Al Rosenberg | ,| By
Gamification, the application of game elements to non-game tasks and activities has spread from marketing trend, to education, to our daily lives at home and at work. App developers have made a game of learning, getting healthy, answering our emails and even watering our plants. Gamification is everywhere — including HR.
So why not look at the other side of things, the workification of games? In this new series B4J will be looking at games that are set in workplaces and that mirror workplace tasks, and the thin line between work and play. Kicking it off, is Al Rosenberg, with a review of the new game, Office Freakout.
As the gamification of work trend continues, with employers ever more interested in getting their employers to be more invested in the work, games are too being affected. Though there have always been time management type games, a recent rise in the office-based diversions can be noted. While employers are instituting things like point systems and leadership boards, game developers are offering cubicles and stressful deadlines. If friendly competition and visible markers of progress are motivating office workers, are weekly meetings and updated reports motivating gamers? Or is there still a need for an outlet for stress, even with these “fun” work environments? Are workified games the proverbial punching bag? Enter: Hollow Robot’s Office Freakout.
When Office Freakout was announced on Steam, it was obvious that there was a demand for it. Indie games must be “greenlit” by Valve Corporation’s digital distribution platform users through a voting process. This game, developed by Hollow Robot, was greenlit in its first week. The game puts you in the shoes and fists of Philbert, an overworked and underappreciated employee of a cubicle-filled office, who has just been fired. The logical reaction, of course, is to trash the place. If Office Space taught us anything it’s that there is nothing more cathartic than setting fire to office equipment, and maybe doing it digitally will keep employees from real-life reenactments.
You, Philbert, are a worker who has put in countless hours of overtime at your boss’s demand, and now you’re thrown out thoughtlessly. It’s time for some payback. The game is played with the standard combination of mouse-clicks for action plus the W-A-S-D keys for movement. PC gamers will pick these up quickly, but newcomers to the computer gaming world may need some time to adjust to the controls. You move around your office, picking up items from cubicled desks, and using them, along with your fists, to destroy everything around you.
Each level has a time limit, and each section of the office has special items. These sparkle to let you know that you should definitely decimate your workspace with their help, whether it be a book that turns you into a human flamethrower, or an office tool that slices like a scythe. Destroy enough of your surroundings quickly enough and you will enter “RAGE Mode.” This allows you to Hulk out, a little. After all, you are a middle aged, paunchy desk worker. Adrenaline might make you strong, but it doesn’t give you actual super powers. Once enough of your company’s items have felt your wrath, a key is dropped somewhere in the level. You must find the key before time is up in order to progress. Otherwise, you start the level over the big failure you obviously are, perhaps that’s why you’ve been sacked.
As you progress the levels get harder by requiring more destruction, supplying more structural obstacles, and forcing you to encounter some coworkers who are not quite ready to join you on your warpath. As the difficulty increases, so do the rewards, mostly in the shape of cool tools of demolition. It does take some time to get the best of these, and you will probably have destroyed countless monitors with your bare hands before you ever hold a top tier ruination device.
Of note: I couldn’t play this game at its best. Office Freakout is built on the Unreal Engine. Which means, for those of you who are not total game nerds, Hollow Robot developed the game using a popular tool that allows for great in-game physics and graphics. (Originally developed by Epic Games for their 1998 shooter Unreal.) However, this particular product is graphics heavy and, even on a newer gaming machine, is difficult to enjoy at its best quality. I had to roll the settings down to medium before the game moved smoothly. If this game is meant to pull the more casual gamer in, those who need a dartboard with their office’s face on it, they’ll need to lower the graphics requirements.
While Hollow Robot has tapped into the workplace dissatisfaction so many workers are feeling, 70% of American workers according to the Gallup Poll, they are also asking you to work during your time off. This game would be a perfect lunchtime treat on your work computer halfway through a day when reports are due, but who wants to think about the office while not at the office? The game tasks also become as repetitive as a desk job, with hacking-and-slashing your only real objective. Office Freakout makes a game of work — but only the worst side of it. If businesses are moving away from the traditional workplace structure, why are game companies pulling us back into our fluorescent offices? Gamification of work is successful when the goal is transparent. Workers are given specific tasks and goals that, when completed, are celebrated with known rewards. Celebrating achievements is one of the key areas of workplace gamification, ripped directly from the success and addictive quality of games themselves.
However, when a game’s only marker of success is to throw more work at you it can feel like nothing has been celebrated at all. If workified games are to be as successful as gamified work, they need to retain the qualities that keep people coming back for more.