Learning from the economics of video games

So how can games provide insight into real life problems and politics?
The two groups don’t really realize this yet, but game designers and policy makers are doing exactly the same thing. Both groups have these giant populations that are so big that you can’t sit down and talk to everyone about exactly what they want, so you get this mass of information and opinions. And your job is to look out at this sea of people and figure out what would make them happier and then design a bunch of rules that does that. How do you handle player vs. player combat? How do you handle the market? How do you handle conflict between players? Those are all political problems. Many game designers function like lawyers or policy makers. The policies may be very different, but they are in the same business.

Do you think there are opportunities for each side to learn from the other? 
I think that the opportunities go in one direction. I think that game designers should not take anything from the policy makers, because policymaking is so bad. Think about this, we’re going to implement a change to health policy that is going to involve one sixth of our economy. No game designer would ever do something like that without testing it, but we go forward without tests all the time in real life. I think that real world governments have a lot to learn from the way that game designers develop patches, how they talk about that process, how they implement it, and how they do the actual work to figure out what that patch will be.

What about the economic world? How can big business use games to improve their business?
Well, you’re stepping over that live wire called Gamification, and I don’t want to give anyone the idea that Gameification is a reasonable strategy for businesses. The basic idea is that you have all these people doing data entry, and if you just give them badges every time they do something, then magically they’ll love their job. That’s not how human behavior works. I think that we can do a much better job of making the lives of everybody in the real world feel more meaningful, but that’s not Gamification, that’s a cultural change. Figuring out how to do that is the tough problem, but giving everyone badges is a weak attempt to make your company a more enjoyable place. What’s going on here is basic human motivation. The gaming industry knows more about engaging people than any other industry right now.

From an interview with Edward Castranova, a telecommunications professor at the University of Indiana.

We are still a ways off from the popular dystopian sci-fi scenario of being citizens of a corporation rather than a nation-state, but some companies are already arguably more powerful than many countries, certainly on the scale of economic throughput. That's why it's still valuable to debate and discuss the ethics of some of the largest companies in the world. The policy decisions technology companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber, Apple and other behemoths make have massive effects in society, and they've been under a lot of scrutiny. Some of the outrage is trivial and overblown, but in the grand scheme of things I'm glad people challenge and question these companies publicly. For the companies, the consequences usually just consist of PR headaches that blow over eventually when the energy of the initial fury dissipates.

Operating under the aegis of “maximizing shareholder value” isn't much of an ethical foundation.