Game on: simulating business through board games

Games bring training to life – in the right circumstances.

If Monopoly has shown many generations how the property market functions, then financial and management training specialist FTC Kaplan’s business board game purports to do the same for running a company.

Called The Business Board Game (BBG), it simulates a contract-led manufacturing business with long lead times and supply and cash issues that competes in a competitive international market.

This competitive team game is designed to test business planning, budgeting, forecasting and investment decision-making skills among delegates, many of whom are usually from a management or financial background.

It is one of a growing number of products that are feeding a rising demand for serious games and simulations in the learning and development sector.

BBG was developed by FTC Kaplan trainer Phil Todd, who says it can be used in one- to five-day training sessions. “It works best with about 10 to 12 delegates, though I have done up to 30,” he says.

He adds that delegates can be profiled beforehand to get the personality and skills mix that either the client wants or to help create balance. Some clients use the game to help pick delegates who may have business or entrepreneurial acumen.

But it’s not just the game on its own that makes simulation engaging and informative. “You have to have a good facilitator,” says Jon Graham, head of corporate learning at FTC Kaplan.

A facilitated session based on BBG costs from £2,500 a day.

According to Christine Elgood, managing director at training company Elgood Effective Learning, games of this kind are effective learning tools because they require delegates to actually apply what they have learned.

“People learn best by having some kind of experience rather than being passively spoon fed information,” she says.

Elgood specialises in developing learning games and simulations for the corporate market, ranging from board and card games to treasure hunts and It’s a Knockout-style events. Ferry operator P&O and technology firm Oracle (see case study) are among the organisations to have worked with Elgood in this area.

“I have two parts to my brain,” reveals Elgood. “One half is logical and works with companies to analyse what their training needs are. The other half is bonkers and comes up with the creative ideas for the games.”

Increasingly, she says, her company is also being asked to develop bespoke computer-based simulations. A recent example is a PC-based game aimed at showing users how to maintain safety levels in a chemical plant.

Further evidence of a growing appetite for computer games of this kind can be found at Coventry University, where the Serious Games Institute is due to open its doors in September. According to director David Wortley, the institute aims to provide a business incubation area for companies working in this field and will bring together people with different skills – programming, L&D, audio and visual – to develop the next-generation of computer-based learning simulations.

The institute is already talking with the NHS about developing computer simulations of operations and medical treatments, which obviously involve less risk than practising on real people.

Pixel Learning is an established serious games company that will be working with the institute and has already produced sophisticated computer simulations for the likes of Coca-Cola and Henley College.

Managing director Kevin Corti says serious games are best suited to training in some kind of process-driven activity, such as an accounting audit process or health and safety procedures.

And while the genre is relatively new to the L&D arena, the medium is being embraced by the PlayStation-playing generation now entering the workforce.

He adds that it costs between £25,000 and £50,000 to develop a semi-bespoke game, but sees serious games of the future becoming cheaper and less complicated as organisations get used to the format.

“Going forward, I can see companies using the same techniques to produce mini-games, casual learning and to promote corporate messages,” he says.

Case study: Oracle

When Oracle, the world’s largest enterprise software company, wanted to implement a complete training package for its sales managers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, it turned to Elgood Effective Learning to devise a suitable business simulation.

In response, Elgood came up with a board-based game, which delegates would return to repeatedly over the course of a two-and-a-half-day workshop that brought together sales managers from the regions.

The simulation was a decision-maze type game using counters, and was employed to reinforce learning points. It was played for four half-hour segments and one two-hour period over the course of the event, and tested the players on skills such as time management and following up sales leads based on probability of success.

“You could actually see people learning by doing,” said Peter MacNaughtan, project team leader at Oracle.

“We regularly take feedback and it’s always extremely good on the game. It’s not just because it’s an enjoyable activity. The sales managers have come away saying the game really helped them understand what it was they needed to do and to share ideas,” he added.

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