Game Templates vs Custom Serious Games: How to Decide What Your Employees need

You want to include a serious game in your training… but can you use an inexpensive game template or do you need a more expensive custom game? Here are questions you need to consider as you decide:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • How much budget do you have?
  • How much time do you have to design and build it?
  • How much skill do you have in game design and instructional design?

The answers to those questions all influence a decision on whether you can use a template to create a game, generate a game from a game engine, or need to do a 100% custom build of a serious game. Let’s take a look:

What are you trying to achieve?

If you simply want a quick “energizer” to break up a long training day, a game template can be a fast, easy, cheap way to quickly put together a game. There are pre-built templates for games modeled on TV classics such as Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, and others.  These let you create a game quickly – but they do not provide any robust tracking for you or provide a high level of feedback. They are light-hearted fun. And fun may be all you are looking for.

If you truly need to build skill – let people practice doing something – then a custom designed game can be a high-value way to help people achieve skills. A well-designed game can give a learner lots of opportunities to practice and give terrific feedback to help guide improvement. It can also be designed to incorporate levels of difficulty so game play can get harder as players become more skilled. Let’s take a look at a high-profile process example where you hope people have some skill: CPR. None of us would want someone to perform CPR on us if that person’s skill had been exclusively built by viewing a set of powerpoints and then playing a Jeopardy game for a quick recall of steps and techniques.


Take a look at this interactive video simulation that truly enables people to practice doing something. It is a robust example of a gamified approach to teaching CPR.  It feels – and acts – a lot like a video game. Note: The CPR simulation uses Flash, so it is not viewable on many phones and tablets. For a tablet version, check out Google Play (Android) or App Store (iPad). Search “lifesaver” to locate the app.)

If you want to change mindsets, then a custom game is also the better option over a game template. A well-designed custom game can bring about an “ah-ha” moment or create a shared “ah-ha” moment that can change an entire conversation or way of thinking about an issue. A Paycheck Away, a custom game we designed, is about breaking down stereotypes related to homelessness and providing a realistic experience of what it means to be homeless. This cannot be achieved via a game template such as Jeopardy, The Game of Life, or Trivial Pursuit.

How much budget/skill/time do you have?

If the answer to all of the above is “very little,” then you may be tempted to grab onto a template – or to design a game in an eLearning authoring tool that mirrors a common game frame (e.g. Clue, Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit). This approach can be absolutely fine if you are focused on completion or if your focus is primarily fun. BUT… it may not get you what you need if you truly need people to build skill or retain knowledge over time. It also may not be robust enough if you need detailed tracking so you can clearly see what people do and do not know after completing the game.

Is there an “in-between” solution?

Yes! Game platforms are emerging to help create hybridized approaches to helping people build knowledge and develop skill. Knowledge Guru’s Quest game type is explicitly designed to support the development of both knowledge and skill. The game’s levels focus on helping players build long-term retention of facts and information related to a topic. The Performance Challenges can be custom created by the instructional designer to craft skill-building experiences.

For demo purposes, we took the interactive CPR video mentioned above and combined it with knowledge questions we built in Quest.  You can register for and play our CPR Guru game here. We used as our source for CPR technique.

The Knowledge Guru’s back-end will help us spot player’s problems with knowledge of the technique. The interactive video will give them instant feedback on how well they can use the technique.  The best part is that we created the game in about a day’s time. The tool itself is based on learning science (spaced repetition). The questions help build and reinforce knowledge. The performance challenges allow for skill practice. Pretty cool!