From 2002 to his retirement in 2011, Cristóbal Conde
was president and CEO of SunGard Data Systems, a software and
services conglomerate that is one of the biggest suppliers of
information technology to the financial services industry. Not
one to retire idly, Conde, 52, served last year as
executive-in-residence of the FinTech Innovation Lab, a
competition run by Accenture and the Partnership Fund for
New York City, along with venture capitalists and bankers, to
support cutting-edge financial technology entrepreneurs.
So impressed was Conde with the labs winning start-ups
that he joined the boards of two: Digital
Reasoning Systems, which has developed technology for
managing and analyzing large volumes of unstructured data, and
Office, which applies electronic and mobile gaming
techniques to employee training. Conde is executive chairman of
True Office, spending one day a week with the management team
led by CEO Adam Sodowick, who founded the company in 2010.
True Office is involved in what is becoming known as
gamification, initially introducing the practice into the
humdrum, much-dreaded but mandatory process of regulatory
compliance training. Instead of binders and handbooks, True
Office employs stories and role-playing on tablets or other
mobile devices to engage users.
The user is immersed in what looks like a
cartoon, Conde explains. You immediately see how
much better it is at engaging employees, compared with
the static images and rote repetition of conventional
self-paced training. You stand a chance of actually
teaching them something, he adds.
Conde tells the story of one employee who enjoyed the
program so much that he wanted to take it again. I never
heard of such a thing in anti-money-laundering
[training], says Conde. When people are having fun,
they learn a lot more.
Conde is one of a growing cadre of believers who see
gamification going mainstream, with far wider applicability
and transformative effects than in this
relatively modest proof of the concept. He likens its
experiential engagement and immersion to that of flight
simulators, which airlines have used with excellent results for
safety and emergency preparedness.
Gamification is not entirely new to other commercial realms,
including finance. The casinolike character of financial
markets has never been lost on quantitative analysts and high
frequency traders. Some high-performance hardware originally
developed for online gaming has migrated to securities industry
servers and desktops. One financial IT innovator, Clem
Chambers, made a similar crossover: A former programmer of
massively multiplayer online games, Chambers co-founded the
Advfn network of investment information websites, which have
some 4 million users worldwide; he has been the
companys CEO since 2002.
To Jane McGonigal, a noted game developer and the author of
the 2011 book Reality Is Broken, gamification is more
revolutionary economically and socially than it is in any
single business context.
McGonigal served as director of games research and
development for the Palo Alto, Californiabased Institute
for the Future; co-founded the gamified health- and
recovery-promoting site SuperBetter; and was an architect of World
Without Oil, a massively multiplayer thought
experiment that immersed participants in a severe energy
crisis and provided useful and prescient behavioral and
scenario-planning insights. Speaking recently to a high-tech
crowd in San Francisco at the RSA Conference, a
gathering of the information security industry McGonigal
did not say gamification would cure the worlds ills. But
she came close. She cited empirical and clinical evidence that
game-playing fosters such personal qualities as creativity,
curiosity and mental resilience, and such skills as spatial
awareness and multitasking. Game-playing, she said, also
has palliative effects on such conditions as anxiety, autism
If more than 1 billion people worldwide are gamers
Angry Birds alone has had 1.7 billion downloads
then something of major proportions is clearly afoot.
Think of the generation of happy, well-adjusted,
roll-with-the-punches workers that gaming is helping to
There is a rather disturbing flip side to all of this:
McGonigals broken reality, a world so
alienating and work so unfulfilling as to make the
blissful productivity of massive role-playing
environments like World of Warcraft that much more
McGonigal describes reality as depressing, unproductive and
hopeless, and says there needs to be a bridge from it to the
gaming world. Stop thinking of games as only escapist
entertainment, she counsels.
True Office may very well be on that track.
Jeffrey Kutler is editor-in-chief of Risk Professional
magazine, published by the Global Association of Risk