Great Business Simulations Are Not All Fun and Games


If you have anything to do with the world of training and development, you know and probably are agreat-business-simulation-gamification.jpg getting a little tired of  “gamification in learning.”

For full transparency, earlier this year I developed and shared with our key clients and leadership team the “Gamification Strategy of Advantexe” so that we could execute and keep up with customer expectations. With our gamification strategy, we have the ability to now capture leader boards, award badges for success, include progress bars, and utilize customized business metrics to reward certain achievements.

I will admit publically that the entire process made me a little uneasy as I worry that executives and leaders in the C-suite won’t take business simulations in learning seriously if everyone calls them games.

I can visualize the collective voices of CEOs around the world asking the Talent Development teams, “What the heck are we doing taking people away from their jobs to play games in training? This is ridiculous!”

As I look at the landscape of games being used for learning, the solutions are almost limitless with many of them being board games, video games, card games, game-show themes like Shark Tank and Apprentice, and, the worst of all, power point templates constructed in a way to resemble TV shows like Jeopardy.

As popular and “cool” the concept of gamification may be in the learning world, I am critically concerned that well-designed, great business simulations will get caught in the downward spiral of negativity when the shine of gamification starts to dissipate. And I do believe that it will dissipate sooner rather than later.

 Top Five Reasons Why Gamification in Learning Will Have a Limited Shelf Life

Below I share five insights about my perspectives of gamification, game theory, and why there is a danger in embracing them without some thought and education.

1. People learn in different ways

Over the past 25 years, if there is one thing that technology in training and development has taught us is that different people learn in different ways. As an industry, it feels that we have finally begun to hit a stride in terms of blended learning, virtual classrooms, quality eLearning to develop and refine skills for long-term impact, and all of the great new tools for reinforcement. 

Gaming theory – especially in training – assumes that people are going to learn the same way and will be motivated by things such as the leader boards and badges. I think this is a false assumption and could potentially cause more harm than good by turning off learners who don’t like to learn in a game environment.

2. Gamification is linear approach

Board games, power point games, and other less sophisticated learning games tend to be linear in approach. That is fine, but the world isn’t linear, especially the business world where business acumen, business leadership, and strategic business selling skills are critical to success. Business acumen is the complex intersection of strategy, finance, supply chain, and more all occurring in a system. Business leadership is the process of executing strategy through people on an individual and group basis; again systemic and full of layers. Strategic selling is even more complex as sophisticated sales professionals must navigate through accounts, the decision making process, personality styles, master their own product knowledge, and position solutions from a value-based perspective. All before negotiating a price and overseeing implementation of they get the deal.

3. Context

When gamification first started to become popular, I know many training professionals were thrilled because they saw the move to gamification as a way to drive attendance, compliance, and ultimately skill development.

The problem is that there are differences in training and skill development – all training is not the same. As one training professional shared, “Real Housewives of New Jersey and Mad Men are both television shows…that doesn’t mean they are of the same quality.” 

The context in which that training is given is more important than the training. Bad training delivered in a snappy game format is still bad training.

4. Is Social Media the Right Forum for Broadcasting Training Results?

One of the primary tenants of gamification theory is leveraging social media to create interest, awareness, and to publish results. I have to question the appropriateness of using social media to share training data. Are there some participants who will resist? Will they feel comfortable stretching themselves and opening themselves up for “learning-by-doing” if their poor results could be broadcast all over Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? If you are doing a movie review or responding to the latest exploits of a celebrity, then maybe it is an appropriate forum. I think training professionals have to be very careful with this issue.

5. Gaming the system not learning from the system

There is a reason why it’s a game: it’s meant to be played and the competition is an important part of the experience. That is not the same for training or developing skills. If you are developing a skill building solution around a gamification strategy, you run the risk of participants trying to “game” the system – and try to figure out a way to win – as opposed to learning from the system to build skills that can be applied back to the real world. For example, in a board game, what if a company trying to optimize profit cuts R&D and Marketing to win the game? Is that the right lesson to teach people? I think setting up the potential to "game the game" not only sets the wrong learning culture it could also create skills that are the wrong skills to take back to the job and that could be really scary. This is why we developed of Drivers of Business Performance simulation, to be able to illustrate and support in a learning tool,  the systems of business 

Great Computer-Based Business Simulations Are Not All Fun and Games

Sophisticated and elegant computer-based business simulations are tools that develop skills in a systemic way. And they are not all fun and games. Depending upon the learning objectives, computer-based business simulations are excellent tools that:

  • Enable participants to learn at their own pace and with their own style
  • Teach in a system as opposed to being linear
  • Are in the context of a real business and should be customized to the needs of the participants
  • Are kept private and in the classroom, and not broadcasted as part of a social media campaign
  • Are sophisticated learning tools that penalize participants for gaming the system

In summary, there are many potential dangers and pitfalls with embracing gamification when talking about simulations in learning. I have presented some (hopefully) compelling arguments about the current state and shares ideas for why sophisticated computer-based simulations are much better in the long run…

I am sure the conversation will continue as this is a topic that will have some legs. Thoughts?

Stay tuned!

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Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.