The global e-sports industry has exploded, with revenues from competitive online gaming expected to reach $906 million this year. Meanwhile, the popular game Fortnite has made more than $1 billion since it was released almost a year ago, and the World Heath Organization added “gaming disorder” to its International Classification Diseases this summer.
Training professionals have the opportunity to make video games a force for good, though. Especially because many employees may already be playing games at home, serious games, or games used for non-entertainment purposes, can boost learner engagement and outcomes at work.
The Benefits of Video Games
Randy Brown, Virtual Heroes division manager at Applied Research Associates, Inc., says games are more engaging than, for instance, reading online content or watching a video. It also easily enables the designer to build in scaffolding to help learners progress at their own pace. For example, Brown says, Virtual Heroes built emergency medical services training for the Department of Homeland Security that began with simple treatment scenarios, then progressed to a small-scale triage scenario and finished with a chemical attack with over 100 patients. That scaffolding, and other types of customization, is, Brown says, one of the key benefits of using video games in corporate training.
“Studies show that people who play action-based video games make more accurate decisions 25% faster,” adds Stephen Baer, managing partner and head of innovation and creative services at The Game Agency. “By continuously synthesizing the information from their environment and quickly forming solutions, players are able to hone their fast decision-making skills from video games and apply the concepts they have learned to the workplace.” Games also provide immediate feedback and the opportunity to change behavior based on the feedback. This instant feedback and course correction supports better knowledge retention and application on the job.
Online Gaming Use Cases
“Don’t replicate a classroom in a virtual environment,” Brown says. Learning how to use Excel in an online game, for example, is a waste of resources. “The advantage of a virtual environment is to get people to places they can’t normally go.”
Baer says that companies are using games for onboarding and training on culture, products, processes and wellness. Done well, games can also improve communication skills, creativity and time management. For example, The Game Agency developed a game for Merck that trained health care professionals on soft skills such as communication, patient engagement and quality care. As a result of the program, 93 percent of learners reported feeling better prepared to understand and engage with their patients.
Virtual Heroes developed onboarding training for PricewaterhouseCoopers that used a serious game. The company wanted employees to be able to practice customer interactions before actually working with customers. Instead of just giving employees a script and hoping for the best, the game enabled them to “jump into the environment” and practice skills without risk. Cybersecurity is also a great use case for online games, and Brown says that many organizations use scavenger hunts to train employees in recognizing insider threats.
Implementing Online Gaming in a Training Program
“When you’re creating video game content,” Brown says, “you’re producing media. And the cost of producing that media, relative to more straightforward types of content like, say, a video or a PowerPoint, are, naturally, going to be higher. You have a lot more capabilities, it’s a much more intelligent system.” To maximize the return on that investment, follow these tips.
First, select “key cost-drivers” for games – training for jobs or tasks that are high-risk or otherwise would have a high cost if done poorly. As an example, Brown points out that training simulations began in the aviation industry. While airplane crashes are rare, they have a very high cost (both financial and, more importantly, in human lives). Avoiding that high cost makes more expensive training worth the investment.
Games are not a “one-and-done” training modality, Brown adds. Add variability so that learners can return to the game and continue practicing. “If every time someone goes into that environment … it’s going to be the same experience, you’re not going to be able to leverage the power of the game.” Instead, design multiple scenarios into the game to maximize your ROI.
Online games can also be part of a blended learning program. Before giving learners access to the game, prepare them for the experiential learning by providing them with video, PowerPoints or other content. That way, Brown says, they’re familiar with the information and can be more successful, more quickly.
Perhaps most importantly, says Baer, “the best games tell compelling stories.” To make your story compelling, focus on four elements: characters, plot, tension and resolution. The story needs conflict – a problem to overcome – and strong visuals. In addition, make sure you have the right balance of fun mechanics and challenging mechanics. “Both are hard to get right, but when it comes to the challenge, it’s important that you don’t make your game so difficult that players give up before they learn new information or practice required skills.”
Video games may not be for everyone – but Pew research has found that gamers are a more diverse group than we often think. Especially for high-risk, high-consequence training, consider adding online gaming to your portfolio of modalities. You might improve learner engagement, knowledge retention and training ROI as a result.