Key Learnings about Serious Game projects

After writing the Dutch version of ‘A Brand New Playground (Laat met je merk spelen) in 2009 I was fortunate enough to get involved in some pretty cool and prestigious serious game projects and I never left the scene ever-since.

Projects I was involved in (together with IJsfontein – I was merely just a consultant) involved challenges like change management, internal branding (ABN Amro) and giving companies insight in the logistic consequences of both air- and waterfreight (Air Cargo Netherlands / Schiphol Airport and Port of Amsterdam). Now, three years later I found that the hardest part is not just translating the essence of the problem into a cool and effective game concept, but to get all parties involved, determine the Decision Making Unit within the organization and actually ‘getting the job done’!

One of the recent projects I have done involve an organization of 2.500 people and I started this project about a year ago. Their challenge is to teach all their employees the potential consequences of their actions and behavior induced by the recently released ‘code of conduct’. In banking terms this is called ‘compliance’. We’ve proposed multiple concepts to the Decision Making Unit that exists of 8 different people from 5 different departments (Finance, Communication, Legal, Human Resources, Risk & Control Management) and after 7 months we still haven’t started production. Why? Mostly fear and too many people involved I guess. A serious game has so many aspects that on one hand you want to involve enough people to get the right information and the right clearance.

On the other hand, you don’t want to make them feel that they can actually determine what’s going to be leading in the gameplay. This is a sensitive and challenging task for the ‘producer’ of the game.

The key learnings in this project were the following:

  1. Downsize the DMU to the smallest possible group, preferably a maximum of three people, including the budget owner and / or CFO.
  2. Don’t let your client get involved creatively. It is not their expertise to come up with a good game concept, it’s yours – so fight them off your turf or it will become too complex.
  3. Keep the pace going and force decision making during milestone meetings. Employees of big companies tend to involve loads and loads of collegues and every person has his own opinion about all sorts of stuff (and expertise). Manage this well and you will be happy 😉

To give you an insight in the concepts we have proposed, it varied from playing the ‘mean manager’ giving you the opportunity to use every trick in the book to become the biggest and best company of the country serving you scenario’s and dilemma’s in which you have to choose between the ‘easy way’ that would make more profit for the company and becoming filthy rich, and ‘the hard’ way that involved more tenderness (devil versus angel). In this way we wanted to challenge employees to explore multiple roads towards the same goal and let them experience how this would effect their sense of ‘righteousness’ and ‘fairness’ scoring points for ‘revenue’ and ‘reputation’ (integrity). Unfortuntely this proposal was canned out of fear. Another idea was to build a ‘TV show’ with all sorts of dilemma’s and questions to focus more on ‘knowledge’. A fairly one-dimensional concept, comparable to the current e-learning stuff that we hate. 😉

Eventually we’ve created a quiz-kind-of-game where your goal is to become a ‘Zuperhero’ setting the right example for the company and co-workers. It will be a mix of knowledge based questions and dilemma-based scenario’s with specific mechanics. It should be cool!

I expect this game to go live in September this year and then it has been 18 months since we pitched the idea to our client, but believe me: I will be very happy let you know what we’ve done by then!

Concluding I can say from my experience that running serious gaming projects is mostly about managing expectations, involving experts from within the company, making them feel important enough to share their expertise as well as keeping them distant enough by showing yours… 😉

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