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Game Theory & Project Management, Part 1

We all play games. From hot potato to hopscotch, we play several hundred different games in our lifetime. We play video games, board games, card games, and sport games. With more games created everyday, the options are endless. What if you wanted to make a new game? Will it last? How can you guarantee your game will be successful?

Well, let’s start by defining what is a game.

A game is the accomplishment of a task.

This is the plainest definition I could think of. It applies to football and Sudoku, but also to homework and quizzes. While football and Sudoku are obviously fun, homework and quizzes may not be as exciting. Let’s revise the definition since games contain some element of entertainment.

A game is the enjoyable accomplishment of a task.

Well, this works better. Half the fun of playing a game is actually playing it. It’s thrilling to strategize plays or run around a field trying to tackle other people to the ground. It’s nerve-wracking to wait in anticipation for unknown variables to reveal themselves, like watching what other players will do or what the dice will roll. However, without any more detail, an “enjoyable accomplishment of a task” can refer to eating a delicious, bacon hamburger with Parmesan fries. So, while half of the fun is in playing, the other half is in winning, or least trying to win. There has to be something added to our definition to create a winner.

A game is the enjoyable accomplishment of a task, while following a set of rules.

These rules set the circumstances for winning. Players have to follow the instructions to accomplish that enjoyable task to finish the game. For instance, players must eat at least five hamburgers in under twenty minutes to create a game. The rules set up the framework to give the game more logic and start making things interesting. In chess, one of the major rules is the limited movement of certain pieces. By restricting movement, players get creative with strategies to give an unexpected twist to the game.

Now that we defined what a game is, we need to figure out what plays a role in a new game’s ability to succeed in today’s world.

Blizzard Entertainment, a video game powerhouse, created the Warcraft franchise that peaked with the hugely successful World of Warcraft, which is now a major motion movie. However, while they have released several successful games over the years, they scrapped another game, Titan MMO, after putting seven years of effort and investment into it. It was reported that the problem with Titan MMO was not from coding or an unclear direction, but a general lack of “fun” when playing the game in testing. Something went wrong in developing the game, and while they recycled some of the coded features onto other games, the project died.

With all of this in mind, I think it is the game’s features that stand out most. If we go back to the definition of a game mentioned earlier, most accomplishments, rules, and tasks will be similar (e.g. save the world, get to the finish line first), so the enjoyment factor is what is really variable. People love new things, so games need to showcase new features to keep people interested. Getting the new features right is the key to success.

So, how do games relate to project management?

Project management is just a game. Think about it. Both have end goals, players, and a set of rules. Both should also be enjoyable. While software systems are not necessarily going to be fun, they should not be frustrating for players. Continuing this analogy, if users are the players, then project teams are game designers, and the finished system is the game. And like games, the success of software systems is mainly determined by their features and the design of their requirements.

A great way to design requirements is through RML®, Seilevel’s language for requirements modeling. There are countless opportunities for requirements to be forgotten or missing in millions of lines of code. Instead of relying on words, project teams can ensure the software contains everything necessary to complete its task with visual models. Seeing where features fall on a model instead of between paragraphs helps teams find any gaps or missing requirements. Imagine you are designing a game and you are well on your way to success!

Download our RML Suite of Visual Models Templates for Business Analysts to get started.

And click here to read Part 2 of this series!

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