The Gamification of Oil and Gas

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The Gamification of Oil and Gas

Ever wonder if gamification could work in oil and gas? For sure, and here’s how.

Reprinted from November 6, 2017, and still fresh!


What is gamification?


On-line games have been around for my entire business lifetime of 30 years. In fact, when I worked for a summer at McGill University in the 80’s, we played an on line game of sorts. The school of computer science handed out usage accounts and time credit to students to allow us to complete various assignments using the school’s mainframe system. There was a bit of a black market for accounts whose students had completed the assignment without consuming all the compute cycles. These turned into gaming accounts.


Games were pretty rudimentary, usually some kind of shoot-em genre, but using a dot matrix printer that printed off images of a slowly moving target composed of asterisks, slashes and dashes. It was all so hi-tech at the time. Looking back … not so much.


Today, entertainment games feature the usual elements that create addictive behaviour point scoring, rewards, personalisation, sensory immersion, competition with others individually or in teams, deep realism, and various rules of play – and in several themes, such as simulations, adventure, strategy, puzzles, action, combat, role playing, and training.


Gamification means bringing these ideas from the on line gameindustry to other areas of commercial activity. The earliest examples included using games to encourage customers to engage with a product or a service. Retailers have been particularly aggressive using games to lure customers. A fine recent example is Norma Kamali’s 3D movie and on line shopping experience, where Kamali challenged customers to find specific objects in the movie. Bonobos gets male shoppers to spot specific items from their clothing line hidden in their website in exchange for shopping credits.


But can game thinking be brought to bear on the oil and gas industry? And if so, where?


The readiness for games


I believe the foundational elements to bring wide-spread and more intense gamification to oil and gas are falling into place.


Data representations of the real world


The use of engineering tools to design, build and maintain oil and gas infrastructure has created the rich data environment to also create a purely on-line and immersive playground for games. Operational systems (SCADA) generate the kinds of real time data to make environments even more real.


Ample computer horsepower


The rise of cloud computing provides lots of nearly free computer time at low variable cost to house a game and play it across multiple companies, countries and sites.


Devices for engagement


The device world, of smart phones and tablets, and eventually hands free devices like Hololens, has put a free game controller into everyone’s hands. These devices can provide a rich gaming experience – with sound, two way communications, video and haptic response.



Rapid developments in artificial intelligence, neural computing and big data enable games for complex business systems like oil and gas.


Cool examples of games in oil and gas


With the foundations in place, where will gamification have the biggest impacts?


Capital project execution


Have you ever seen the project plan for a large oil and gas project? Building one is a collaborative effort involving a dozen key disciplines and oft times multiple firms, each of whom brings to bear their particular set of assumptions and orthodoxies about how the world works. After lots of meetings and workshops, engineers emerge with a complex GANTT chart incorporating thousands of lines, written in engineering short hand, and programmed into the industry’s planning tool of choice, Primavera P6.


Suffice to say, these plans inevitably incorporate their share of bugs and mistakes that are in plain sight but hidden from easy detection. Every engineer has their capital project story of how a crane arrives to carry out a lift, but the items to be lifted haven’t arrived, or the crane needs to navigate an impossibly tight space to reach the lift site, or the beams to be lifted do not have foundations in place.


What if the P6 plan could be programmed into a computer simulation game engine? A company in Australia, Real Serious Games or RSG, does exactly that. RSG’s game engine translates the actions in a P6 plan into a kind of slow motion video that shows the interaction of equipment, like cranes, ships and haulers, with materials, like beams, scaffolds and machinery, and infrastructure, like ports, roads and warehouses, and the actions of people.


The game quickly reveals the inconsistencies hidden in the plan. Teams of engineers can “play” the capital game over and over, tweaking it to remove cost, speed up execution and improve throughput of machines and crews.


Capital project forensics


Remember that scene from Top Gun, where Maverick and Goose replay a dogfight in the classroom? A second useful application of gamification in capital projects is in forensics. Often at the end of a large capital project, the engineering contractor presents the owner with the list of reimbursable overages that occurred during the project. Many are completely legitimate, but some should be turned back because the contractor did not begin the works with an efficient and effective plan.


Imagine taking the P6 actuals and putting them into the same game engine. The resulting video would show where the contractor’s plan was inefficient and ineffective. Owners would be less willing to simply pay for contract overages, and maverick contractors would learn to sharpen their plans.


Health and safety education


Employee health and safety training in oil and gas invariably includes basic awareness of the many kinds of hazards that exist on the job site. But translating the abstractness of PowerPoint into real understanding of the hazards, and putting that training in tangible action on the job, is still daunting. Incidents are still too high.


Gamification offers a powerful new tool to help improve safety performance. Using augmented reality, drone photography of overhead scenes and puzzles like “spot the unsafe condition”, employees can “up their game” before stepping foot on site.


These days, incident recording using smart phone apps and cameras creates a never-ending flow of game content for safety training. Industry participants do not compete on safety, and should be willingly sharing incident data to help the overall industry improve.

Commercial optimisation


What if a game engine could be wrapped around a digital twin of an operating asset or business? Employees could then “play” with assets in a virtual setting to learn the nuances of how the assets are likely to behave in real world conditions.


A fully functioning digital twin of an asset or a business includes many layers of data that work together to provide a rich, fully integrated and playable software version of the asset:


  • The engineering content (diagrams, specifications, configurations) that describe the physical asset in digital terms for the engineering disciplines
  • The physical constraints of the various assets (their operating capacities, throughputs and pressures) that bound how the asset can physically behave
  • The operating parameters of the assets (input energies, consumables, byproducts and emissions) which bound the asset’s performance
  • The financial description of the assets (fixed build cost, operating cost per unit) that yield the economics of the business
  • The uncertain elements (customer demand, weather events, supply disruption) that are the real world conditions with which the business must cope

The digital twin can have any number of these kinds of variables, whatever makes the most sense for the asset owner. For example, a digital twin of an oil refinery would want to include the crude slate with its variances of TAN values, sulphur content and heavy metals, refinery complexity, and its logistics setting. A tank farm would want to include customer orders, supplier shipments and blending opportunities. A trading operation would include product demand, refining capacity, market pricing, margins, pipeline availabilities, crude choices and trading strategies.


Using the digital twin of the business as the basis for a strategy game could help companies train up new managers, sharpen operating chops, set more meaningful performance targets, and identify opportunities to improve the business.


Read more about the concepts behind the digital twin. Have You Met My Twin? He’s Digital.


Game my day


Oil and gas is an industry rich in gamification potential. All the ingredients are in place to apply gamification to capital projects, health and safety, and commercial operations.


This article first appeared on November 6, 2017.


Check out my book, ‘Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.

Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course.

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