A few considerations when designing a game for your next training

In Monday’s episode of the Train Like You Listen podcast, Heather spoke with our colleague, Lauren Wescott, about her recent experiences designing games for the training room. Lauren spoke briefly about cooperative vs. competitive games, and what each type of game could bring to the training room. If you’re looking to bring a game into your next training program, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

“Games” and “Gamification” are not the same thing

Games are something you play. Gamification is an intentional design strategy. Playing Jeopardy or awarding points for correct answers doesn’t really mean you’ve “gamified” a training program.

In their book For The Win, Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter suggest that true gamification goes beyond points, badges and leaderboards and includes a variety of elements such as:

  • Constraints
  • Emotions
  • Narrative/storyline
  • Learner growth and development
  • Relationships
  • Challenges
  • Elements of chance
  • Competition or cooperation
  • Feedback
  • Resource acquisition
  • Rewards
  • Transactions between players
  • Turns
  • Win, lose and draw states
  • Achievements
  • Avatars
  • Badges
  • Boss fights/culminating challenges
  • Collections (of badges, resources, etc)
  • Combat
  • Content unlocking
  • Gifting
  • Leaderboards
  • Levels
  • Points
  • Quests
  • Social graphs
  • Teams
  • Virtual goods

If you’d like to read about real life examples of some of these elements in action, Zsolt Olah chronicled his experiences in this 2018 case study published in eLearning Industry.

Pros and Cons of “Competitive” Games

As mentioned above, competition can be a key element in games – whether it’s a board game you play at home like Monopoly, a game played on Sundays (like football) or a game you’d play in the training room. In my experience, competitive games – a game in which there is one winner (and potentially a lot of losers) is the most common type of game used in training settings.

Competitive games offer a variety of pros, including:

  • Engaging those who like to win
  • Offering a sense of “play”
  • An experience similar to activities (such as Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit) that learners have played before
  • A goal
  • Some competitive games include teamwork
  • Simulating the competition that some in industries such as sales may experience in real life
  • Opportunities to simulate real life challenges

Drawbacks of competitive games may include:

  • Participants focusing more on the rules and winning while losing sight of the intended point of the game
  • Games designed after Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit focus more on knowledge and less on the demonstration of skills learned
  • Some participants may be turned off by needing to engage in competition and/or may fall so far behind in the game that they lose interest

Pros and Cons of “Cooperative” Games

I’ll admit that the genre of cooperative games is relatively new to me. It’s not uncommon for others with whom I’m talking to look puzzled and ask: “What’s a cooperative game?” when I’m speaking about different types of games, which makes me think I’m not alone in my lifelong ignorance to the existence of cooperative games.

Cooperative games, in a nut shell, are games where players work together to accomplish a common goal. “Winning” is often measured by “beating” the game. In the game Pandemic, for example, players work together to try to stop a global outbreak of diseases. Winning happens when all of the diseases have been snuffed out. Losing happens if the diseases take over the world. Win or lose, all of the players are in the experience together.

In my limited experience with these types of games, here are some of the pros I’ve found:

  • Learners must stay engaged or they’ll be letting their colleagues down
  • While there’s always an emphasis on winning, learners generally don’t lose sight of the point of the exercise and argue with one another over the technicality of certain rules
  • De-emphasizes competition while emphasizing skills such as group decision-making, collaboration, cooperation and communication

Some of the drawbacks of cooperative games include:

  • Because this genre is less common and rules of the game can sometimes be complex, learners need some time to grow comfortable with the rules and the activity… I’ve not yet seen a “short” (15-20 minute) cooperative game
  • Planning and design of a cooperative game can be intensive

If you’d like to explore the genre of cooperative games in more depth, the two examples that Lauren offered during Monday’s podcast were:

A few final considerations

Games can be fun, engaging and memorable ways for learners to grasp important concepts and skills. Take great care, however, because as many people noted when I posted on LinkedIn about using games in the training setting, games can also turn many learners off. Some comments included:

“I use [games] sparingly because games for the sake of games is annoying as heck.”

“Pictionary with a group of medical assistants to practice vocabulary, always a huge hit. Build a spaghetti tower that can hold a marshmallow with a bunch of programmers.. no.”

“I tend to see games being used where there’s not really a good link to the learning, applying or recalling the actual concept that should be supported. Plus, I personally am not a game person.”

“Earning badges probably works for many people especially if there are incentives connected. But for me, not even then. It always strikes me about the same as training dogs with treats.”

As these comments show, great care should be taken when it comes to designing and incorporating games or game elements into your next training program.

If you’d like to know more about a cooperative game our organization created for training and presentation skills (called: Train the Trainer: The Game), drop me a line!

What do you think? Competitive games in the training room? Cooperative games? Stay away from games? Let’s hear some thoughts in the comment section!

Turn Your Favorite Board Game into a Training Activity

Games are a great way to help learners learn and apply content. The thing about games, however, is that they can be deceptively tricky to create. At least the good ones are.

On Monday, Brian shared instructions for a great training game, “Elimination”. As a team, we’ve been frequently meeting up in our local board game shop to study game elements as we work to develop a cooperative deck-building game for an upcoming train-the-trainer session. With a little manipulation, you too can turn a well-known game into your next great training opportunity. 

Training Game Building Level: Easy

Some of the best-known family games can be an excellent template for your next training game because the game mechanics are usually quite simple. In addition, game rules can be notoriously confusing (and frustrating) to pick up the first time that one plays a new game. If participants are already familiar with the game-play, they will be more easily able to focus on the content that you’re trying to reinforce (or introduce) in your game.

  • Go Fish – The basic objective of this game is matching. Create your own match cards and you’ll be ready to go. Lots of things can match such as a Customer Profile + Sales Strategy, Product + Correct Packaging, or Problem + Solution.
  • BINGO – Manipulate BINGO to be a check-for-understanding game. Set up player boards to have various answers. Ask your questions and have participants mark what they believe the answer to be. We’ve actually used BINGO to make observation/peer evaluation forms more engaging. Regardless of how you set up your BINGO cards, when someone calls out BINGO, make sure they share how they achieved BINGO. 
  • Apples to Apples – At its core (excuse my pun), apples to apples is a game of describing things. Manipulating this game to your content can be a fun and engaging way to check participants’ prior knowledge on a topic by simply creating your own category and description cards. 

Training Game Building Level: Medium

Some popular adult party games work as a great template. It will take a bit more creativity to get these games ready for your next training, but it will be well worth it when you put these to use as a mechanism to spice up a curriculum that you facilitate repeatedly. 

  • Wits & Wagers – Love pub trivia? Wits & Wagers is a trivia game mixed with a little bit of a poker flare. Players guess the answer(s) to a question and then bet on how solid their answer is. Simply modify this game for your training by writing your own question cards. 
Simply buy this game and use all of the gameplay elements. All you’ll need to create is your own question & answer cards tailored to your content.
Write your own question cards.
  • Concept – In this cooperative game, players work to guess a word or phrase based on a series of picture icons. The great thing about this game is that you can use the concept picture game board to describe ANYTHING – including important words or phrases vital to your training. Modify this game for your training by creating your own concept (word) cards. 
The gameplay is quite simple. Just follow the clues marked by the green elements: A tool that is mechanical and cuts wood – It’s a chainsaw you’re describing!
Create your own word cards to match your content. Increase the difficulty of the game by having players guess a phrase.

Training Game Building Level: Difficult

For the most part, all deck-building games follow the same general gameplay concept. Once players become familiar with the play order, playing these games in a group is a great way to understand how situational factors affect a person’s ability to accomplish a goal. Manipulating these games to develop your own training game will be a more time-consuming process, but your learners will appreciate the extra effort. 

  • Dominion, 7 Wonders or Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – These games follow a structure of acquiring resources that allow you to perform actions. Ultimately these resources and actions enable one player to more effectively accomplish the mission. Using this format, create your own card deck containing resources (such as a train-the-trainer class, SME, etc.), actions (secure time, describe need, give a demonstration, etc.), and mission goal (win the sale, build a process, etc.) to build an awesome deck building game that will allow participants to apply their learning in a whole new way. 
Follow the card format of Dominion to create your own card deck. (Yellow cards are resources, white/blue/purple cards are actions, and green cards are points earned toward accomplishing the goal.)
The action cards from Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle follow a similar design where you gain coins (resource), lightning bolts (to accomplish your action), or hearts (to stay alive).
Add dimension to your game by adding coins, tokens, or player profile mats.
  • Settlers of Catan – Catan follows the same gameplay as above (resources, actions, mission) but adds in the extra element of a game board and physical building development opportunities. In this gameplay, players will use their resources to build towards what they are trying to accomplish (in this case, a civilization). Adopt this gameplay style by building your own game pieces, game board, and play cards. This game style would be ideal for a situation where resources and actions are limited and repeatable (such as money), but there are multiple strategies by which you can apply your resources or actions to accomplish a goal. For example, we’ve used these elements to overhaul new employee onboarding. Players were able to experience the mission of our organization and see how limited resources impacted the decisions that were made.
To use this gameplay template you’ll need to create your own cards and game board.
Collect and spend resources to accomplish your goal (to develop a civilization).
This game has only 5 possible resources (cards) and limited actions (building costs). Yet there are multiple strategies to employ to achieve your goal.

Have you used gamification in training? Tell me what games you’ve adapted (or would like to adapt, now that you’ve read this post) to fit your content, in the comments below.

Training Game: Elimination

We’ve put together a lot of training programs in which participants need to be able to take in information and then quickly determine the most appropriate options to move forward while eliminating other choices.

To help participants accomplish this, we’ve created a game that we’ve ingeniously named: Elimination. If you conduct sales training or onboarding or manager training or really any type of training program in which you want to help your participants make decisions quickly, feel free to steal our game.  Continue reading

“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.”

Recently I took my kids to The Strong National Museum of Play. As we walked through the seemingly endless interactive exhibits, I looked up to find this sign:

Play

There may not be any hard science behind this statement, but we don’t always need empirically-tested data to be inspired by an idea. When it’s integrated into a learning experience with intention, play isn’t just a gimmick. Play can engage participants’ hearts and minds which in turn can capture their attention and can allow them to explore and navigate complex concepts on their own terms.

Here are a handful of ideas to bring play into your next session. Continue reading

Poll Everywhere Leaderboard Review

This week, Poll Everywhere released a new poll option with leaderboard functionality.  If you are unfamiliar with Poll Everywhere, check out this post. This week I reviewed this tool, and I am excited to share what I found.

Before I get to that, I should say that leaderboards are one of those gamification terms that I have to intentionally not roll my eyes when I hear. Continue reading

eLearning Game Copyrights

A few weeks ago, I talked about video games in training. Since that post, I have been asked if there are copyright infringement concerns when creating a game inspired by another game. I was taken aback by this question at first. After playing Jeopardy in just about every high school Social Studies class, it wasn’t a question I had thought through, and honestly, I didn’t have an immediate answer. Continue reading

Easy Drag and Drop eLearning Interactions

The focus at work lately has been on eLearning. As we are building these training modules, we have found some creative ways to use Articulate Storyline drag and drop functionality. Today, we would like to share three fun and engaging drag and drop eLearning interactions from our recent projects.

Magnetic Poetry

One struggle I have with eLearning is getting participants to share their stories or reflect individually. Giving space for free text journaling in the module opens up the opportunity for participants to skip an activity or write gibberish. To combat this,  add an interaction that resembles one of those Magnetic Poetry sets your roommate had in college.  Try your hand at creating your own phrase in the interaction below.

Magnetic Poetry - elearning interaction

Try this Magnetic Poetry eLearning interaction.

Pros and Cons

Continue reading

Copyright for Learning Professionals

Facing jail or even prison time is not a place I ever want to find myself. Several stories in the news have been exploring charges that may lead to arrests of some very powerful people in this country. Reading through the allegations, there seems to be a lot of lawyers fighting about what they consider to be grey areas in the law. These stories have me wondering if it would have just been easier for these individuals to simply stay on the right side of the law in the first place, but perhaps they were never briefed on the actions that could initiate a probe. This made me think more about the implications of copyright for learning professionals.

As L&D professionals, it is important that we never find ourselves in a legal grey area. Continue reading