While the 3D computer game Minecraft is mostly familiar to children around the world, its principles can benefit global businesses, too. Eli Khazzam explains how
This article was first published in the November/December 2017 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
When my son introduced me to Minecraft three years ago, the first thought that came to mind was: ‘Why aren’t businesses using this as a tool on a regular basis?’ There are two reasons: first, businesses still have to be innovative in terms of how to use this software; its applications must be built by someone who has a basic understanding of the game. Second, Minecraft seems to have some limitations for businesses, as its ‘education edition’ is only available to educational institutions and cannot be used for marketing or advertising purposes. Yet Minecraft offers many potential uses for businesses.
The problem with my generation – I’m Generation X – is that we have been conditioned to think about the concept of gaming exclusively in the context of entertainment. You do your homework… and then you can play your video games. You go to work… and then you can play your video games (and if you’re caught playing at work, you’re fired). The whole notion of marrying gaming with the workplace seems taboo. But this is what has ultimately kept businesses from exploring the use of gaming on a large scale. Games, especially the open-ended type, have great practical value.
Most computer games today are indeed just games. They are advanced puzzles, typical action adventures or apps designed to amuse the user for several days before interest fizzles out. But every now and then a revolutionary game like Minecraft comes along. In fact, it isn’t really a game; I would best describe it as Lego on steroids.
So what is Minecraft? Its key characteristics are in the box opposite. But overall it is an ideal blank slate from which you can model your own, workable 3D world. It’s really easy to play. The programming aspect is more complex, but it’s definitely within the realm of learning for children and adults.
There are many ways in which Minecraft could be used in a business context. Here are a few:
- Team-building. How many times has your company paid for employees to go rock-climbing or raft-building to develop team-building skills? These outings usually take a long time to plan and can be costly. With Minecraft, you can gather your workmates almost at a moment’s notice to battle zombies, build a theme park, practise parkour or remove a giant mountain with dynamite. These projects could be ongoing, plug-and-play activities designed to get employees to think together, communicate and have fun. It could also be used to build tournaments or competitions.
- Creating 3D environments. There are many software packages today that help you do things like office layout, computer-assisted design and architectural design; you don’t need Minecraft for that level of precision. But you can use it to broadstroke a model for a new product, a service or a business process such as a production line or customer service centre. You can even use Minecraft to map out more abstract ideas. Just as we use Powerpoint and flowcharting software today to give life to processes and procedures, Minecraft can be used to achieve this in more innovative ways. Take your employees or clients on a virtual trip through a particular process, going room-to-room, set-to-set or level-to-level using a train or climbing up a ladder. The possibilities are endless once you know how to build things. You can even use different characters – which can be costumed accordingly – to curate your model.
- Role-playing/communications. We hear about the importance of soft skills today: communications, listening, watching and acting appropriately in different situations. Instead of sitting in circles, talking and then exemplifying good listening skills, what about using Minecraft avatars and characters? Picture you and your teammates stuck out in a rainstorm, on top of a mountain, lost in a labyrinth or trying to talk while being fired upon by skeletons. Is this not a good way to see ourselves under pressure? Is this not a good way to simulate the constraints of time and danger?
- Creating a virtual market. If you dig deep into the Minecraft world of mods and servers, you can create a server economy. Players can own property, trade resources, open stores and sell merchandise. You can even create your own currency. Being able to simulate the exchange of your product or service in a test environment could be interesting, especially if you set up some kind of parameters as part of a market research experiment with employees or a select group of external participants. You might even be able to simulate certain conditions such as a quick sale, run-on merchandise or product bundling.
- Scenario planning. While you should leave the heavy-duty scenario planning (the algorithms and data crunching) to the experts, Minecraft is a great game to simulate basic human realities. For example, protecting an asset (building, territory or resource) from something that may threaten it; performing specific tasks in a group under the confines of time and/or other environmental impacts; conserving or harnessing limited resources; working with opposition groups (making trades, concessions and/or cooperating); managing conflict; improvising with limited tools and resources to complete an objective; accomplishing a sequence of tasks to get something done; or creating value and/or wealth from a basic set of resources.
- Professional learning. There are many different e-learning platforms out there. But with Minecraft you can develop a much more playful and interactive approach to education. You will have to do this using your own technical savvy and creativity. There is currently a Minecraft Education version that has many excellent features for training, but according to Microsoft (which bought the game’s creator Mojang for US$2.5bn in 2014), this is only available to schools, libraries, museums and certain public institutions. This is disappointing because I believe businesses would benefit from being able to use the Minecraft Education software for professional training (nor can business use Minecraft as a marketing or advertising vehicle as mentioned previously).
Minecraft is fun, but beneath the play there is something much more powerful at work: good old-fashioned ‘hands-on’ human creativity. Have we forgotten about that?
Eli Khazzam is chief developer for topologyproject.com
"Every now and then a revolutionary game like Minecraft comes along. In fact it isn’t really a game; I would describe it as Lego on steroids"