Project Management

Virtual Pandemics And Project Management

From the Game Theory in Management Blog
Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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Although I generally like to avoid examples in extremis, I would like to review a virtual pandemic that hit a virtual world, one that I discuss at length in my second book, the book this blog is named after, Game Theory in Management. The subtitle to that book is the same as the subtitle to this blog, too: modeling business decisions and their consequences. The virtual plague took place in the World of Warcraft game, which is typically referred to as an MMORPG, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Its “world” is Azeroth, and players belong to one of two warring populations. However, within these populations are sub-groups, or tribes if you will, who do not necessarily work together in combatting their nominal enemies.

Into this setting was introduced a disease, the “Corrupted Blood” incident. In the words of Joel Hruska, from ExtremeTech, fifteen years ago,

The boss of the Zul’Gurub raid instance, Hakkar the Soulflayer, had a debuff he could apply to nearby players that caused damage every few seconds. The debuff was designed to kill players quickly enough that anyone without healer support would die fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, Blizzard made a mistake. Hunter pets, if put away while the debuff was applied, would still have it when they were pulled back out again — like, say, in a populated area. That was the first problem. The second problem was that Corrupted Blood was infectious, and spread to people nearby. The third problem? NPCs (non-person characters) could catch it. When they did, they didn’t die. They just transmitted it to everyone within range, indefinitely.[i]

In my research while writing Game Theory in Management, I came across stories of those characters with healing powers offering their services at inflated prices (supply and demand hold sway over virtual worlds as well as our own, it would seem), characters deliberately teleporting infected animals into enemy’s population centers (biological warfare), and, perhaps one of the more chilling virtual behaviors, characters would assume the role of journalists, approach population centers that may or may not have been infected and therefore deserving of quarantine, assess the situation from afar, and then re-position themselves at nearby road junctions to inform passerby of that center’s status – or not. It seems some characters were known to, shall we say, adjust the message depending on whether or not the recipient was of their own tribe or clan.

I would like to point out that, in spite of entreaties from Blizzard Entertainment for the players of World of Warcraft to initiate behaviors that would eradicate the plague within the game itself, insufficient numbers of players did so, necessitating a hard re-set of the entire shebang in order to rid Azeroth of the disease. In short, when called on to behave a certain way as to benefit the entire population, individual players in sufficient numbers elected to act out on their own interests, which prevented any but the most drastic of solutions from actually working.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

It has been my experience that the go-to implementation strategy for advancing Project Management within an organization (particularly large ones) entails some form of the following steps:

  1. Tap into the energy generated by the organization’s realization that an advancement in PM is needed, usually due to some project (or projects) going off the rails in dramatic fashion.
  2. Hire or promote “experts,” and create a Project Management Office (PMO), or at least a team that does PM.
  3. The PMO/Team performs an analysis of the level of PM maturity in place, and creates a document for advancement.
  4. The PMO/Team continues to generate documents, this round creating official policies or procedures, that mandates certain PM-related practices and artifacts.
  5. Some projects will embrace the new techniques, but many will seek to opt out, either by asserting a basis for exemption from the procedures, or by engaging the silent veto/slow roll tactic.
  6. To the extent that the organization’s major projects have improved their PM practices, overruns and late project completions are reduced, and the amount of energy that went into the creation of the PMO begins to dissipate.
  7. With no major overruns or delays to justify the expense of all those experts in the PMO on the payroll, and with significant amounts of project work not adhering to the PM procedures, the need for the PMO begins to be challenged in the organization’s executive suites, until…
  8. Another project disaster happens, and the cycle begins anew.

The behaviors of (most of) the organizations in this approach mirrors those of Corrupted Blood-inflicted Azeroth, in that no amount of urging individuals to act for the common good but not necessarily for their own benefit will bring about the desired macro-organizational change. Self-interest will always manifest itself – not universally, to be sure, but in sufficient amounts to keep the desired organization-wide change/maturity advancement from occurring. It’s simply human nature. That being the case, the solution to the self-interest problem must include…

Look at that! Out of pixel ink for this week. Tune in next week for tips on advancing PM in a macro organization driven by individuals predominantly looking out for themselves.

And please stay safe in this world.


[i] Retrieved from on April 5, 2020, at 19:58 MDT.

Posted on: April 06, 2020 10:38 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Enjoyed reading this and the comparisons you made!

Unusual example, but representative of human nature as you say. Even in the virtual world it's a dog eat dog world:). Another enjoyable post, this time ending on a cliffhanger no less. Faithfully yours in GTM Nation!

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