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Productive games: The next frontier of work
Games as means of production: from paper to software to games.
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Back in 2016, I was a bored international student living in Moscow. Boredom weirdly led me to startups. I started brainstorming ideas with friends and reading content. One of my first ideas was a game for founders. A collaborative, full-remote, MMORPG-like game (without motion) where you could find co-founders, work on your idea, show progress, and - in the end - raise funds to make the game a reality.
The whole point was to make it fun. Founders would enjoy playing it in the evenings & weekends while keeping their job. At best they end up with a company, at worst they had fun with friends from all over the world. Not the best idea, persona & model to be honest, but still, I had fun thinking about what it could look like. It led me to work on software gamification and join The Family’s team.
I buried this idea in a corner of my mind until late 2020 when I started deep diving into metaverse content thanks to the brilliant Matthew Bal & the infamous jin. Remote became a reality for most of us in tech following Covid. Decentralization & web3 enabled a bunch of exciting use cases such as play-to-earn. Virtual offices became a thing - Gather leading the way. The world was changing, gaming & work too.
That’s when it became clear to me. From the idea I had 5 years ago, a new concept bloomed: productive games.
What the hell are productive games?
Games are supposed to be fun. But “fun” can lead to other purposes such as socialization (MMORPGs/Fortnite), education (PowerZ), making money (Axie), and research (Foldit). We call those educational games, play-to-earn, or serious games. There are even advergames for advertisement, exergames for fitness, art games & even Christian games (full list here).
Productive games are video games for work. Players produce real-world value by playing the game. The game is a means of production: from paper to software to games.
While many people tried to gamify software (sometimes effectively, most of the time not), the idea here is to “softwarize” games and turn them into means of production as a result.
This can seem farfetched and longshot. There’s indeed a very strong chance productive games will never see the light and will never make sense. But I think it’s worth trying. If productive games become a reality, they could represent a gigantic paradigm shift in the way we work.
With 3B players worldwide & an average time spent playing of 8.45h per week, humanity spends 150M years per year playing video games. If just a chunk of this human time was invested in productive output, how quickly could we fix humanity’s problems? If working was just as fun and thrilling as playing, wouldn’t we all benefit from that?
“Do you see a future where people could actually work inside games? When the simulation isn’t a simulation anymore. Traditional work like programming, designing, investing... inside a game interface.”
Here was his answer:
Work is changing
It sounds exciting, but does it actually make sense? Let’s step back a bit and explore the future of work.
Building in web3 gives me a considerable advantage in analyzing the trends: DAOs show the premises of a new work Renaissance where seamless coordination is queen.
As remote progresses, companies shift from input-driven to output-driven cultures (increased autonomy forces them to). Focusing on the output demands high transparency to align objectives and enables automation to increase efficiency. The downfall of input creates agent-agnostic organizations. Mental health issues arise and the traits above need to be balanced with human-centric work systems.
Value: People tasted remote and don’t want to let it go. More than half of workers would consider quitting before returning to the office. More freedom, less commuting/traffic, a better work/life balance, and more productivity (allegedly) are the main reasons employees love remote.
Challenges: Remote comes with major difficulties. It increases loneliness by 67% having a direct impact on employee retention. People quit companies because they don’t have friends as remote makes it harder to create bonds. Beyond that, remote workers struggle to communicate effectively and take care of their mental health (unplugging, distractions, motivation).
There’s a remote paradox: People want the freedom that comes with remote, but the performance, mental health, happiness, and growth challenges are substantial. They love it more than they hate it, but still, it fucks them up.
Value: Companies shift from an input culture to an output one. Only the results matter, not the way they’re achieved. With increased autonomy over the input, employees find their job more enthusiastic and results are actually better. Output-driven companies are 40% more productive than input-driven ones.
Challenges: To create an effective output-driven culture, organizations must be able to:
Define the desired output in the first place
Change the desired output during the process (early-stage alignment or later-stage refinement)
Accurately assess the performance based on the desired output
Distribute payment and reputation based on the performance
Value: Companies are increasingly open (see DAOs today - you can jump on calls and start working for DAOs permissionlessly). Transparency makes it easier to know what’s expected. It’s possible to know who is a good or bad collaborator based on reputation, communication & performance. The data is publicly available.
Challenges: Transparency can come with inefficiency when rules are not defined clearly and automated.
Value: The job, goals, execution, communication, outcome & rewards can be automated via smart contracts. If you perform you get X, if you don’t perform you get Y. Automation & transparency are complementary, they need each other to exist.
Challenges: If everything isn’t transparent and the rules don’t take into account things such as circumstances, soft skills, cultural alignment, & peer reviews, unethical behaviors may arise and reputation won’t be trusted.
Value: When the only thing that matters is the outcome, the agent generating it & the way he generates it become irrelevant. Agents can be employees, freelancers, contributors, collectives/pods, agencies, or bots.
Challenges: Employers should be able to accurately track the metrics below to choose & collaborate with agents:
Binary outcome (is the job done or not?)
Performance outcome (how is the job affecting metrics?)
Time (how long did it take to complete the job?)
Value: Today, HR protects the business (client who pays) vs. the talent. Job descriptions are lists of requirements. HR tools will be increasingly oriented towards people: the ones who end up creating value.
Challenges: Remote, automation, outcome-centricity & agent-agnosticism can all be detrimental to the individual vs. the organization. If we want more efficient organizations, we also need to have contracts that reflect our values. Rules must always be defined by thinking about the people using them for the sake of protection & fairness.
What do games have to do with it?
The traits above are the gameplay of tomorrow’s work. Work will be remote & open, most “employees” will be free agents, and rewards will be automated and based on performance according to a desired output.
Aren’t current tools good enough for this new world of work?
Internet, browsers, and most of the tools you’re using weren’t designed for this new age. They didn’t take into account the fact that you will actually spend 12h per day working in front of your screen.
This is the main difference with games. Take an MMORPG like World of Warcraft. If you spend hours playing WoW, you will have fun, truly bond with people, and create memories. When you jump between Slack, Zoom, and Notion, it’s not the case. You black out. Calls don’t feel like true interactions. They’re alienating.
I felt it first-hand. I spent 9 months working on a startup from home during covid. I almost have no memory of these months. They’re like… gone. But one day, I spent a day working with fellow Jericho builders in Gather. A few days after, I remembered the fun we had and where we had it. Software spatialization (or games) reintroduces standard brain mechanisms in our remote tech lives.
Why would you need games? Wouldn’t virtual worlds fix this already?
Communication is one thing but interoperable automation/performances/rewards systems are also needed. Today, Linkedin is full of fake profiles, experiences, and data. Reputation is siloed. It’s very hard to actually know if someone is a good performer or not. Retention is at its lowest. FT employees become freelancers and want the freedom that comes with it. Work is changing way beyond remote.
A new paradigm is needed for online work. Scaling the tools we use won’t work, we need to rethink three important work layers: remote communication, performance assessment & interoperability.
From today to productive games
We can already see the very first signs of productive games:
Blockchain technology enables transparency, automation, and coordination at scale. Putting work on-chain can ensure fair & transparent gameplay for all. If web3 is all about ownership, there’s no reason work ownership shouldn’t be affected as well.
DAOs have increasingly smaller core teams. Protocols rely on hordes of freelancers and contributors instead. DAOs aren’t output-centered enough yet though compared to highly-efficient startups with strong KPI/OKR cultures.
Virtual offices offer a new interface to connect at work. These interfaces are isolated between teams and there isn’t much to do there except have a call. They represent alternatives to Zoom/Google Meet, but are not a completely new paradigm yet.
Metaverse solutions explore interoperability which is highly important to ensure productive games can function between teams at the ecosystem level.
Gaming is now the number one socialization interface for teens. Forget social media. Teens want immersion, digital identities, and fun. Their future work environment should mirror that.
At the same time, we’re still far from seeing productive games at play. Major infrastructure and application layers are necessary to start working in games:
SSO (Single Sign-In). You’d only need one SSO to interact with different productive games while leveraging your existing reputation. Companies could give you access to applications without using password managers. Wallets could be the SSO of work. Metaintro is working on a professional wallet for example.
Oracles. Productive games would need data that isn’t currently on-chain: social media, CRMs, Githubs, Notions, etc… Accessing this data on-chain is necessary to assess performances. Current oracles don’t process this data. Uma with Outcome is working on something adjacent.
Work protocol. The gameplay must be fair & transparent around performance-to-rewards loops. Smart contracts would contain:
Rules - objectives “Bring 500 followers” and deadlines “within 1 month”
Performance assessment - automatic via integrations, manual via managers or collective via peers
Rewards - money, equity, titles, or perks that are triggered based on the performance of a task or a series of tasks
Automated payroll. Payroll is part of the protocol to ensure rewards are allocated automatically based on performance.
Reputation system. Performance reputation should be interoperable between organizations at the ecosystem level to increase hiring fairness and improve talent liquidity. Skill/experience points and levels can be used. Reputation should be output-centric: Did the agent perform vs. the goal?
Narrative. Productive games need a narrative to be attractive and fun.
Interface. Productive games need an as-immersive-as-possible interface to be successful and fix remote loneliness and communication problems. Spatialization changes everything in our perception of online interactions.
Metaverse. If we manage to create multiple productive games (for devs, designers, freelancers, events etc…) covering most online work use cases and if they’re all interoperable, we’ll manage to collectively build a metaverse for work & it won’t be Zuck’s.
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This is totally exploratory. Most of it is unresolved. Is motion necessary? What would be the first step in their direction? Is browser technology mature? Will companies have virtual HQs? Is it even possible to have a work experience that feels like a game?
But signs are here:
Web3 feels like an MMORPG
Facebook is working on a metaverse for work
Portals builds immersive virtual offices
Interoperable reputation & credentials is a strong web3 narrative
Humans should control machines. Today, remote feels like we’re controlled by them. We go to great lengths to get rid of notifications, block social media feeds, and preserve our private life. With productive games, you’ll either be in the game (= working), or out of the game (= not working).
Working online shouldn’t suck. On the contrary, we could create the most stimulating, fun, and fair work experience ever.
The Internet of Jobs is here by owocki
The Great Online Game by Packy McCormick
Web3 HR thread by rafa0x
Remote jobs are video games by 0xjasper.eth
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