Is Modern Warfare 2 killing office productivity?

Modern Warfare 2 may well set video game sales records. Might it also result in plummeting office productivity as well?

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    Erik Cota walks out of a Redwood City, Calif., video store with his copy of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 early Nov. 10. Some evidence suggests office productivity will suffer as a result.
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Is there a link between swine flu and Modern Warfare 2? Only when you want to get off from work.

"I know a number of people who have called in erroneously sick," to play America's latest gaming sensation, says Woody Tondorf, a producer for the website Break.com. "Even some bosses called in with a 24-hour case of the swine flu."

On message boards and comment sections across the Internet, Call of Duty loyalists are swearing that they're taking a day (if not several) off from work to play Modern Warfare 2, which went on sale Tuesday. But whether they're coming distracted to the office or hammering away at their keyboards or controllers at home, human resource managers agree: They're costing the company money.

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"Incidental unplanned absences" (such as calling in sick) were the most costly of all work absences, according to a 2008 survey by Kronos, a workforce management consulting firm. They caused a 21 percent net loss of productivity, 5 percentage points higher than planned absences.

But might it be better for employees to stay home and get the gaming bug out of their system rather than live a distracted day at the office? Mr. Tondorf, who picked up the game at midnight and played until 4 a.m., allowed he probably wasn't the most focused employee on Wednesday.

The fact that he's casting for a video-game news show gave Tondorf a bit of cover when talking about Modern Warfare 2. But the distraction factor is impossible to ignore.

He and his colleagues "can pretend like it's work, but none of us could really care less about writing scripts," he says. "Right now as I talk to you all I'm thinking about is going back and finishing the fight that I started. I'm on [Google chat] talking with my friends back East and we're setting up a co-op session for as soon as I get home. It's definitely in the back of your mind."

Playing the game in the office could prove even more costly.

Almost three-quarters of the 2,500 respondents in Salary.com's 2008 survey on wasting time at work admitted whiling away some hours with nonwork tasks. Nearly half of that time was spent surfing the Internet, according to the survey, while a third was spent time socializing with co-workers. Nearly a quarter of workers (22 percent) said they wasted two hours or more. The cost to employers? In 2005, the last year such costs were calculated, the survey estimated it at $759 billion.

Some players advanced a third approach along the lines of one Amazon.com message board thread: "How many RESPONSIBLE adults are taking Wednesday off so that they don't come into work tired?"

That idea, however, got short shrift.

A poster under the name David Dial proposed the perfect Modern Warfare office caper below the responsibility thread. After carefully rigging the central computer at his office, a radio station, to both play the game and hide it at a moment's notice, Dial writes: "You'll probably hear tunes just playing out and the frequency sitting silent for 10 or 15 seconds, messed up weather forecasts and rough newscasts (we get all our news through that main computer and the news guys have no idea that we've been preparing the machine for in the last four weeks. They are gonna WEIRD when they go for The AP Wire and see a Soviet Snowmobile!)"

The best antidote to the Modern Warfare 2 superbug? Loving the office, too, says Steve Nathanson, a graphic designer in the Philadelphia area.

"Because I love what I do, I wouldn't take a day off from work to play any video game," Mr. Nathanson says. "If I was in another situation though, I might call out sick on a very rare occasion. If you asked me a year ago, I would have taken off for a very special game."

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See also:

Modern Warfare 2 Review Roundup

Modern Warfare 2: Will it make sales history?

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David Grant is a Monitor contributor. Let us know how many hours you plowed into Modern Warfare 2 on Twitter.

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