Wednesday, July 16, 2003

RPG's as management training

Role-playing games actually offer thinly-disguised management training. You control a party of adventurers (your employees). They all have varying skills and experience levels, and you figure out how to get them to work together as a team. Entry-level employees (low-level characters) have low productivity, but as they gain experience, they gain new skills and their output increases. Sometimes you have to deal with employee turnover when a character leaves the party, either by choice or because of a well placed sword-thrust from a nasty orc. You have to buy the right equipment to allow your employees to do their jobs effectively, and replace lost or broken items.

You also must come to terms with the idea that a successful encounter is not necessarily a profitable one. Sure, you may have defeated those trolls, but if you used up 100 gold pieces worth of healing potions, and the trolls only dropped 25 GP in treasure, you took a loss on the project. It helps to understand the Return On Investment you expect to get when purchasing expensive artifacts.

However, RPG's still lack essential elements of the workplace which could add to their value as a management training aid. Here's how it could work:

Absenteeism: At random intervals, when you battle monsters some of your characters should be missing. "The wizard? Oh, he just called in a few minutes ago, said he had a sore throat. Oh yeah, and the elf had to take his kid to the dentist."

Salary issues: After gaining a few levels, the characters should demand raises. If they don't get them, they can leave to work for a higher-paying competitor.

Sexual Harassment: Some of the characters will periodically make inappropriate remarks or advances towards other characters, who will threaten to sue you.

Marketing: Your Marketing department should make announcements to the entire land, promising that you will fulfill a Quest by a certain date, even though you just heard about the Quest five minutes ago and don't even know which continent the dungeon is on.

Sales: Your Sales department should sign binding contracts with powerful demons in exchange for overnight delivery of Legendary Artifacts you have yet to discover, and whose very existence is highly doubtful.

Discrimination: You could be assessed heavy fines for discriminatory hiring practices -- not having enough Elves or Dwarves in the party, for example. Even if you have them, you must be careful: if your only Elf is an archer, or your only Dwarf carries a big hammer and constantly mentions mining, you may be guilty of perpetuating hurtful ethnic stereotypes.

Budget cuts: Every so often, your supply of gold should be cut in half without warning.

Bosses: Oh sure, RPG's have "bosses" -- those especially tough monsters at the end of a level -- but the trouble is that you don't have a boss to report to. Your boss should ask you for schedules and Gantt charts showing when you expect to finish exploring the dungeon, how much treasure you expect to get, deadlines for characters to gain levels, and various milestones. If you miss one of these deadlines your boss should freak out. "Your goal for this quarter was to find the five missing pieces of the Mystical Amulet! You only have two! What am I supposed to tell the customer?"

Competition: Other parties of adventurers should come along and undercut you. If you're saving a town from bandits, they will offer to do it for a smaller reward. If you're searching for a lost sword, they will offer to find it quicker. They may not be able to keep their promises, but their smooth talk will convince a lot of people to stop doing business with you.

Time-to-market: Once you actually assemble the five pieces of the Mystical Amulet from the far corners of the Lost Lands, your boss should tell you that nobody really wants the Amulet anymore. Those are obsolete now. What's really hot is the Trident of the Seven Seas, like the one your competitors shipped six months ago while you were still working on the Amulet.

Environmental Impact: Some of your wizard's most powerful spells should suddenly be banned because they contribute to Global Warming. Your party should be required to recycle used weapons and armor, and pay fines for the damage that Lightning and Hailstorm spells cause to the region's farming economy.

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