Points, stories, card games: companies benefit greatly from optimising their internal learning processes using methods we’re more used to seeing in computer games. Because they motivate employees, provide training that’s more likely to stick in people’s minds – and they save money.
The customer is furious when he reads the new contract. “Why are you raising prices even though you’re making more profit?” he asks. The sales agent hesitates. Should he argue that a few additional cents is still less than the rate of inflation? Or would it be better to point out that other products have become cheaper in return? He plays a card.
What seems like a real-life scenario is actually a game. A card game where sales staff practice negotiation skills. The computer simulates a customer objection – and the player selects a card that states a counterargument. The better he answers, the more points he receives, the quicker he can unlock further tasks, and the higher the level of difficulty becomes. “For one customer, we developed a card game from a 1,000-page rule book,” explains 36-year-old Sibylla Krane, project manager at
Gamify Now, a company based in Munich that specializes in gamification.
Gamification is the use of game-like elements in a non-game situation
The term gamification refers to the use of elements, mechanisms, and techniques from (computer) games to motivate people in non-game situations. Simple gamification rewards players with points or insignia for certain behaviour or displays a league table showing a direct comparison between the players. Advanced versions feature stories whose story line players influence with their actions in the real world. Or they create their own games based on elements of everyday business – such as a hundred rules on clever negotiation techniques in the form of card game.
Games as a didactic medium to convey content across a company – this minor trend from the past few years has the potential to boom. The first sign: analysts predict that the learning-games market will be worth almost 9 billion dollars in 2017; in 2012, it was worth just under 4 billion. The second sign: the global gamification market appears to be experiencing rapid growth – from 1.7 billion dollars in 2015 to a predicted 11.1 billion dollars in 2020. An increasing number of companies understand that elements from computer games have the power to motivate people: to do more sport, to get to know their products better, and to retain more during internal learning processes.
Experts call it “game-based training,” others talk about serious games – games whose primary objective has little to do with entertainment. “Gamification capitalizes on the impulse that drives people to play games,” explains Thorsten Unger. The 43-year-old is managing director of
GAME, the German association for the games industry. “Well-designed games trigger our ambition to take on challenges that we have been set and to resolve the tasks involved,” says the computer-aided learning expert. “And this can quickly give us a perception of self-efficacy, because players receive immediate feedback.” The feeling that you’re making progress is motivating.
Benefit I for companies: Gamification is both motivating and fun
There are consequences for the business world: “A game that motivates someone to be a better employee can be strategically beneficial for a company,” says Sibylla Krane. In particular because demotivation in companies is a problem, as the Gallup institute reports in its annual study on satisfaction in the workplace. Researchers state that in Germany in 2015, only 16 out of every 100 employees have a strong emotional tie to their companies – a number that has been valid for many years, now. Converted into euros, this is the equivalent of an estimated annual loss of up to 99 billion euros from lost productivity. But it’s not all about money. It’s also about the fact “that a lot of employees have the feeling that they aren’t making any progress,” says Mario Herger. The 45-year-old Austrian worked for several years as Global Head of Gamification at SAP and has
authored numerous books on the topic. He sees game mechanisms as “a medium with which to transport motivation theories in companies,” he recently told the Worldofmencraft blog.
And that is precisely the number one benefit of a gamified learning environment: it is fun and makes people feel motivated. For example, by making people’s progress visible, at least indirectly, for instance using a progress bar that we are all familiar with. Or even by documenting it in cases where the learning software has a tracking module: How long did learners take to complete a particular task? What can they already master without any problems? “Managers can keep an eye on what material has really been retained, and how intensively an employee gets involved in the topics concerning the company,” says Sibylla Krane. And people remember more of what they’ve learned. Experts believe that we retain about 90 per cent of something we’ve learned via personal experience; with a classroom-style, teacher-at-the front approach, it’s no more than 50 per cent.
Take Walmart. The retail giant developed a quiz for its employees on its product range: Where do the melons come from? How many layers does the toilet paper have? And it has been embraced by the staff because they get points, their progress fills out a progress bar, and they can visualise something that the participants are incredibly motivated to do anyway, “because they want to be seen as experts by the customer,” Mario Herger explains. Here, the progress bar serves as an illustration that confirms how much their know-how is increasing.
Take Adidas. The sporting goods manufacturer converted its IT security guidelines into a game that capitalizes on the power of storytelling: players become involved in short stories depicting critical IT situations, and need to make the right decisions to resolve them. Am I allowed to tell the border official my password if he wants to look at my PC? What do I do if I find a USB stick in the lobby? The game rewards the players by allowing them to advance within the story.
Take the Department for Work and Pensions. The British authority made employee innovation into a competition using a decentralized ideas exchange called Idea Street for all of its 120,000 employees. Staff traded the ideas like stocks. The results after a few months? 1,400 ideas on how to save money, with 63 of them put into practice. Reduced costs: 25 million euros. The ideas’ box that traditionally sat next to the photocopier would never have led to a fraction of that.
Take the Developer Academy at SAP. The company integrated a journey into its training programme for mobile application developers – taking trainees from one island to the next, with each step representing the next part of a story that learning teams unlocked by solving a task together in the real world. A narrative progress bar of collaborative learning.
Benefit II: Gamification saves money
And benefit number two: gamification at companies saves money. Sibylla Krane demonstrates this using the card game: a company with 1,000 sales employees can, of course, spend just over a million euros each year on training – for coaches, travel costs, high-profile events, and the loss of productivity over long periods. Or it can provide mobile training software where it pays a one-off amount of a few hundred thousand euros, which quickly pays for itself. “Because the training is spread out more evenly.”
And better still, thanks to quicker updates and customized learning options: after completing the essentials, the players have an appointment the next day in Finland. The program offers a shrewd task – taking account of the quirks of the Scandinavian culture of negotiation. “It’s a lot more efficient to quiz people about their knowledge in a playful way and then take care of their needs according to their individual performance level,” explains Thorsten Unger from GAME.
So the future of games as fuel for the corporate learning machine is calculated using an algorithm? “No,” says Thorsten Unger. The ideal learning environment of the future will involve “a coach who moderates the learners’ knowledge using digital systems.” He predicts a paradigm shift in the way we teach and learn – on the one hand using games, on the other in open learning situations where participants aren’t just queried about factual knowledge available anywhere, but put it into practice. And he explains this idea using the
Institute of Play and their project at a New York school called Quest to Learn. Here, pupils learn by looking for and checking solutions by themselves – and mostly using a game they have developed themselves. For example, the pupils learn arithmetic using rockets that they shoot as far as possible into space as part of a competition. The result? A school attendance rate of almost 100 per cent. And three Math Olympiad winners in the last three years.
Success thanks to software plus humans: future sales employees from the Gamify Now example look forward to a card game with the vision of having a coach who plays against the learners. Or one who supports them during the game. For regardless of how far algorithms are used in development, one thing remains: when it comes to learning, the player will continue to be the focus.