Dungeons and Dragons for MBAs

OK, so I’ve never actually played Dungeons and Dragons, just the simplified version for children BUT I perceive the game to be very similar to what has been one of my favorite classes in the MBA program: INTOPIA. According to Wikipedia, D&D players “form a party that interacts with the setting’s inhabitants (and each other). Together they solve dilemmas, engage in battles and gather treasure and knowledge. In the process the characters earn experience points to become increasingly powerful over a series of sessions.”

Similarly, INTOPIA players form companies (about 13 in the class this fall) that enter into a global market for both PC and Chips. The overarching dilemma is to make money, or have positive Net Income, pretty simple right? Apparently not. The game is conducted in rounds, or “quarters,” and last quarter, less than half of the companies made money! Players assume roles like “CEO”, “Chief Negotiator” or “CFO” and spend a great deal of time together reviewing financial results and market research data from prior quarters to arrive at productive (ideally) decisions to submit for each upcoming quarter (Build plants, set production and prices, etc.). Analysis utilizes concepts from a variety of other courses such us accounting, economics and marketing.

The battles are negotiations with other teams to buy product (PCs or Chips), assets (like plants or sales offices) or intellectual capital (like patents for product upgrades). I know my Negotiations Professor, Prof. Lount, would cringe at the characterization of a negotiation as a battle so to clarify, I’m drawing the metaphor from the amount of stress and emotion the players exhibit when constructing deals as agreements can be complex, confusing and extremely impactful on a team’s profitability. Companies have to trust each other on multiple levels (integrity, competence and commitment to a common direction) so it is also interesting to watch the environment for deal making (or battles). Some companies prefer to deal with 1 or 2 other companies and others deal with as many as possible.

While there are no formal experience points, it is already becoming apparent after 4 quarters that most teams will end up specializing in a region, a product or a stage in the value chain (R&D to win better patents, production or wholesaling). INTOPIA is first and foremost a strategy class, and committing to a direction for the company, while challenging because a company feels they are giving up on a number of other opportunities, seems to be important to make money (but what do I know, we are only in Q4!)

Lastly, any D&D game has to have a Dungeon Master. Wikipedia defines this as “the game’s referee and storyteller, who also maintains the setting in which the adventures occur and plays the role of the inhabitants.” In this case, his name is Arthur DeBig. DeBig, or Professor Jay Dial, not only runs the mechanics of the game (processes decisions, delivers outputs, etc.) but he also provides a number of legal, banking, market research and consulting services (or helps us translate financial statements, interpret market research and outline deals). The Dungeon Master also has the power to introduce “Monsters,” or in DeBig’s case, events that negatively affect business like natural disasters or political events.

More to come in later blog posts! Check out these links for reference:

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