Serious Games: Using Game-based learning for corporate training

Game Based Learning: Fad or Future?


We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

-George Bernard Shaw


Everyone is a player?


The socio-cultural phenomenon of digital gaming has become pervasive. It is no longer just the preserve of slightly awkward and pimply teenagers.

According to Fast Company it is estimated that 97% of 12-17 year olds play computer games. That fact should hardly surprise you, especially if you have children.

What is, however, more interesting, is the fact that so do almost 70% of the heads of American households.

The age of the average gamer?  Not 12 to 17, but 34.

One survey found that 35% of C-level executives are video game players and 47% of gamers are woman[i].

According to Jane McGonical, the director of game research and development at Palo Alto–based Institute for the Future, globally 350 million people spend a combined 3 billion hours per week playing computer games.

The computer gaming sub-culture is about forty years old. This has, however, been a very busy forty years.  It is estimated that gamers have spent the equivalent of 5.7 billion years gaming. McGonical puts this in some perspective by pointing out that this is how many years have elapsed since the first primate began walking upright!

The virality and stickiness of social networks is fueling this growth. DoubleClick estimates that Facebook receives 33 billion visits from its user base per month. Those users click on 31 pages per visit and stay for more than 23 minutes, generating a stunning 1.4 million user‐years per month. According to App Data, the top five social app/gaming companies on Facebook now reach a combined 430 million monthly active users.

Cityville, a popular Facebook game by Zynga went from zero users to 100 million users in 41 days!

Games have very clearly become mainstream entertainment for all ages. Some of the most successful video games even exceed movie sales.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which launched in November, 2011, was the most successful product launch in history, grossing more than $1 billion in its first 16 days of sales. In comparison, the most successful movie of 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, only grossed $381 million.

Many business leaders are asking themselves how they could leverage this trend. More and more businesses are using game-based learning very successfully.  One of the primary workplace benefits of gaming is that it can teach players effectively about complex systems through cause-and-effect realizations.


Playing at work or working at play?


Some distinctive features of multi-player, on-line games such as team collaboration, problem solving, and group decision-making have caused a lot of interest from practitioners in business, government and the military. The engaging and fun nature of games can also have piqued the interests of academics and practitioners alike.

Gartner identifies a strong trend towards workplace utilisation of games:

“By 2015, more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes, according to Gartner, Inc. By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.”

The workplace can potentially benefit from the application of two game-based techniques, namely gamification and “serious games”.

Brian Burke, an analyst at Gartner defines gamification as follows:

“Gamification describes the broad trend of employing game mechanics to non-game environments such as innovation, marketing, training, employee performance, health and social change,”

“Serious games” such as simulations, also have a long track record within business applications. Immersive Learning Simulations can be defined as a system that combines simulation, pedagogy, and “hard fun” to create a truly engaging and behavior-changing form of learning”. [ii]


Kriz and Nöbauer[iii] stressed that learners should be stimulated to take on joint responsibility and to be proactive in shaping their own learning processes.


“The approach of problem-oriented learning requires the following:


a)    complex and authentic contexts, encouragement toward experience-oriented learning;

b)    multiple contexts, variety of perspectives and methods;

c)    social contexts, team learning, and teamwork; and

d)    instructional contexts, appropriate support from the teacher or trainer via debriefing by paying attention to experiences such as problem-solving strategies, cooperation, conflict, resolution, and so on.


Because gaming simulation propels these principles into action, it is an extremely useful learning methodology. Gaming simulation is an interactive-learning environment that makes it possible to cope with authentic situations that closely mimic reality.”


Even Bill Gates sees game-based learning as the future of education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding “game-based” learning to the tune of $20 million as one of their key priorities.[iv]

One of the most important benefits of games, and especially simulation games, is the manner in which productive failure and creative adaptability is encouraged. Fear of punishment, either formally or socially, is typically low in social games, encouraging experimentation and creative workarounds to reach mutual goals.

Game designer, Jane McGonical refers to this prosocial emotion being encouraged and experienced by gamers as “happy embarrassment”.[v]

In contrast with the almost bleak picture that executives are often presented with regarding the unleadable, unlearnable, unruly and “disobedient” nature of Generation X and Y, Jane McGonical argues very passionately that gaming has created in this generation a group of “Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals.”


The emergence and growth of computer gaming has led her to conclude that social gaming leads to the development of the following characteristics in its players: [vi]


Urgent Optimism: Incorporation of games specifically designed to align players with real problems centred in the discipline being studied, provides learners with a sense of urgency to solve the problems they encounter, and gives them a sense of optimism, both in terms of solving the immediate problem and any other problems they may encounter.

Social Engagement: Games provide the content, structure, and medium for focused social interactions aimed at solving problems. In the gaming environment, in the classroom, organisation or campus, the injection of game-based problems provides learners with a reason for learning, interacting, and working together in ways only rarely seen on the traditional campus by extending learning beyond the classroom and beyond the campus.

Blissful Productivity: People are happiest when they are working hard toward attainable goals. Gamification helps students to become blissfully focused on virtual problems by asking insightful questions and developing solutions to real issues.

Epic Meaning: Theory without application has little place in a world that is all about hands-on experiences, interacting with the world, and creative thinking. Students learn best by doing and college/organisational learning should be about helping learners to change the world. The gamification of higher education and business education bridges those areas by providing students with the skills and knowledge needed to effect the changes they want to see in the world.

Raph Koster, former Chief Creative Officer at Sony Entertainment, view game design as a tool by which the “possibility space” is always increasing, by means of the self-refreshing puzzles a game provides to its players.

The information economy requires leaders with more and more advanced levels of information management skills and knowledge, as well as appropriate attitudes towards technology and the optimal usage thereof. Experiential learning is a potentially effective tool to develop the competencies required within the knowledge economy.

Online Social Gaming as a learning design and learning technology can prove particularly valuable as leadership and skills development tool within the Digimodern world.

As with any management tool, circumspection in application is required for utilisation of game-based learning. The dynamics of introducing these tools in the business environment is not without a great amount of inherent complexity. Leverage points need to be identified so that change initiatives can be introduced with minimum operational risk, while simultaneously maximising outcomes.

It is therefore clear that gaming is much more than just a game.


About the Author:

Wouter Grove is the CEO of Gamechangers Pty Ltd, a serious gaming and gamification consultancy based in Cape Town. He is currently finalising his Master’s thesis on the topic of Serious Gaming and is especially interested in the intersection of the trends of ubiquitous gaming, ubiquitous computing and social networks. He is a member of the Serious Games Association and has previously worked in various roles within the management consulting, risk management, information technology and operations management fields. He loves talking about playing. When is he not writing his thesis he is an oncodad, wannabe rock climber and closet musician.


[i] Pew Foundation and  Entertainment Software Association

[ii] Wexler, S. et al., 2007. GUILD RESEARCH 360° REPORT ON IMMERSIVE LEARNING SIMULATIONS. The eLearning Guild, (February).

[iii] Kriz, W. C., & Nöbauer, B., 2002. Creating Effective Learning Environments and Learning Organizations through Gaming Simulation Design. Simulation & Gaming, 34(4).

[iv] Bill Gates: Why “game-based learning” is the future of education. Available at: [Accessed August 31, 2012].

[v] McGonigal, J., 2011. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Penguin Press HC, The. Available at: [Accessed June 7, 2012].

[vi] Marquis, J., 2012. Introducing a Game-Based Curriculum in Higher Ed. Emerging Education Technology Available at: [Accessed June 21, 2012].