It’s well known that play activities and gaming experiences are great tools for engaging humans in learning, educational and training activities. Over the years, this has given rise to the emergence of a new wave of gaming activities, which are designed to serve other purposes beyond entertainment. Such gaming activities are characterized as “serious games” and are extensively used to educate, train and engage their users in a variety of sectors including defense, security, research, healthcare, sales, engineering and industry. Serious games are closely related to simulation activities that aim at training players in performing some task. For example, there are serious games for training pilots, which operate much in the same way flight simulators are used. Hence, serious games have a very strong pedagogical component, which is propelled by the fact that fun and competition facilitate learning.
One of the most prominent types of serious games are business simulation games, which comprises of content focused on the management of economic processes and the overall operation of enterprises. Business simulation games emphasize activities that provide insights on management processes and their impact on the economic output of enterprise. To this end, they include algorithms that simulate real world events and determine their potential consequences on the stakeholders and bottom lines of an enterprise. Like other games business simulation games also come with powerful graphics and story-telling scenarios, which boost end-user’s engagement in the business simulation activities.
Guidelines for Developing Business Simulations
The rationale behind creating and/or playing business simulation is to provide end-users and learners with opportunities for interacting with real world situations in their work environment. This can allow them to gain practical experience and avoid common mistakes. For example, it provides them with opportunities to experiment with different cooperation scenarios between different stakeholders, as well as with various decision-making paths. Coupled with simulation capabilities, games boost learning and help employees understand how they can work together in efficient ways.
The development of a business simulation game can be based on the following guidelines:
- Develop a simulation story and reflect real business challenges in it: Like most serious games, business simulations have a strong story telling component. The latter is what is used to boost end-users’ and learners’ engagement. In the case of business simulations, this story telling component should be built around real-life business challenges i.e. the end goal of the game should reflect real world problems.
- Integrate physical tasks within digital workflows: A business simulation is primarily a digital experience. Nevertheless, it is recommended to blend some physical tasks with the digital workflows. For example, during the course of the game, players may be able to gain points based on their accomplishment in the real world such as the number of visits to client they conducted or the amount of written content they produced. This blending can make the overall experience more realistic, while at the same time increasing its pedagogical and “on-the-job” learning dimensions.
- Competition should be added as key element: Compelling gaming experiences are usually associated with some form of competition among the game’s participants. This competition can be based on activities performed in either the digital or the physical world. As a prominent example, there are on-line games for salesmen, that grant credits to the players based on the volume of their sales achievements. This boosts engagement and increases the overall competitiveness of the players both in the game and in the real world.
- Take advantage of multimedia for ergonomic and user-friendly experiences: Similar to conventional video games, the quality of multimedia used is a key element of the overall quality of the game. Therefore, game developers must make good use of images, video, animations, presentation and other multimedia in order to deliver ergonomic and user-friendly interfaces to the players.
- Implement feedback loops towards the players: Successful business simulation games are likely to implement feedback loops towards their end-users. In particular, during the course of the game, players should be provided with instant, yet non-obtrusive access to game data and relevant reports, as a means of encouraging them to play more and to compete with their partners.
- Personalize the user experience: Business simulation games should offer personalized experiences as much as possible. To this end, they should create, maintain and evolve players’ profiles, while at the same time using these profile data in order to customize the pace of the game, the preferred learning and decision paths, as well as the modalities and frequency of delivering information. By respecting the uniqueness of the player, business simulations can become more efficient.
Benefits of Business Simulations
Business simulations with the above-listed characteristics can deliver a range of benefits to enterprises, including:
- Reduced learning curves: Business simulation is not the only training tool for business learners. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful tool that reduces essentially the learning curves for several tasks, as it exploits experiential learning. The latter has been proven to be more effective than other forms of training, especially for tasks where “learning by doing” is deemed important.
- Improving general skills: The benefits of business simulations are not limited to the tasks of the simulation story. In most cases they boost the learner’s more general skills as well. This is because learners have to understand the more general business context prior to engaging in the simulation of a particular task.
- Team building and more effective collaboration: Business simulation benefits not only individual players, but entire teams as well. In most cases business simulation scenarios entail collaborative exercises and team working. As such business simulations are a very good tool for team building and improved collaboration of employees.
- Boosting Critical Thinking: Simulations are not just about improving routine skills. Rather they are a very good tool for building critical skills and boosting critical thinking. They train participants in taking decisions in realistic environments and evaluating what-if scenarios in real-life business contexts. In these ways, they help employees improve their critical thinking.
- Improving focus and engagement: Simulation games in business environments can generally improve the concentration of employees in their everyday tasks. This depends however on the interactivity and experiential features of the game. Engagement can be measured by keeping track of the stickiness of the players to the game and their overall willingness to play.
We are living in an era where there is a proclaimed gap in soft skills and critical thinking, given also the evolution of industrial organizations and the increased digitalization of enterprise processes. In this context, enterprises are starving for novel tools and techniques for upskilling and reskilling employees, in the direction of filling the above gaps. Business simulations can without doubt become one of these tools. We therefore expect their adoption by business enterprises to grow in the years to come.