Everything I Needed To Know About Business I Learned From World Of Warcraft

HBO should make a series about World of Warcraft and call it, “Game of Pwns!” Seriously, they should. Why? Well, in case you missed the ...

HBO should make a series about World of Warcraft and call it, “Game of Pwns!” Seriously, they should. Why? Well, in case you missed the past decade of gaming news, World of Warcraft (WoW) is the biggest, and still the best, of the world’s massively multiplayer online role-playing games (also called, unpronounceably, MMORPGs).
To say there would be a LOT of us who would watch that show, would be an understatement. I’ll share some numbers with you in a moment, but for now I owe you an explanation on the slightly exaggerated title of this article.
Yes, this is leading into another one of those Everything-I-Needed-to-Know-about-X-I-Learned-from-Y articles, which we could refer to as EINtKaXILfYs, as long as we’re acronym-ing. This type of article will never go away because it demonstrates how two ridiculously incongruous parts of your life are really connected on a deeper level. Just as games are big business, business can be a big game. Lessons on how to win can come from anywhere if you’re paying attention. Even from WoW.

If you think WoW is just something that unemployed nerds play in the parents’ basement all day, you are partly correct. But, I happen to know for a fact that legions of IT personnel play it on their lunch breaks, and I am certain there are just as many successful business people playing this game on the down-low.
Warcraft was a fairly typical fantasy video game that came out in 1994. In 2004, WoW expanded that universe into a wild new virtual world where anyone could take on a fantasy identity and interact with other players. It’s still a game, but playing games inside this world became only a small part of its attraction. WoW is a highly complex role-playing game that just happens to season its version of reality with worgens, blood elves, magic, and monsters. But, personally, I think its real appeal is the facilitation of self-invention. Don’t think I’m cool in real life? Well, I’m a Gold Capped Blood Elf Shadow Priest in my alternate life…how do you like me NOW?!?!
WoW is the world’s biggest virtual universe. At its peak in 2010, there were 12 million active users, making it bigger than Belgium and the 74th largest country on Earth, except that it’s not. Over 500 million characters have lived and died in WoW over the past decade. While active users and annual revenue have dropped in the face of stiffer competition from apps and imitators, it has grossed over $10 billion so far and remains the second highest selling PC game of all time after SimCity, another reality simulator.
If $10 billion and “bigger than Belgium” doesn’t impress you, here are four business lessons from WoW that should:

1. Numbers good. Feelings bad.
It’s a rough world out there. Garrosh Hellscream said it best: “I will burn away any remnants of weakness within us. When death arrives, will you stand and face it or kneel in defeat?” In business, costs, revenues, and growth – these are the numbers that matter. They don’t tell the whole story – such as how much good your company does for society, but they do determine whether you will win and stay in the game, or lose and go belly up. Similarly, in WoW, numbers may not tell the whole story, but they tell enough to know who’s going to complete the raid this week in the Mists of Pandaria (MoP). Numbers don’t have doubts or mercy in business or WoW, so pay attention to them, or go play something else.

2. Invest in your people.
In WoW and business, winning is everything, and in order to win, it takes money. Investing in the people in your company is necessary to build a highly productive workforce. Similarly, in WoW, Guild Leaders are nothing without great guildies. When your success at guild raids depends on building a winning team, you will very quickly learn how to be a resource, not a drain for them. Guild charters are easy enough to buy and the guild members you ignore could soon be your competition. Do I even need to point out how much this applies to the real world?

3. Back up!!!
Have you ever heard the primal scream of a team about to down a boss when the server crashes? WoW is not just a game for many players, it is a reality we prefer. In cyberspace, we can be who we want and do what we want like we never could in “meatspace.” That’s why server uptime is quite literally a matter of life and death. Before I ever came to work at Sungard Availability Services or knew what they did for the business world, I knew how critical it was to protect my virtual life. Just like in WoW, a crash without a backup in real life can put you out of the game for good.

4. YOLO (You Only Live Once!) is for amateurs.
People do all kinds of crazy things when they scream “YOLO!” Usually things that involve very little forethought and very big regrets. But WoW taught me to dream bigger. In WoW, I can live and die many times and start over, as long as I have the energy and drive to continue. In real-life, I may not be a Blood Elf priest, but I can still “resurrect” from within the ash-piles of bad decisions and stupid mistakes, as long as I can muster the grit to dust myself off, and the dollars to dry-clean my clothes (those ashes leave stains!). In reality, you can live as many times as you build a new life for yourself (YCLaMTaYBaNLfY). I can see that catching on…

So, what have we learned? Numbers rule, guilds need guilders, backups save lives, and dream bigger…these are the wise business lessons WoW has doled out to me. The “ancient” game may be past its prime now, but that just means it can sit back and earn a boatload of passive income, as new generations come along and “discover” some of these lessons for themselves. On second thought, maybe THAT should be the biggest business lesson of all – sustainability. But we’ll cover that next time…

 - Jessica Snavely


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