By Dave Bast
This analogy requires me to tip-toe through my lacking knowledge of modern U.S. history, so bear with me. In the late 1930’s, the United States Military began to evaluate its own combat readiness as war with the Nazis loomed. One of the many tactical hurdles was a specific need of boats designed for amphibious landings or beach invasions. The Marines weren’t happy with the Navy’s boats, so they turned to the private sector for help. It was there that they found Andrew Higgins and his aptly named Eureka boat. Through collaboration between the Marines and Mr. Higgins, between the government and the private sector, the Higgins boat was born, you know, those boats from the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. The boats proved critical in the success of the Normandy invasion. Before he was President, then Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight Eisenhower, said Higgins “is the man who won the war for us.”
The United States has a rich history of turning to the private sector for innovative solutions to complicated problems. During a time of piracy paranoia and digital copyright scandals maybe it is time to turn to the game industry, the one industry that is surviving, nay thriving, despite these hurdles. Who knows how many digital Higgins Boats the gaming industry has to offer? Below is a list of five skills the gaming industry can teach our government.
Precision Problem Solving
A few weeks ago when SOPA and PIPA were attempting to jackhammer their way into the internet, it became obvious that the government doesn’t really have the skills or technical understanding to craft any sort of digital legislation. It’s not surprising, they did what they always do; attempted to solve the problem, in one fell swoop, without consulting experts or bothering to learn its particulars. See, game developers are good at sniffing out nuanced solutions to technical problems, they have to be. Many games adhere to a strict approach regarding fairness and balance. It is very important to solve problems without creating new ones.
Ever read the patch notes for games like League of Legends, World of Warcraft, or Star Wars the Old Republic? They are usually filled with all sorts of tiny balance changes, efficient changes designed to move the entire system slowly in a new direction. Even bad games know to make the smallest changes possible to reach the greatest effect. When a newly released champion in League of Legends is too strong or overpowered, Riot takes the time to analyze why and come up with a solution. They lower the champion’s damage, increase cooldowns or mana costs. Why shouldn’t we expect the same level of detail from those we pick to run the country?
Just like the laws and legislation passed by our government, games are also large complicated systems. Game developers have learned the importance of focusing on the root cause of a problem before creating a solution, so too should our government.
Loopholes/Exploits are dealt with immediately
Game developers take exploits very seriously. Why wouldn’t they? Balance and fairness are key elements of any successful game, and exploits are what players use to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors. Besides, exploits are bad for business, they create variables. It’s tough to collect data when you are allowing variables to ruin it.
Remember the javelin glitch in MW2 – Players turning themselves into terrifying 21st century suicide bombers using SAM missiles? Yeah, that’s an exploit. Players were using it to ruin games when they were losing, or to simply troll the enemy team. Infinity Ward took a week to fix it, which most players felt was about 7 days too long. What did this teach us? Players with an intimate knowledge of the system may exploit glitches for person gain, regardless of the effects to other players.
Does this sound familiar? It may as well read, “Citizens with an intimate knowledge of the legal system may exploit flaws for person gain, regardless of the effects to other citizens.” An example of this has been in the news recently. One of the candidates for the republican nomination for President (I won’t say who but his name rhymes with Romney) pays up to 15% less in taxes than he should because he has the means to exploit the system. It isn’t his fault; this is what people do when people get their hands on an exploit. See, this isn’t a government problem, it’s a people problem. Any system can be exploited by individuals, so why not look for answers in an industry that has had some success in dealing with this issue.
Solutions in Real Time
No matter how effective your problem solving techniques are, they’re useless if you can’t implement changes in real time. A few weeks ago Riot Games released one of their standard bi-weekly patches for League of Legends. Afterwards it was clear that something wasn’t working properly with one of their champions, Leona. So Riot temporarily disabled Leona as a playable champion, while they looked for the problem. Once they had, Leona was added back to the champion pool where she became usable once again. Pretty straight forward right? This was an easy problem to solve right? It was easy for Riot to diagnose the problem, mitigate its damage and come up with a solution. It was only easy because it was happening in real time. Riot Games, like most companies, has a patch schedule, but that doesn’t stop them from making changes on the fly if need be.
If a piece of legislation has a bug or exploit in it, does it get changed right away? Nope – Congress isn’t back from vacation, it isn’t time to talk about it again, or we don’t have a majority. Come on, this is real life. I would like the same time and effort put into the laws that govern my life as the ones that govern my games. If developers can work late because my game isn’t working properly, the budget shouldn’t wait because Congress is on vacation.
You Can’t just Stop the Process
Last December while flipping through the news between Battlefield matches, some political talking-head was ranting about a possible shutdown of the United States Government due to disagreements over the payroll tax cut. I laughed, isn’t there a better way to handle this? Even my games don’t shutdown over small technical disputes, and games are just a hobby. If these were game developers the paranoid talking-head would be replaced with a casual forum post, “The following changes have been delayed until the next patch.” There may be some debate, but no shutdown; it wouldn’t even be on the table. When your contingency plan is total system failure, you really need to look to new places for help.
Game developers release all kinds of patches containing everything from bug fixes and balance changes to new content. They don’t always get to add everything that they want; some ideas may require additional testing or debate. So they just release the parts they know work, or at least the parts they hope will work. They don’t send a message to the community, warning them of a potential shutdown because they couldn’t agree on one small part of the process. Developers have learned to not let process problems become game problems, just as the government should learn not to let process problems become real life ones.
The Process Evolves Too
Off the top of my head I can name a few big game conferences: GDC, PAX, DICE, and E3. While they look all fancy and receive a lot of attention, they don’t exist solely for the celebration of games, but also for discussions on game production and the process of making games. A vast array of quick discussions, power point lectures, interviews and other methods are used to pull information out of industry experts and into the heads of other industry experts. The goal is to make better games by improving the process of making them. In less than ten years we’ve seen the industry embrace new methods of distribution, pricing, troubleshooting and community management.
Are there any government conferences that set out to re-evaluate the government process? I don’t think so. We still use the Filibuster for crying out loud and that was invented in 1854. You could still challenge people to a duel in 1854. Obviously a government is going to move at a slower pace than a game, it’s much larger and vastly more complicated. But some of these rules are archaic, mucking up the works for centuries. It doesn’t seem like the process is being evaluated at all.
I guess what I really want is for my government to put as much effort, intellect and innovation into running the country as game developers do into running my games. Isn’t it time to look for smart ideas in new places?