Gamer Gen: Civ III as virtual MBA?

This post was written on 29th November 2005 in San Francisco

Back in May 2005, I wrote a post on the book “Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever” where the authors,  John C. Beck and Richard Wade, argue that gamers glean valuable knowledge from their pastime and that they’re poised to use that knowledge to transform the workplace. While their emphasis is on how the “under 34″s differ from the boomers in their strengths, abilities, attitudes and learning styles, I contend that even within the “gamer generation” there are distinct camps*.
Beck and Wade point out these attitudes in their study of the gamer generation:

  • You are an expert who not only has gotten really good at something but also knows how to bounce back from failure.
  • Everything is possible. There is always an answer, and you can find it by trial and error.
  • Competition is the natural state. You expect nothing else.
  • Teamwork can be fun, but it needs to be structured so that each person has a clear role.
  • It’s a global world in design, consumption and characters. You can get along with people anywhere.
  • You are ambitions, competitive and want your rewards to be based on results.
  • You see leaders as irrelevant and often evil. You feel you can take charge or share the leadership role.

Last month, Sid Meier’s Civilization IV was released with much fanfare. Not having pre-ordered the “collector’s edition”, I had to wait until the games were in stock last week to purchase a copy. An avid player of Civ III, I found the newest version “dumbed down” with respect to overall management and strategy with a greater focus towards multiplayer. The key difference, imho, is beneficial for actual gameplay, that is, they’ve cut down the amount of micromanagement of your civilization that you have to do while you plot world domination strategies.  On the other hand, if gaming is argued to be the training ground for the next generation of management, then Civ III is nothing less than an “MBA” training ground for leaders.

For those who have never encountered Civilization, it’s about playing God on a world somewhat modeled on Earth’s history, but with lots of variations in maps and how you go about building your civilization. It’s all about “interesting choices,” as Sid Meier once put it. Do you build up a big army and pursue aggressive campaigns of conquest? Do you try to live in peace, keeping your people happy and growing culturally? However, I believe that it is the very micro management that CivIII requires that teaches us how to be corporate leaders, and specifically, I’d say, it applies to managing a creative shop like a design studio.


As your civilization grows in the game, you deal with issues on two fronts – the competing end, where you play an aggressive game based on war and conquest or the cultural approach where you build Wonders and culture to win – and the back end that needs to be managed throughout however deals with resource management. Issues such as pollution, paying for extra workers, unhappy citizens in over crowded cities, building requirements for growth, all of these “micro” issues need to be dealt with simultaneously as you create your winning strategy. Those who play at the expert level, successfully, in Civilization III, develop a unique skill set that can be translated to management terms. Here are some of them:

  • Multi tasking, multi threading – tracking all events creates the ability to have a multiplistic perspective of the world
  • Resource management – Identifying, sourcing, choosing to trade or buy resources such as money, labor, machinery, raw materials to ensure an uninterrupted supply to meet your objectives.
  • Ability to see the “BIG” picture – you can’t get any bigger a picture than the growth and evolution of a complete civilization competing against 7 others for the same resources.
  • Cooperation, collaboration and team play – how to coordinate and deploy your armies, your workers, scientists, artists and engineers for maximum support.
  • Decision making, diplomacy and leadership – jockeying your way to a United Nations winning vote requires the ability to manage and negotiate trade, sales and peace treaties.

There are probably many more such skills, but these are those that come immediately to mind. If the US Army can use simulation software to develop war games to teach strategy and diplomats can use a game to figure out how to over throw a government without war, who says CEO’s cannot be trained by a little civilization?

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