Have you ever spent hours developing an e-learning course, finished it, and thought, “Learners are going to love this course! They are going to love it so much, they will be motivated to take it. They are going to stick with it until the end and feel compelled to take it again as flow theory suggests!” If your answer is yes, then you have probably already incorporated a successful serious game strategy. If your answer is no, keep reading.

Flow theory, as described by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the mental state of a person completely immersed in an activity or learning event. There have been multiple studies on flow theory and its relationship to games and skill development or behavior change. Here, our focus is on serious games, which in learning and development is the introduction of game mechanics to a skill or behavior simulation that impacts business objectives.

Let’s explore an example to illustrate how to build an effective serious game strategy. Imagine you have a customer, Open-Shut Window Company, which is offering window installers a 15-year warranty on all new home construction windows as long as they use Open-Shut Window Company’s products and installation processes.


When developing a serious game strategy, start with a needs analysis to understand your primary business objective or key performance indicators – in other words, how will the training impact business?

Sound familiar? It should: Needs analysis is where you start when you embark on any type of project. It’s crucial to tie your skill development or behavior change to the business impact that you will measure in your post-training evaluation.

In order for window installers to use the proper installation processes, they must be trained, or Open-Shut Window Company will be spending a lot of money to fulfill warranty claims – and a lot of time fielding the plethora of calls from disgruntled customers.


After you have completed the needs analysis, it’s time to create a design document, which should include an audience profile, learning objectives, outline of tasks to be simulated, game strategy and assessment recommendation. This document will serve as your blueprint for the entire project.

Open-Shut Windows’ audience for this training is the window installer who has a construction background but not necessarily a strong understanding of proper window installation procedures. The audience is made up primarily of males between the ages of 18 and 40. They have average computer skills, an iPhone and in many cases a tablet or iPad. A good portion of the audience grew up playing Nintendo, Xbox or Playstation. Certainly, this audience is ideal for a serious game approach.

You and your customer work on the learning objectives, and it becomes obvious that the content boils down to a fairly straightforward skill-based process, perfect for a simulation. At the completion of the training, the learner will be able to:

  • Identify the tools necessary to complete the installation of a window in a new home
  • Identify the type of window, flashing, sealant and foam necessary to complete an installation
  • Demonstrate proper preparation for the installation, including precutting of all flashing and cleaning of necessary surfaces
  • Demonstrate all of the 25 successive tasks in the window installation process

An outline of details for the installation process is not necessary here. However, it is important to point out that based on the audience and learning objectives, a serious game could be a very effective strategy if done correctly.


Now that you have outlined the content and identified a serious game as your learning strategy, it’s time to create a short list of game mechanics or tools. You will use these tools to increase the game’s intrinsic value and immerse the learner in the simulation.

Gather your team together for a brainstorming session, and draw a picture of a toolbox on a whiteboard. Beside it, write the names of the tools you can use to increase intrinsic value in the simulation: theme, story, animation, virtual reality (VR), time, points, achievement and competition.

The theme should be a no-brainer, since the window installation process is very visual. Some processes are less visual and need a theme that may or may not represent the content.

In this scenario, creating a story is irrelevant, since it’s a first-person point-of-view simulation. The learner will install the window rather than making choices for a fictitious window installer.

So far, you have placed theme into your toolbox and left story out. Next, it’s time to consider virtual reality, defined as a computer-generated, three- or two-dimensional simulation of an activity or process.

You can use a lot of different tools to create this type of game mechanic. However, due to budget constraints and ROI projections, a two-dimensional computer- and mobile-based simulation will work just fine in the case of Open-Shut Windows Company.

Make sure you list all of the objects and scenery that will need to be designed by a graphic artist or purchased from a stock image company. Since learners will be installing windows, you will need to create flashing, sealant, foam, a gun, a drill, a level, measuring tape, a box-cutter and a pencil. You will also need an inside and outside wall, window and weather-resistant barrier.

Points and time are often used in serious games, and for good reason. They provide the learner with immediate feedback and rewards based on the quality and quantity of their simulation. Points are given based on the quality with which the learner attempts the steps of the process, and time refers to the speed at which the learner attempts the steps of the process. In this case, you should place both points and time in the toolbox to build intrinsic value.

Achievements are useful in serious games in which tasks build on each other. They provide the learner with incentives for completing the tasks. Remember, achievements should reflect meaningful motivations. For window installers, for example, achievement badges might symbolize an apprentice, journeyman and master.

Salespeople are often inherently competitive, so using a leaderboard within your LMS (if you have one) is a no-brainer when creating sales courses. Window installers are not known for being inherently competitive. However, building competitive spirit among window installers or among window installation companies could be effective to encourage the learners to return to the game to beat their previous scores or their peers’ scores. Points and time are great tools for populating a leaderboard.


Now that you have chosen your tools for your window installation game, you are ready to identify the assessment you will use. Start with questions like:

  • How will you assess skill development or behavior change?
  • Will your game serve as your learners’ assessment? Or will your game help to prepare them for an assessment?
  • What data do you hope to gather that will demonstrate an impact on business?

Incorrect window installations can be costly. Therefore, learners should play as many times as they wish until they have experienced success in the game; then they can go to a job site and demonstrate the proper window installation process. A foreman can oversee the process and use an online checklist to score the installers’ skill development. This Level 3 assessment strategy will lead to a more skilled installation workforce and therefore fewer warranty claims.

More than likely, you will want to abandon SCORM for xAPI to gather better data on your learners’ experience. However, in this particular window installation example, it’s not necessary to have xAPI, because an online checklist can provide Level 3 data.

Incorporating a serious game strategy in the right project is an open and shut case. You will achieve a higher performing and more engaged workforce. Your learners will thank you for saving them from wasted time. And your company will thank you for improving the bottom line.