At Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company with operations in over 100 countries, offering learning opportunities both in-classroom and virtual is key for our career development and client service improvement objectives.

Being true believers that training needs to be fresh and innovative, we wanted to test out gamification, a tool to design behaviors, develop skills and enable innovation, for one module in our key management courses. Gamification allowed us to mirror the complexities of organizational structure and siloed working practices to develop the skills managers need to work in a matrixed organization. However, to bring this experiential and rewarding gamified learning to life for our remote managers, we needed to find a way to deploy it beyond the classroom to our entire global audience.

We reached out to FutureFactory, who had designed the in-classroom game, to ask about the possibility of creating a virtual version. While the vendor specialized only in classroom gaming products without near-term plans for a virtual version, they were intrigued with the concept of transforming the classroom game into a digital setting. And so, we decided to team up to recreate the experience. But could we use what we currently know about developing a course for remote associates to create a gamified experience for remote associates?

While we are currently in our testing phase, we have been able to create a real-time virtual game that will teach managers the leadership and strategy skills to work in a matrixed organization. Throughout this process, we’ve identified a few pointers that will help other companies bring the gamification idea to life, some of which we did well, and others that allowed us to learn and improve the experience.

Six Considerations for Transforming In-Classroom Games to a Digital Setting

Three things we did well

1. Partner up: Working with vendors provides the benefits of rapid completion rates and cost-effectiveness. Instead of abandoning good ideas or adjusting expectations to what vendors can offer, take a leap by proposing a partnership. Sometimes you just need to take a chance.

2. Measure, measure, measure: Gamification expert Karl Kapp recommends not only  defining the desired goals but also ensuring “You are legitimately moving the needle on business needs and not just using gamification as a crutch to support content that is meaningless to the organization or individual.” In order to ensure our online game drove our business priorities and performance improvement, we outlined key performance indicators to be observed by the facilitator during the game. After the game is played, the facilitator provides a debrief to capture game play strategy, whether a leader emerged and how the team managed time and communication levels with all players with the goal of on-the-job application.

3. Keep it simple: When we initially set out to locate a classroom game that drove the goals of a matrixed environment, simplicity and learning outcomes were key. Naturally, we needed to keep these components top of mind for our virtual game. Complexity can find its way in through animations, graphics and technology, so we purposely set out to develop a game that would eliminate needless game play for show. We kept both the design and technology simple and put more energy into ensuring that player actions were clearly linked to an outcome.

Three things we learned along the way

4. Map out the story: After diving into development, we realized the importance of fleshing out player actions. We learned that you need to create a process map that will visually outline all steps and decisions essential for successful game development. The process map should include the possible choices a player can make and all resulting consequences. It should capture some expected dependencies and allow room to capture the impact of unexpected issues. Developing the process map provides a very clear vision of the tasks and steps required, which can then be properly documented in the project timeline and wireframes. 

5. You can’t do it all: While some obstacles were based on task dependencies, others were based on our lack of digital expertise. Technology offers a number of ways to do anything and everything. With the number of roadblocks we hit, we realized that we required the help of a seasoned game developer. Thankfully, we were able to locate two subject matter experts, who provided clear direction for our technology needs. Unfortunately, we did lose substantial development time due to the many pauses taken with each roadblock.

6. Test, test, test: Throughout our project we followed an agile approach by developing and testing one functionality at a time. By dividing the project into small incremental builds, we were able to perform daily tests and immediately address any issues. We assembled a group to test the game after each milestone we reached. Our testing process was working well, but recreating some issues found during testing proved to be a challenge. This ad-hoc testing approach served well to find the bugs, but without a formal testing process, we struggled to recreate the scenarios. Next time, we will build a test case, a set of step-by-step instructions to verify that each element behaves as it should, and implement it before the ad-hoc test. This would have allowed us to capture many of the bugs that originally came up from our ad-hoc testing.

The Outcome

Our test teams have demonstrated high game-play engagement, equal learning outcomes as that of the live game and positive feedback. The result has been a rewarding experience for all members involved in transforming a multiplayer classroom game for the digital world.