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A Black woman plays a game on her phone. The text reads, "Video Games and Entrepreneurship: 10 Worthwhile Tips"

Video Games and Entrepreneurship: 10 Worthwhile Tips

I love games, especially ones based on logic and pattern recognition. I’ll happily spend hours with a jigsaw puzzle. The seemingly endless ways to play solitaire provide me with fresh challenges. My deep and abiding love for mystery novels and whodunits connects here, too. My brain is happiest when it’s processing something complicated.

I downloaded the phone app Tap Out thinking it would be another entertaining logic game to play when I had to wait for bits of time too short for doing something more involved, like waiting in line at school pick up or for a doctor’s appointment. I generally don’t work on my phone and I dislike reading tiny type on a tiny screen, so games have long been my choice for whiling away a few minutes.

Tap Out plays quickly and silently, and you can stop midway without losing any progress. This makes it a perfect diversion wherever I am.

I initially checked out the app because I was drawn by the allure of “surely I can do better than that” – Tap Out’s short video ads showed the player repeatedly making foolish mistakes. I wanted to figure out the game so I’d stop being annoyed by its ads, thinking I’d play for a few days and then delete it.

I never expected to find lessons for entrepreneurship literally in the palm of my hand.

Really, Business Lessons from a Video Game?

According to Guillermo Owen, game theory is “the mathematical study of situations of conflict of interest . . . applicable to military and economic situations, and to a lesser extent, to situations in other social sciences.” In other words, game theory applies logic and structure to human behavior to reveal patterns that are not obvious on the surface.

The global rise of video gaming has brought a parallel rise in using game theory to understand a wide range topics, from debate within a political party, to understanding World War I, to pavement maintenance.

Recent research into business uses of game theory include environmentally-aware supply chain management and the role of government in the green entrepreneurship sector. One study shows that serious games strengthen entrepreneurship education. Earlier research examined both international business and leadership succession in family businesses.

Clearly, how people make decisions is a fundamental aspect across our lives.

What’s Tap Out?

Tap Out is a phone app, what the industry calls a casual game, meaning it’s aimed at a mass market and you can play it anytime, anyplace, without a gaming console or other special equipment. If you have a smartphone, you can play.

The game presents a 3D matrix of cubes, some forming a recognizable shape, others in a random arrangement. The goal is to eliminate all of the cubes before running out of turns, tapping cubes one by one. Each cube has an arrow indicating in which direction it moves; the top of each one has a yellow smiley face. If you tap a cube and it has a clear path, it moves out of the grid and off screen. Cubes that are blocked by other cubes turn temporarily red and bounce back into place when you tap them.

Sometimes, cubes turn into coins you can collect to play other aspects of the game. You can rotate the matrix in all dimensions by swiping with your finger. There’s a 4 unit sequence from the easiest game to the hardest, which resets back to the easiest.

10 Things I Learned about Entrepreneurship

1. The choice is yours

You get to decide where to start. At the edge, with the outward-facing arrows? Tap every smiley face you can see? Rotate the puzzle to understand its shape? More complex matrices offer more starting points, but choosing the first move is up to you.

2. Moving around changes your perspective

Each game begins with a corner view, so that you can see three sides of the matrix. This maximizes the number of opening moves, but you can’t complete the game from there. No matter how successful your first set of choices is, you’re going to have to move to another vantage point.

3. Progress might be slow

Because you can spin the matrix along the x-axis and the y-axis, you sometimes have to move 4, 5, even 7 times to spot the one move you can make. If you’re not paying attention to the direction you’re rotating the matrix with every move, you might see the same view multiple times without realizing it. There is always another move, if you take the time to look for it carefully.

4. Small changes lead to big improvements

In a complex matrix, the middle of the game gets tricky. What was an identifiable image is reduced to a haphazard arrangement of cubes. Each cubes seems to be blocked by another one. When you finally remove the one that’s blocking the bottleneck, each move opens up the next one in the sequence, restoring the flow of your options.

5. Risks are worthwhile

Each new matrix starts with a maximum number of moves you can make, more than you need to solve the game. If you’ve been playing well and each tap has removed a cube, you can afford to take some chances. Tap a few cubes whose path isn’t clear to you and see what happens. You’ll either remove a cube or gain important data for your next move.

6. Be curious, not careless

Track which opportunities you’re trying. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll waste turns trying to move a blocked cube.

7. Be experimental, don’t assume

When I first started playing Tap Out, I assumed that the gold coins were a trap of some kind, something designed to complicate the game for the unwary. I avoided them for as long as possible and didn’t particularly notice what happened when I did tap them. After a few frustrating rounds, I decided to experiment with the gold coins and quickly discovered their importance to the overall game play. No wonder I’d been frustrated! I wasn’t playing the game correctly.

8. Be mindful of your time

I find myself easily absorbed in Tap Out’s 4 game sequence from easiest to hardest puzzle. I want the challenge of the hard game, rewarded with a dopamine hit with each successful move and each solved matrix. A “short break” has lasted longer than I’d planned on more than one occasion!

9. Be patient

Tap Out isn’t a timed game, so there’s no need to rush. As cubes with a clear path whoosh out of the matrix, wait for them to fully clear out before making the next move. Sometimes, your perception is off and that next move isn’t actually available in the way you think it will be.

10. Be true to yourself

I don’t care about Tap Out’s point system or about the build-your-farm game-within-a-game. The farm is something to spend your gold coins on and thus motivate you to play the game longer to earn more coins to spend on the farm, and so on. I focus my game play on the parts I find rewarding: solving the puzzle by tracing out the complicated exit paths. Ignoring the flashing signs and urgent message of “update!” is easy because I know they’re not going to enhance what I want from the experience.

What Do You Play?

Do you play video games? Which is your favorite? Tell us in the comments!

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Cheers, Kellie

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