About Serious Games

Serious games (SGs) or persuasive games are computer and video games used as persuasion technology or educational technology. They can be similar to educational games, but are often intended for an audience outside of primary or secondary education. Serious games can be of any genre and many of them can be considered a kind of edutainment.

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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Corporate Serious Games: A Model for Business Innovation

One of the most interesting things about serious games right now is watching it take hold and expand in multiple industries and genres- like an exploding universe of possibilities. Companies are daring to try to use videogame technologies and lessons learned in new business models from corporate training to marketing. As the Serious Games Product Manager at IBM, I have the opportunity to be able to study ways in which corporations can and are using videogames in exciting new ways. The primary focus is on games that face outwards to the external world of general public, clients and business partners.

The chart above shows how I have attempted to categorize the different genres of serious games that can be used for corporate use.

Internal Corporate Training/Collaboration

This internally facing genre of corporate serious games is the most well-known. Companies have been using e-learning and simulations for years to train their employees on things from management to diversity. More and more companies are adopting lessons learned from videogames to make these modules more engaging, more immersive and more effective than ever before. Where I see the most potential here is in sales rep training. Currently IT and Pharma companies invest heavily in training their sales reps in their latest technologies and products utilizing old-school techniques that are anything but engaging. There is a very fine line between the creation of a corporate training game meant to train sales people on the power of their products and Point of Sale games as described below.

Additionally, companies like Cisco and IBM are investing in Virtual Worlds as a platform for both training and collaboration, bringing in critical components like app-sharing, VoIP, programmable bots and social networking.

Point of Sale Games

I realized the concept of Point of Sale games while watching a demo from a serious game studio here in North Carolina that had made a sim for generals to be able to easily ascertain their troops movements and strategies. Within a few scant minutes, the general could easily visualize where the bottlenecks were and where his attention was needed. When a company is trying to sell something like a complex system, point of sale games are meant to enable the player to be able to easily visualize the value proposition. Although I haven’t seen this in action yet, my understanding is that the medical devices industry is already experimenting with this model- making games to leave with surgeons- that they may be able to see how the device can be used within a human body. I am currently investigating ways in which IBM can utilize this same model so that they may be able to communicate their value proposition to non-technical clients who may require customizable visualization tools to see how concepts like Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) can help businesses.

Games that Extend Brand Reach

Many companies have explored this territory not just through in-game advertising (Coca-Cola ad in Grand Theft Auto) but also via mini-games that don’t necessarily teach anything, but they do make the player more aware of brands. Mobile games are a great place to see more of these kinds of games as it is a perfect medium to explore this territory.

Academic Initiative

This is a venue for corporate serious games that was a surprise for me. Last year I helped IBM launch Innov8, a game that teaches how Business Process Management (BPM) can help businesses. When I initially conceived of the idea, I envisioned a Point of Sale game as described above- something compelling and short to leave with clients and business partners. The pilot for the game was instead released to business schools as a way to evangelize BPM to MBA students in a facilitated medium. The results were quite fascinating. Not only has the game served as a great press magnet, it is also a fantastic recruiting tool (IBM makes cool 3D games using FPS engines!) and it spurred something rather unexpected with Universities. Two things began to happen: 1) MBA schools wanted to partner with IBM to help design scenarios for the next version of the game and 2) engineering schools wanted to partner with IBM to build up their game design and development degree programs so that they could recruit more Comp.Sci students. Partnering with IBM to use corporate serious games as a platform for learning would be able to focus schools with multi-disciplinary programs around one central program, bring in schools of design, comp. sci, and business. Even Art and English programs could participate in the building of a collaborative game of this nature. It will be interesting to see how the academic initiative blossoms. Innov8 is currently free for Universities who participate in IBM’s Academic initiative. Link: www.ibm.com/soa/innov8

In summary, videogames are spurring a renaissance of innovative growth in corporate training, collaboration, recruiting and marketing. It is a heady time to be in this field and I cant wait to see what will happen next—

Phaedra Boinodiris

Ms. Boinodiris is currently working at IBM as their Serious Games Product Manager developing games for corporate training, point of sale, and extending brand reach. Before that, she has been an entrepreneur for 10 years- first with Atlantis Internet Technologies, an IBM business partner focusing on WebSphere technologies and then with WomenGamers.Com. WomenGamers.Com is a C corp started 7 years ago and is now one of the largest women's gaming portals on the Internet. She was recently recognized by Women in Games International due to her efforts spearheading the first US scholarship for women to pursue degrees in game design and development.

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