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When Learning Games Go Small: The Four Principles of Design

 

The education game market continues to grow rapidly, and mobile games are the dominant force within this market. Newzoo provides the insights for the generic games market; the Serious Play Conference released its annual report showcasing the huge growth specific to the education and corporate training sector. The compound annual growth rate in the U.S for corporate learning games will be over 20% between 2017 – 2022 and about 35% globally with the U.S. and India being the top two markets for serious game play. Newzoo predicts the overall mobile game market across all game types will grow 40% between now and 2020, a significant growth increase.


Want to learn more about mobile learning games? Join us for our upcoming webinar When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts on Tuesday, October 10th at 1:00 PM ET.


So… it makes sense for L&D personnel to consider what space mobile games (aka ones intended for play on a smartphone) might occupy in their company’s learning and development portfolio. A smartphone game is not just a shrunken version of a PC game –  just as a limo is not just a bigger mode of transport than a unicycle.

The user experience and design aspects one expects from a limo, and the intended use of the limo, differs widely from that of the unicycle – even though both are modes of transportation. So it is with learning games. The use case for a smartphone game differs from that of a PC game, and the user experience should be different, too. L&D people need to think about this. When learning games go small there are four quadrants of design skills involved.

It’s highly unlikely that a single individual will possess skills in all four quadrants. It’s also very likely that if you opt to go the route of mobile games within your organization, you will need to pull together a team to create your game. Understanding each quadrant helps you assemble the right team and do a good job evaluating the game design the team evolves.

Here’s a quick definition of each quadrant followed by a checklist of factors to consider within each quadrant:

  • User Experience (UX) Design – the framework and navigation design of your game; this framework makes it easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to add/build onto it if you need to roll out future enhancements.
  • User Interface (UI) Design – the graphical “look and feel” of the game; it provides the aesthetics and helps create a mood or “feel” to your game (light-hearted, scary, humorous, intense, etc.). Lots of people think UX and UI mean the same thing. They don’t.
  • Instructional design – the design and structure of the experience to meet specific learning needs for a specific audience or audiences.
  • Game design – the design of the play experience; it includes the core dynamics of your game, rules, and game elements that all work together to enable players to achieve a game goal and have fun doing it.

Instructional Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Have a clear learning goal and measurable learning objectives focused on a specific learner?
  • Tap into learner motivation?
  • Manage cognitive load by eliminating irrelevant or extraneous content?
  • Provide relevant practice?
  • Give specific, timely feedback?
  • Trigger emotion that can help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Provide spaced repetition to help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Use story(ies) (again, for help with long-term retention of learning content as well as involvement during learning experience)?

Game Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Provide players with an intriguing goal or challenge?
  • Match the interests or player types of your target players?
  • Stick with one or two core dynamics?
  • Provide clear rules?
  • Use appropriate game elements from ones such as chance, strategy, cooperation, competition, aesthetics, theme, story, resources, rewards, levels?
  • Make the scoring relevant, motivating, and understandable?
  • Balance game complexity and difficulty for your player and the time you anticipate them playing it; not too easy or too little complexity, but not too hard or too much complexity either.

UX Design Checklist

UX best practice is that you design to the smallest screen. This means that your design supports these attributes on the smallest phone size players are likely to use. We draw the line at the iPhone 5, which is 1136 x 640 pixels or 4-inches diagonally. Good UX means you:

  • Have legible text.
  • Have touchable targets that a typical adult finger can easily succeed at using.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Focus on one key action or use per screen.
  • Make the navigation intuitive.
  • Make the experience seamless if intended for multiple devices.
  • Cater to contrast.
  • Design for how people hold/use their phone.
  • Minimize the need to type.

Attend to the small things to make a big difference.

UI Design Checklist

This checklist is the smallest, yet the aesthetics or “look/feel” of your game has a major impact on uptake and continued game play (which translates into best learning assuming you executed well on the instructional design checklist items). When creating your UI design, make sure your UI is:

  • Consistent. Treat every button of the same type in the exact same fashion. Treat all screens of a single “type” the same way, etc. Use fonts and text labels for things consistently.
  • Designed to your user – and not to your personal preferences. Example: While you may love anime art, your corporate user may find it insulting or trivial.
  • Not reinventing standards; use what’s common and comfortable. There is a thing called “heuristics” for a reason. (Note: UX/UI heuristics are often bundled into a single list.)
  • An enhancement of the focus and not the focus of your game experience.
  • Forgiving of user mistakes with lots of prompts and helpful guides.
  • Clear on giving users feedback about what to do and where to go.

Want More Information?

If you want to know more, here are some great resources:

  • Sign up for a companion webinar to this post that will occur on October 10th – When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.
  • Download a handy checklist for each quadrant of design.
  • Check out my book, coauthored with Dr. Karl Kapp – Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games, published by ATD Press 2017.
  • And/or join Karl and me in Chicago on September 20-21 for a 1.5-day workshop on learning game design or join me at DevLearn for a 1-day workshop on October 24th.

You Built a Great Learning Game… Why Aren’t You Getting Results?

You built a wonderful learning game. So why aren’t you reaping results from it? Before we dive in and diagnose why your learners didn’t learn, grab a piece of real or digital paper. I’m going to ask you to write down things and answer some questions.

Before I do, take 30 seconds and write down everything you need to get done today. Then write down everything you need to do this week. Did you have “complete an eLearning course,” or “play (insert name) learning game that my boss recommended to me” on your list? Perhaps you do – and perhaps you fully intend to do that course or play that game.

But….

  • What barriers hinder your ability to spend time in a formal learning activity? The activity could be an online course, a learning game, or even reading blog posts on a particular topic. How many unplanned things are likely to creep in today or tomorrow that will turn good intentions into fantasy?
  • If you do complete the learning activity, how much “think time” will be available to you today or next week to reflect on what you learn?

I assume you are reading this post because you are a training manager, a sales manager, or some type of learning and development professional who produces learning games or learning solutions for others.

So the really important question is: How do you think your target learners would answer all these questions?

Everyone of us in the work world has the tsunami that we call the “work day” and our “personal life.” Most of us have days that start between 5:30 and 7 a.m. and often don’t end until 11 p.m. We spin lots of plates and our learners are no different.

However, unlike us, they may not be super excited by all things connected to learning new things. They may actually be resistant to learning new things. Resentful of learning new things. Stressed out or fearful of learning new things. Simply not interested in learning new things because their heads are so full of what needs their attention right now.

What are you going to do about it?

Creating a relevant, well-designed learning solution, unfortunately, is not even close to enough. You have to tear a page from a marketer’s book and develop a full-blown implementation plan. These are the three ingredients you need to produce broad-spectrum results from your learning game:

Most of you will create the first item (a great game), but fail to fully map out logistics or think about having to market the game. There is a fallacy that a great game sells itself, and the game itself will intrigue learners enough to motivate game play.

Think back to the start of this blog and that to-do list you wrote down as well as the “unplanned things” that derail the to-do list. Playing a learning game is not going to be high on most learners’ list without some planning on your part.

If you do things right and include all three elements of a good implementation strategy, you greatly increase the odds of people playing. Being able to put together those three elements requires you to do a bit of legwork and info gathering.

Getting Started

So before you start creating your game or crafting any strategies, make sure you ask – and get answers – to questions like these:

  1. How does the game help achieve business and learning goals?
  2. What are the learner/manager/stakeholder anticipated reactions (positive and negative)? How do these reactions influence messages you need to deliver as part of implementation?
  3. What realities exist in learner population that affect implementation? How do these influence game elements that you emphasize/leverage? How do they affect logistics/deployment?
  4. What effort, skill, time, and planning is required to design, produce? How does this impact your timeline and what you can produce?
  5. What ongoing effort and creativity are required to maintain long-term interest in ongoing game play or to keep things “fresh” over long-term?
  6. Are there constraints that limit or direct decisions on frequency?
  7. What analytics and data can the game solution provide to showcase benefits and cost-effectiveness? What metrics do we want to see? How should data be filtered for analysis? (If you can’t answer #1 in this list, you won’t be able to answer these questions.)
  8. Who needs to see this data and how will data be used?

How to create a learning game experience that gets performance results

1. Create a well-designed game. This means the game:

  • Is relevant to learners’ needs and actually has value for them. The game goal and the play experience clearly link to the skill or knowledge the player will find helpful to acquire. (Note that I said player will find it helpful. It’s not enough for someone else, such as you or a stakeholder, to believe it will be helpful. The player has to find value in it.) The design choices you’ve made have a learning purpose to them. (Example: Using chance in the game to mirror something in the real-world that learners cannot control.)
  • Has a complexity level that matches learners’ use case. (Example: Don’t create a multi-hour play experience with tons of rules for a learner who needs a game they can quickly get into/out of. Make game play extend over periods of time rather than all at once).
  • Uses game elements that appeal to the the player types you have playing your game. (Consider Amy Kim’s social action matrix to figure out your player types and what game elements might appeal to those types.)
2. Plan out the logistics required to deploy the game effectively.

This means you’ve thought about what it will take to get your game into learners’ hands – and mapped the process out step-by-step. You have a rollout schedule that includes:

  • Timeline and key activities for pre-launch, launch, and post-launch of your game.
  • Specifics of distribution/delivery. (How will they locate/download your game? On what device? With what possible browsers? Is download required or can they stream the content?)
  • Tactics for mitigating risks/barriers to play (Yes, you have to think about the fact that they have many, many distractors in their lives. You also have to decide how you intend to grab their attention despite those distractions.)
3. Develop and implement a marketing/communication plan.

Those tactics you ID’d for mitigating risks in Item #2 help shape the marketing tactics you design and deploy. You need to think and act like a marketer:

  • Brand your learning experience; use imagery and a logo to burn your game’s promotion into the minds of your learners. When I say “Coke” I suspect you all either think of the logo itself or a bottle/can of coke. You can literally see it in your minds. How do you do that for your game?
  • Consider incentives. Who pays full price for a Coke? How many of you love a coupon or a “free prize.” An incentive adds some spice and some fun. If the initiative you are working on really matters, then incent it. It doesn’t have to be a huge incentive, it just needs to grab attention.
  • Map out a communication plan for each of your targets – including the stakeholders as well as the learners. Figure out what the message(s) need to be for each target, the timing of those messages, and the distribution channel.

ExactTarget and Johnson and Johnson both had highly successful game implementations because they created strategies that used all three components outlined above. Here are a few images that represent some of what they presented to their learners. Don’t waste all the time, energy, and $$ you spent creating your amazing learning game by failing to plan out implementation. Make sure you get the return on investment your company deserves and should expect.

Exact Target embedded a game within a larger experience and promoted it on its Intranet. It regularly updated messages, brought attention to those on the leaderboards, and eventually awarded someone the title of “MobileConnect Guru.”

 

J&J had a focused, weekly campaign. They gave accolades to weekly winners, shining a spotlight on them. Like ExactTarget, they integrated the game within a larger curriculum.

Where is game-based learning headed? An Interview With Sharon Boller

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I interviewed Bottom-Line Performance President and industry thought leader, Sharon Boller to learn more about current game-based learning trends and where this learning strategy is headed in 2017. Sharon has been writing and speaking about game-based learning since at least 2008. She hits the road this fall with Karl Kapp to deliver a series of workshops on learning game design, and rumor has it a book is on the way in 2017. Her hands-on work with clients gives her a unique perspective on how games are currently being used for learning and what trends we will see in the year ahead.

What are the current trends in game-based learning?

Today, a lot of people try to use or mimic common game show-style games in eLearning courses. We’re still stuck trying to figure out how to do things that have to be SCORM compliant. That’s the now, but the good news is that people are at least trying to come up with different solutions that are more game-like as opposed to boring training material and simple recall games.

Where is game-based learning headed in 2017?

More and more learning games will be designed as casual mobile games that people will play on their phones. The focus will be less about what we can stick in a traditional eLearning course and more about reaching people on the device they most frequently use, which of course, is their phone. Mobile learning lends itself really well to these micro-learning experiences that people want.

Another trend we’re going to see is mobile learning stop being labeled as a trend and viewed as more mainstream. We’ll also start to see more robust games that help people use judgment and build decision-making skills instead of just procedural knowledge.

We’ve seen clients have great results with this approach, both using Knowledge Guru to deliver games on mobile devices and with custom mobile games we have designed and developed.

How do you see virtual reality making its debut in the learning game world?

Virtual reality is going to be a little different from other things that have come along. Mobile learning has taken a long time to reach adoption. But virtual reality won’t have the same extreme curve because it’s not very expensive; you can buy a virtual reality headset for just a few hundred dollars. This will help make adoption a lot easier and will create a virtual reality uptick in our industry.

When can we expect to see this uptick in virtual reality adoption?

I don’t think virtual reality is tomorrow, but I think you’ll start seeing people using applications and believing they can make virtual reality happen in the next couple of years.

virtual-reality-learning

What makes virtual reality so appealing?

It’s the emotion. Virtual reality immerses people in natural environments that they would otherwise never dream of experiencing in reality. It emulates such realistic situations that it triggers the same emotions you’d feel if you were actually there in real life. Game-based learning has a similar effect when the games evoke strong emotions in players. And emotion is key for embedding memory. So when you can do something that evokes emotion, you’ve created a much more powerful learning experience as opposed to a flat eLearning course with basic scenarios that simply tell you what happened.

So emotion is one of the reasons games are a good learning tool? What does learning theory say about the connection between emotions and learning?

Learning theory is organized into three domains: the cognitive (thinking) domain, psychomotor (physical) domain, and affective (emotional) domain. What you find is that if you don’t engage the heart or affective domain, oftentimes you can’t bring about change. So what’s emerging are these games for change or games in this affective domain that try to change our minds or attitudes about certain things.

Can you give an example of a game you played recently that incorporates virtual reality?

There’s a free game online right now called Lifesaver. Lifesaver uses stories and games to help people recognize the value of learning CPR. To play the game, you use the spacebar to do compressions and then you get feedback on whether you’re doing the compressions too fast or too slow. So this whole emerging arena in learning games is focused on games that relate to the affective domain.

This is why virtual reality could be especially beneficial for medical device and healthcare companies. You can operate on someone in virtual reality and there’s no risk. Yet it gives players a series of experiences that evoke those key moments of a surgical operation in a way that is faithful to the emotional experience real surgeons have in the operating room.

People will make the transfer to virtual reality a lot faster after they realize that instead of putting someone in the operating room, out on the factory floor, or in a mining environment, operating a $2 million piece of equipment, they could design a virtual reality experience and have meaningful practice without the liability.

Are there any other game trends you think may emerge in the next few years?

I think we will see resurgence in board and tabletop games and people actually coming together. One thing we’re seeing already is greater interest in solutions that let people connect in real-time. People recognize there is a space for games that allow for socialization. One of the cool things I talked about in my recent blog post on Pokémon Go is that even though it’s a digital game and people play on their own, it also fosters a sense of community and personal connection with others.

We’re also seeing more and more clients who choose to include a high-end tabletop game as part of a product launch meeting or instructor-led training session. The “Feed the World” board game the Mosaic company included in their Brandon Hall award-winning curriculum is a great example.

Access the 2017 Learning and Remembering Report to view the results and analysis of our Learning and Remembering Survey.

Six Truths About Implementing a Learning Game that Gets Results

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I love games—but that does not mean I think a game is the appropriate option for every learning situation. I do not think it will always equal the most effective or efficient means of helping people learn. In fact, I wrote a post recently clarifying how games differ from learning games because a lot of people are thinking about commercial video games when they contemplate incorporating games into their learning strategies.

If you are a chief learning officer or training manager/director who is trying to figure out whether games should be part of your learning mix—or how best to use them—here are six truths for you to consider:

1) Games and simulations require expertise to design well; you have to understand game design as well as instructional design. They require several rounds of play testing and iterative design to produce a game that fully engages your target audience AND achieves the desired learning and performance outcomes. They do not fit well into a “let’s draft it, pilot it, and finalize it,” three-step process. You may need to go through 5-8 iterations to get a custom game right. If you attempt to implement a game that you have not thoroughly tested, you are likely to be disappointed by the results you get.

2) Games are not a panacea. They do not spark crazed excitement in learners just because you say the word “game.” You have to market a game and plan its implementation just as carefully as you would any other type of learning solution. A game is not a cure-all for everything that might ail your training initiatives. Ideally, you have defined a clear purpose for the game and carefully integrated it into your learning solution—rather than inserting it as an afterthought to try to incorporate a “fun” activity in the learning experience. Make the game meaningful and tightly linked to your desired knowledge and skill outcomes. Learners are smart people. They will figure out if a game lacks relevance pretty quickly, and they will reject the experience.

3) A game is best suited as PART of a learning solution rather than as the entire learning solution. For optimal learning, games need to be set up and debriefed in some fashion. They can be a great reinforcement for learning, a great opportunity to practice a skill, or a great opportunity to create a shared experience that then transitions into something else. If your implementation does not include integration with other learning components, the game will be less effective as a learning solution than it otherwise could be.

Example 1:  Several years ago I designed a daylong workshop for a pharma company on single-payer systems (the rest of the world vs. a multi-payer system, which is the U.S. model). The day began with a 45-minute game/simulation called Access Challenge. The game objective was to get your drug onto a customer’s formulary. What made the simulation unique was that the pharma teams were selling to government agencies on different planets, who each had a different type of payer system and different population issues/concerns. The simulation was a level-setting experience for participants so everyone had a shared experience of working with single-payer systems before we got into the details of the day. After learners completed the simulation, we had an excellent foundation for the remainder of the workshop, which was not game-based.

Example 2: We recently were fortunate to earn a Brandon Hall Award in the games/simulation category, along with our client partner, ExactTarget. ExactTarget used Knowledge Guru to create a game called MobileConnect Guru, which was part of a training initiative designed to prep employees, resellers, and distributors on the launch of a new product. The game provided multiple repetitions of key content and was the last component learners completed prior to the product’s launch. ExactTarget’s results were impressive, but the game alone would not have gotten them these results. They designed a highly effective multi-method approach to helping people learn and remember. We describe this “recipe” for learning and remembering in a Bottom-Line Performance blog you can find here. 

4) Your stakeholders are often poor judges of what the target audience will like and find useful. Do not trust the stakeholder group to deem what should and should not be implemented. Your stakeholders are not your target. What they themselves are intrigued by might be deadly dull to your target learners. Conversely (in our company) what the product dev team likes might be way, way too game-y for anyone else in the company. Match the game to the audience, not the people paying for it. This is a tricky business, but it can be done.

5) Recognize the power of games in helping people learn AND remember. A well-designed game incorporates many elements that foster long-term retention. A well-designed game has high replayability, which means learners will naturally get numerous repetitions and practice sessions—which is essential to remembering. They provide frequent and voluminous feedback, which is essential to learning something correctly in the first place. They will incorporate a variety of game elements that foster a desire to play. Some games will even leverage a strong story or narrative, which has a high correlation to long-term memory. (Stories engage our entire brain; the brain literally “lights up” when a story engages it.)

Example: Cisco uses the Knowledge Guru game engine as part of its new sales association program (CSAP). Players consistently rate the games extremely high in terms of their value in learning AND remembering (4.93 on a scale of 1 to 5). A game can combine knowledge recall with scenarios that allow the player to apply the knowledge in a job context, which is a powerful memory-builder.

6) The more effort required to learn to play the game, the less cognitive space available to learn the content. If you feel strongly that you only have 30 minutes available for learners to play a game, then do not implement a game that easily requires 30 minutes just to figure out the rules of play.  Unless you are designing an immersive simulation, keep your game’s objective and rules pretty simple.  The game’s complexity needs to match the amount of time you believe learners will spend playing the game. If you are planning a complex, immersive simulation, then your implementation strategy needs to allow time for players to fully engage in (and learn from) the experience. This probably means 3 hours, not 30 minutes.

If you want a deep dive into learning game design, I wrote an entire white paper on designing learning games. You can download it here.

If you want more info on learning and remembering, check out my white paper titled When Remembering Really Matters. It talks about games and much, much more.

 

Chance vs Strategy: Which Works Best in Serious Games?

Chance vs Strategy

If you are creating a serious game to help your employees improve their performance, the type of game you create depends greatly on the type of job your employees have. Are either of the following statements true?

  • Day-to-day work is highly reactive in an “anything can happen” environment. Employees complete tasks such as responding to varying customer needs or emergency situations.
  • Work is based on organization, planning and foresight. This might be the case for sales managers, executive leadership or even individual contributors who must carefully plan and execute project work.

Depending on your situation, you should include an appropriate amount of chance or strategy in your serious game that reflects the work environment. As always in game design, you’ll want to avoid game elements that are irrelevant to learners. Gadgets and gimmicks within a game serve as more of a distraction than an engagement tool.

Sharon Boller talks about this at length in her learning game design blog series. With so many different game elements and game mechanics to potentially include in a game design, instructional designers new to game design often struggle to find focus and direction. We think about the “fun” of commercial games we have all played and enjoyed and try to incorporate all of this into games for our learners.

The result? Games that are distracting, out of focus and ultimately ineffective for learning.

The two game elements most commonly misused are chance and strategy. The usual mistake? too much chance. Would-be designers add lots of “surprises” to their games thinking it will make the experience more fun. The other mistake is to include strategy or chance in a game when the real answer is to use neither. Sometimes, the best corporate learning games focus on just a few game mechanics and game elements so mastery of the content can be brought front and center.

Consider the following examples Sharon gives in her blog post on game elements:

  • Is my game unintentionally creating win states that are largely achieved by chance or a specific sequence of events? (This can happen more easily than you think. We recently played a board game where it became clear over several game plays that the person who got to go first—which was determined by age—had a much greater chance of winning than the person who went last.)
  • Do I blend strategy and chance in a way that mirrors the skill I want my player to learn, or the context in which they will have to apply the skill?
  • What control do players have  in the real world over decisions? How do I design that into the game?

Don’t forget that chance and strategy, while seemingly very important, are only two of the many game elements available to you. A game does not need chance or strategy to be fun or effective for learning.

game elements chart

 

Case In Point

Knowledge Guru’s game play is essentially simple and straightforward. Why? Each game is really a template of sorts for whatever content you put into it. If the game had too much chance, it would undermine scenario questions where learners must formulate a strategy. And if the game had a strategic focus, it would distract learners who need to learn how to respond to seemingly random situations in real time.

Instead, Knowledge Guru includes the following game elements:

  • Story
  • Aesthetics
  • Rewards/achievements
  • Levels
  • Theme
  • Competition

So, what about strategy and chance?

You probably already know if your learners’ jobs involve more chance or strategy. Whichever is more true for them, be sure to include the appropriate game element in the game they will play.

The bottom line: When designing a game, you should never include a game element or game mechanic if you do not understand how it is linked to the desired learning outcome.

The Importance of Aesthetics in Serious Games

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First impressions matter in almost every situation – including game play.

Aesthetics are a huge part of the game play experience. If the game doesn’t LOOK appealing, then players won’t want to play even if the game has a great game goal and rules. Conversely, a game that may be “just okay” from a game play perspective can be elevated by strong aesthetics. This fact can be a plus in learning games where content might be a bit dry but a great theme and aesthetics can help create an enjoyable experience.

Compare these two game boards. Which one makes you more curious about playing the game?

FirstProtoypeAPAGameBoard copy

FinalGameBoard_APA

What about these game characters and images? Do they make you curious and want to play? What other information is being shared via the aesthetics in the game? (Answer: Progression, topic, what to do next, theme, overarching mood, etc.)

BizTheme_PathSelection

Racing_PathSelection

Fairytale_PathSelection

Retro_PathSelection

Aesthetics do several things for you in a game (any game – including serious games).

For example:

  • Set a mood and reinforce a theme or a concept
  • Immerse the player into the game experience and help them suspend reality so they can play the game.
  • Offer cues that can guide performance and communicate a player’s status and progress.
  • Facilitate understanding of game play, making it easier for a player to figure out what to do.

Are you in the position of hiring out game design and development? Terrific! Our team would love to chat with you.

If, however, you are NOT in this position and are instead a team of one, here are some resources for you. If your skill set doesn’t reside in the graphic design arena, my first vote is for you to hire a graphic designer to help you. The hourly rate for a solo freelancer is typically around $75/hour. Ten to 20 hours of a graphic designer’s time can probably get you all the art assets you need for a basic game.

If you have no budget for a graphic designer, here are a couple of other options to check out for digital art assets:

http://opengameart.org — has some nice graphics bundles you can download and use in your digital games.

http://elearningtemplates.com/elearning-activities/ — has cutout people and graphics as well as some “game” templates (they aren’t really games, but are gamified activities.)

You can also check out this site to purchase game components for board games or card games at a reasonable price. Available items include tokens, dice, game boards, cards, chips, money, etc: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/parts

How Much Story Does a Serious Game Need?

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In serious games, story is a narrative that either weaves through an entire game or sets up the reason you are playing the game and elaborates on the theme. The type of story and level of detail you need will depend on your learning goal.

Some in the corporate learning field get nervous about using “too much” story for obvious reasons. Will the story be too “out there” for some learners? Will a story that is too detailed exclude certain learners or make them feel the game does not apply to them?

Should I use a story?

Sharon Boller wrote extensively on this subject in her Learning Game Design Blog Series. When deciding whether to use story, or how much story to use, it’s important to ask two questions:

  • Would story add to this game? Include story when you need to evoke emotion in players and motivate them to play.
  • Can story be used as a learning tool? Research shows that incorporating story and even fantasy elements into games can help embed memories. You also might be able to make the story mirror a real-life situation for learners, either literally or metaphorically.

 

Should I combine my story with a theme?

When we think of story, we often think of theme at the same time. A game’s theme is essentially a backdrop or collection of aesthetic elements. In the board game Smallworld, the theme is a beautifully illustrated fantasy island with many topographies. The story connects to the theme: you are one of many races vying for control of a small island that is not big enough for all of you. The game’s story is simple and intentionally vague, but it is effective because it is combined with a lovely theme and well-done aesthetics.

Smallworld board game, ® Days of Wonder

Smallworld board game, ® Days of Wonder

How much story do I need?

The level of story will depend on how immersive your game needs to be. For a complex game teaching high-level skills, you might require a level of story bordering on simulation-worthy realism. For a game teaching foundational knowledge and simple skills, a complex story might be unnecessary.

Each time we develop a new theme pack for Knowledge Guru, we try carefully to develop a story that is simple yet fun… and does not distract from whatever content users put into the game. We also carefully link the game’s story to the aesthetic elements of the theme.

Knowledge Guru theme pack

In the new fairytale-themed “Knowledge Hero,” players learn about a Dark Wizard who has locked up all the knowledge in the land.

These simple stories create a feeling of interest and novelty, yet have nothing to do with the actual content or “knowledge” the user has inputted into their game.

New Knowledge Guru theme packs

Even when the theme is pretty “out there” (like our new Space Aliens theme), the story is always fairly straightforward.

You should also consider how a simple story can be more business-centric, which will be more suited to certain players.

Knowledge Guru business theme

We created three different “business” themes that combine a corporate feel with fun and whimsy.

The truth? The type of story and amount of story you need completely depends on your learning goal. Make sure story is being used as learning tool and not a distraction.

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning (Free Download)

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

A growing body of research supports the use of serious games in the workplace. And thanks to a year of successful implementations in corporate settings, some great case studies now point the way for organizations ready to use games for learning.

Whether you want to use a true serious game, a gamified solution, or a combination of the two… it’s a great time to do so.

While research shows that people learn more from games than other learning solutions, many L&D practicioners still do not know why games work… so they avoid using games entirely.

If you think you want to use a game for learning, you first must become familiar with the types of “fun” in games, what’s required for real learning to happen, and the ways games can link the two.

We’ve created a new guide to help you accomplish this. The content, researched and written by Knowledge Guru creator (and BLP president) Sharon Boller, takes the mystery out of using serious games in the enterprise. It’s a simple thing, really: become familiar with the ways people have fun in games, identify the common principles all effective learning solutions share, and then carefully map the two together.

And once  you map the “fun” elements of your serious game to the elements needed for learning, you’ll also want to employ some research-based learning principles to actually help people remember the content after they’ve learned it. Are your game mechanics and game elements actually mapped to the cognitive tasks learners need to perform on the job? Are you taking advantage of the latest research on how the human brain best commits knowledge to long-term memory?

The guide, titled 4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning, is available as a free download.

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

The 12 Corporate Learning Content Areas… and Where Games Fit

Corporate Learning Content Areas

When it comes to game-based learning, 2014 is the year of theory moving into practice. An increasing number of organizations are planning initiatives to include games in their learning solutions. The research has been validated and plans are being set.

But if you’ve never designed a game before, or tried to include a game in your training, where do you begin?

The answer, of course, depends on the type of training you are developing. The 2013 ASTD State of the Industry report includes a wonderful table with the twelve most common content areas found in corporate training. Some of these content areas are rather broad, but they are a great starting point for visualizing the types of training we frequently develop. The content areas are shown below:

12 corporate learning content areas

The type of game you might create will vary widely for each content area. I’ve included a general suggestion or two for each content area below, but the list is not exhaustive! Use the suggestions as a starting point.

Managerial and Supervisory:

Soft-skills training often (but not always) works best in face-to-face situations. Why not use a role playing game to give learners situational practice? Rote Q&A, points, and badges will be of less value.

Mandatory and Compliance:

This is the sort of information we need to know, or our organization needs us to know. Since it often requires memorization, compliance training can be tedious. Consider a game that puts the content in a fun setting and employs some research-based learning principles to help people memorize the information faster.

Processes, Procedures, and Business Practices:

Processes and procedures are often foundational knowledge, just like compliance. Gamifying the process of basic memorization will work well here, but make sure you add context when possible. Even a game centered around Q&A can have context if you add highly relevant scenario questions.

Profession or Industry-Specific:
This topic is admittedly broad, so our suggestion for a game should really be “it depends.” Assuming the subject matter is applied, your game must be a realistic simulation of the work environment, or at least of the cognitive task being performed.
Sales:
Sales training is often face to face because of the interpersonal element. Why not try a tabletop board game? If you need to train virtually, some vendors offer highly immersive digital games where players hone their negotiation and persuasion skills. These approaches can also be helpful, as long as they are not overly simplistic. Since you are designing a game for sales reps, why not make it competitive?
IT and Systems:
The subject is highly technical, and the information often must be memorized. Give learners a game that rewards them for being thorough and helps them reinforce their knowledge through the game’s mechanics.
New Employee Orientation:
New hire training is often basic and foundational. Elements like badges and leaderboards are helpful here because new employees can see how they stack up with others and even form some social connections.
Interpersonal Skills:
A tabletop board game is ideal for soft skills training… especially one that involves scenarios and active communication with other players.
Executive Development:
So many things go into executive development. Resource management and territory acquisition games are excellent for developing strategic thinking.
Customer Service:
A simple card game with customer scenarios can work well here. If the customer service environment is often rushed (such as for food service workers), consider adding a timed element to the game.
Basic Skills:
Basic skills are another type of training that often falls under “foundational knowledge.” Points, badges, and leaderboards are a good start, as you are trying to keep people motivated to learn what they need while knowing that the content itself is not so exciting.
Other (Quality, Product Knowledge):
People need to know it… and this type of training often involves either memorization or knowing where to locate the right information when needed. The game should either employ learning principles that help people memorize quickly (spaced learning, repetition, feedback), or reinforce where they should go to locate the information.
use-games-for-learning

How to Promote a Serious Game to Learners

If you’re about to launch a serious game in your organization, you’re probably pretty excited about it… and rightfully so. Games are often more engaging and effective than many other learning solutions, so learners should be in for a treat. You might even think that because your game is fun, or at least more fun than the webinars and instructor-led sessions learners are used to, that people will flock to it and start playing.

If you build it, they should come, right? Wrong… unless you promote it.

Yes, the L&D department has to also double as an internal marketing team when it comes time to roll out a new learning solution. Even if learners will benefit from playing a serious game, or even genuinely enjoy it once they start playing, it’s still a new task or set of behaviors you are trying to encourage.

We share the example of Knowledge Guru user ExactTarget frequently because of the bang-up job they did when they first launched their MobileConnect Guru game company-wide. ExactTarget (now a SalesForce.com company) specializes in digital marketing, so they know what they are doing when it comes time to get the word out and get players involved.

ExactTarget did many things right when they launched MobileConnect Guru, which is a big reason why hundreds of players logged significant time in the game… and drove real business results for the company. Let’s take a look at some of the methods they used to promote the game to learners. Consider using some or all of these methods within your own organization to get a serious game off the ground.

Make a Scene

Do you have TV monitors around your office that display company news? What about a bulletin board? Whatever you have, use it! ExactTarget displayed advertisements like the one below all over their offices during the first round of gameplay to turn the game into a big event. They also furnished prizes to the top scores, investing a few hundred dollars in providing incentives people would actually want. Use whatever resources you have available to make your serious game a big deal.

ExactTargetBanner2

Integrate it into the workflow

ExactTarget has its very own internal social network called 3sixty that’s used for training and communications. Instead of just sticking a hyperlink to the game somewhere deep within 3sixty, you can see how ExactTarget placed the game front and center, integrating it with the rest of the product training. ExactTarget even added a cute “Meet MobileConnectGuru” section and added the weekly leaderboard to the home screen. Nice!

ExactTargetgameintranet

Keep it Consistent

Like a well-planned curriculum, a marketing campaign has to have a long tail with plenty of reinforcement. Rather than posting a banner ad or sending out a single message promoting the game, ExactTarget created multiple banners and internal advertisements to promote MobileConnect Guru for the duration of the game play experience. You’ll see that the advertisement below, while similar to the first image we showed, is different. Think of ways you can get creative and do more than the bare minimum when rolling out your game.

ExactTargetpromobanner

Don’t Forget About Email

Most professionals still live and die by the inbox. That’s a good thing for ExactTarget (they do email marketing!), and also a good thing for you when you want to promote a serious game. Another tactic ExactTarget employed to get players to register for the game and start playing was email messages. The email below is a simple HTML message, reminding people about the game and the prizes available. It’s simple and to the point.

ExactTargetpromoemail

 

If you don’t have an email client available for use internally, consider setting one up with a free provider like MailChimp. MailChimp is free to use for up to 2,000 email addresses, so chances are you can use it to send some mass messages to your team. If you are using Knowledge Guru to create your serious game, the internal email tool lets you email players once they have created an account.

Reinforcement is key

No matter what serious game you are launching, or what resources you have available to market it internally, think through how you will remind players consistently that the game is available to play. Try to plan at last 3 or 4 different emails spaced out over time, and consider using other internal tools and communications platforms to get the word out. Get managers and supervisors involved early and remember to focus on the fun.