“Risk” analysis: how a bad game-design can show what is harmful in the workplace
You probably have already figured out that we like games and playing them, otherwise we wouldn’t join a company that makes gamification one of its core values. At VTX, all of us are board game enthusiasts, so we possess our little collection of boxes, each one with their own adventure inside them.
This is a passion I personally had since I was a child, and at the time there were only a few classics that were present in most households. I’m talking about Monopoly, Scrabble and Risk. This last one was my favourite, because it had a map, tiny tanks, and it was strategic. However, when I grew up and learned more about game design I found out that this game was far from perfect.
Maybe you’re wondering why a team-building company wants to talk about this. Because in my experience every team effort, even at work, can suffer from these kinds of flaws, so I’m going to draw parallels between the in-game situation and the real world.
The dice factor
I’m going to start with one of the smallest defects of Risk, that I consider at the foundation of the following ones.
Risk is a war game. You need to conquer territories of other players by “declaring war” to them, and the battle system is based on a roll of dice from both parties. It’s an easy and effective way to solve the problem of deciding a winner, and it’s purely aleatory (a word derived from latin "alea", a game with dice). Everyone who has studied a little bit of statistics knows that every dice roll is totally independent from the previous one, so the chances of victory should be equally distributed. However, it can happen that a big army of a dozen tanks can be squashed by just two invincible ones of the enemy.
This throws off a little the strategic part of the game. If I prepare myself for battle in the best way possible, I want my chances to win to be maximised. This is also the most realistic expectation one can have. If you have an army of thousands of soldiers against 300 they should definitely come out of the fight victorious. Only if they were against the Spartans they would lose, wouldn’t they? Jokes aside, the effect is that most of the times the “luck factor” can be preponderant during a session of Risk, and this can take away all the fun.
What about work? We all know that sometimes things don’t go as we want and major events that we can’t control can overturn a lot of situations. But we do have control on most aspects. Communication, production, finance: these are all aspects that can be studied, measured and improved in the workplace. In doing so, we can prevent a bad roll of dice and be ready for any situation in the future.
The powerful leader
The game encourages the control of continents, and by doing so it rewards the player with more units to attack, so that they can conquer more territories that give you… more armies. If you give more resources to the ones on the lead and less to those at the bottom of the chart, the disparity is just going to get bigger. Soon the first player who’s making progress is going to hoard so much power that no single player is going to stop him unless… They join forces. So it becomes a game where soon a clear foe is defined and everybody tries to take him down. This is not ideal for anyone: the one on the lead has to constantly defend himself throughout the game, feeling the big target on its back, the others feel the threat of losing and don’t have fun anymore.
This can be translated in the workplace like extreme competition between the coworkers. Some projects thrive better if the tasks are divided between different parties that are put against each other, this is very common in the sales departments. But it can easily lead to toxic behaviours in order to prevail on the others at all cost, and maybe having all the colleagues allied against you. Cooperation is always the best strategy in the long-run, so if you want to make things a little bit spicier with some rivalry, be sure it is limited in time and it doesn’t happen often.
You know when you start, you don’t know when it will end
So someone is winning but everybody tries to stop them, the advance of the leader is slowed down and at the same time nobody else is doing some serious progress until someone is in such disadvantage to be the first one eliminated. That person is no longer a player, but they still need to wait for everybody else unless they’re free to go without giving the impression to be rude. A game can last several hours depending on the dynamic of the match, even much longer than anticipated. In modern strategic games, the designer makes sure to put a limited number of rounds or particular conditions that can trigger the end of the game, and then use some criteria to define the winner. In this manner everyone knows that the encounter won’t last until dawn.
This is one of the greatest risks in everybody’s work: not well defined deadlines. If a goal is not determined in a clear manner regarding its timing, this could lead to an unnecessary lengthening of its times with a good waste of money and resources of the team. Plus, if like in Risk someone is “out of the game” (maybe they have finished their task before the others) they’re just on idle until everyone is on the same page.
These are the main struggles I observe now when I play these kind of classic games. Have you noticed how easy it is to make the same mistakes in our work environment? With its Experiences, VTX can give your team the right cue on the internal dynamics and analyse what works and what can be improved. And they’re way funnier than Monopoly!
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