How can we leverage the power, and draw, of massive multiplayer online game experiences to build a shared vision of architecture for an enterprise? 

I’m not in to multiplayer online games.  I have a lot on my mind between being a dad and being supportive of my student-wife, so I don’t really have time to devote to something so self-focused.  On the other hand, my kids love massive multiplayer online (MMO) games and I can see the draw.  You can join and leave any time you want.  You can communicate with friends, work with friends, or work alone.  You are rewarded for the goals that the game wants you to achieve.  Add interesting animation, lively music, and very few bugs, and you get a pretty compelling environment.

What I haven’t seen yet (and perhaps it is the nature of the child-like games my kids play) is a MMO game where every person plays a role to build something instead of defeating something.  It is easy to tear something down.  Divide and Conquer.  Building something up is much harder.  It is not in human nature to oppose entropy.

But my goal, and my job, is to build.  I want to create a framework for all the architects in Microsoft IT to cooperate, contribute, and conspire to make the company more efficient, more agile, more responsive, and more reliable. 

Is it possible to draw on the lessons, and perhaps the environment, of the MMO game, to build that architectural framework?  Can it be so compelling that people will want to spend thousands of hours making it real?  How would we score the ‘points?’  What would be the scenarios?

If anyone knows of someone else trying to combine these ideas, could you drop me a link?  If you know of an MMO game that conspires and rewards the construction of a large and difficult thing that is not within the experiences of any of the players, could you drop me a link to that as well?

It’s an interesting idea.  Not sure it could work, but if it could, it would be very powerful.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

5 thoughts on “Using Massive Multiplayer Online Concepts to Build a Shared Architecture”
  1. I was thinking about writing a similar blog but using Second Life as an example.  People are able to create anything they want in Second Life.  I don’t know what the under lying architecture is for that product but that’s a great example to get inspiration from.

  2. Go look at A Tale in the Dester to see an example of an MMORPG based on construction rather than destruction.

  3. I definitely think you’re on to something, Nick. First, any task can be made easier by approaching it as a game. A game is simply an environment in which participants have a set of requirements to fulfill, and compete either with one or more other participants or with their own previous achievements to realize the requirements.

    In the case of an enterprise such as Microsoft, you have a very similar environment to a MMO game, in which a diverse community of participants are striving for a diverse variety of related goals. The challenges are similar. Players cannot all participate at the same time, and must be able to work cooperatively or individually. Rewards must be given for performance, either individually or divided among teams.

    In fact, I have given some thought to a similar game concept myself, as a game only, one which I hope to build some day. The working title is "Wizards of Chaos," and the concept is one similar to a role-playing game, in which players enter virtual worlds within other virtual worlds, and in order to achieve goals must combine various software components to creatively solve problems.

    The software components are virtual as well, resembling the magical spells in role-playing games, in that each has a virtual interface which symbolically represents its functionality in some interesting way. As in real software, the components can be combined according to their interface characteristics, which may resemble physical or "magical" characteristics, depending on the context of the particular virtual world the player is inhabiting.

    It might be possible to construct a similar architecture in a real software development company to inspire people to work harder, and more creatively. Of course, it would be a tremendous challenge. But it might be a lot of fun as well.

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