entropia, Virtual Money Exchanges, and Performance

May 24, 2007

What do Entropia, virtual world parallel economies and employee performance have in common? How about motivational models for one?

There has been some debate about Entropia Universe and it’s ability for players to spend real world money to buy game artificats (weapons, armor, equipment, etc…) Interstingly, the same thing happened with Diablo II a few years back. Rare or unique items were often traded on real world exchanges for real world money.

The guys at Blizzard didn’t like this practice and went through all kinds of hoops to shut down the connection to the real world economy (and lots of people got burned when they bought items that were hacked into existence and Blizzard found ways to identify and shut these down.)
In a related practice, high-level characters have been sold in real term dollars for many years across multiple platforms. Even in video games like Off Road, you can spend real world money to increase the quality of your truck or whatever. By contributing more money, you can increase in-game dollars and buy that crucial upgrade to your shocks or brakes or acceleration.

It seems from my limited experience that Entropia is just tapping into this phenomenon in a deep and pervasive way. If you want to earn your progress “old school”, you can. If you want to spend a couple hundred bucks, you can accelerate that process dramatically. And maybe if the in-game economics work, maybe you also have the possibility of earning some or all of that “investment” back by virtue of winning tougher battles (and the consequent drops), mining less accessible (and therefore higher value) ore, manufacturing more exclusive items, and then trading all this back into real world money.

I think it’s an interesting approach. And I think it might even be a new way to think about training and learning rewards. I think by default we all view in-game rewards or learning as a means to better job performance, but what if there was also a connection to the “real world”
economy of incentives — a day off, a dinner gift certificate, a better parking spot, half day Fridays for a month, etc… These could be random “drops” for fighting / solving / winning / answering etc… tougher challenges. But maybe there is also an in-game “economy” that maps to real world HR incentives — 10,000 points / dollars / coins = a 1/2 day Friday or an Amex Gift Card for $50. Points would be earned by game play — time in game, levels achieved, (insert appropriate learning objectives) met etc… There is an excellent article about this in the current issue of Talent Management “Using Noncash Rewards to Motivate, Retain, and Engage Employees” by Edward Frost. One of the interesting statistics cited by Mr. Frost is that tangible, non-monetary awards increase performance by 38.6%. So why not tie this directly into eleanring and gaming. Games have established reward models that could be easily tied back to real world non-monetary incentives.

Think of it like a Credit Card reward program except that instead of spending money to get rewards, you spend your time learning and demonstrating increased competencies / proficiencies etc… to earn rewards. Personally, while I think in-game or in-learning motivational techniques are important, it’s just as important to consider real world incentives. As much as I enjoy playing games and learning, I am the kind of learner who would be way more jazzed by an extrinsic reward of some kind — to the point where I probably use personal time to earn them which I might not do otherwise.

Anyway, that’s my two cents … which I’m saving toward an AutoReload Plasma Cannon.

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