Need a new tool for the oilfield industry? It's all in the game

Oilfield services company develops apps that let employees, students, learn by playing

How do you teach people important aspects of the oilfield industry while also making the delivery fun, relatable and cool?

Try a game.

Joel Tarver, senior manager of digital marketing at Baker Hughes, an oilfield services company in Houston, got the idea for his oilfield-themed game “Bit-tacular” by playing “Candy Crush” with coworkers on a business trip to Dallas. 

“The workers who weren’t driving were playing ’Candy Crush,’ and we were thinking this could be fun,” Mr. Tarver said. “That was kind of the thought about it — how can we help promote the brand and have something that could be a differentiator for the company? Could we take this Match 3-type game and modify it to our needs?”

In Match 3 games, players match similar objects together to earn points. But instead of candy as in Candy Crush, and jewelry, as in Bejeweled, players smash colorful boulders with a drill-bit as they follow a map to unlock aspects of Baker Hughes’ history.

Mr. Tarver wanted something that employees could play with their children, friends and family.

“It’s not easy to talk to your kids about oilfield services,” he said. “If we can make it into a game, it creates that interest.”

Gamification, or using aspects of game designs and mechanics to appeal to audiences, has become popular in recent years. A 2011 study by Gartner, a information technology and research company, predicts over 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application by the end of 2014. 

Some experts believe the reason more companies are turning to gamified options is because people learn best through play.

“If they can get people playing around the subject they are trying to understand, they will have a richer and deeper understanding of that subject,” said Harley Baldwin White-Wiedow, vice president of design at Schell Games, a South Side company that designs transformational games. 

“Games and game-like properties can get people to do things they have to do even if they don’t want to,” she said. “They feel good about having done it because there’s a little excitement in playing the game, and seeing how your actions have affected the outcome.”

“Bit-tacular“ was designed as an extension of Baker Hughes’ drill-bit selection application “Bit Genie.” But unlike “Bit-tacular,” which was designed for everyone, “Bit Genie” was designed specifically for customers and employees. “Bit Genie” helps employees understand customer wants, preferences and needs in a fun way.

“The best way to describe it is if Iron Man met drill bits,” Mr. Tarver said. “Everybody knows what a bit looks like, everyone has probably seen a 3-D rendering of a bit, but they haven’t seen bits in the way that we’re presenting them.”

“We wanted to make bits sexy,” he added in an e-mailed statement.

Baker Hughes also makes apps such as ”Rig Count,“ an interactive map of the company’s rotary rigs. Other oilfield service companies such as Schlumberger and Halliburton also make apps, but none that are gamified.

”Bit-tacular,“ which was released on iTunes in April, is currently the only Baker Hughes game available to the public but not the only one the company has made. Its three other games: “WildCatter,” “Recall” and “Deliver It” were made to help engage students who attend the company’s Western Hemisphere Education Center, which recently opened in Tomball, Texas. 

“Once ”Bit-tacular“ started, it was easier to get the other ones going,” Mr. Tarver said in an e-mailed statement. “I work with an enormously creative team that includes gaming industry veterans. We met one day and just started to make a list of games that we would like to play. The games needed to be tied to the industry and they absolutely had to be fun.”

Unlike “Bit-tacular,” these games were not created to promote a product. They were created so students would have something to do in between classes that was industry-related and fun.

“We’re trying to find new ways to be more progressive in the way we teach,” Mr. Tarver said.

The games are mainly designed after pre-existing genres that have been modified to the oilfield industry. “Recall” is a memory game in which students match up Baker Hughes products. In “Wildcatter,” players use their fingers to drill wells and keep “the company man” or “client” happy. It is somewhat based on “Where's My Water,” a Disney game in which an alligator guides clean water to his shower. 

“There’s light learning content in the games,” Mr. Tarver said. “We want to keep [students] immersed in the brands but keep them having fun. Each of the games has its own kind of subtle moral to it. The driving game — ”Deliver It“ — is ridiculous. It has a jet pack, you’re trying to deliver tools, and the message is ‘be safe.’ ”

But some other app designers have begun to debate whether gamification really works. Another Garner study from 2012 suggests that by 2014, nearly 80 percent of all gamified apps will fail because of poor design. 

Mr. Tarver believes the way a game is designed makes all the difference.

“Like anything, I think it depends who’s doing it,” he said. “A cook is going to follow a recipe, but a chef is going to make it unique. You can’t just say ‘I’ve made this game and I’m done.’ It’s like software. It has a continuous lifestyle.”

Madasyn Czebiniak: or 412-263-1269. Twitter: @PG_Czebiniak

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