Serious games are games designed for a purpose beyond pure entertainment. They use the motivation levers of game design – such as competition, curiosity, collaboration, individual challenge – and game media, including board games through physical representation or video games, through avatars and 3D immersion, to enhance the motivation of participants to engage in complex or boring tasks.
Serious games are therefore used in a variety of professional situations such as education, training, assessment, recruitment, knowledge management, innovation and scientific research. The increased involvement of participants offers new stimulating possibilities: for example the players of the virtual puzzle game Foldit contribute to scientific research on different diseases (HIV, Aids etc.) through protein folding.
In the complex and often slow-moving education sector, serious games challenge not only learners and teachers but also an organisation's strategy. How can business schools use serious games in order to create a competitive advantage?
Firstly the school tend to start with a recycling strategy in which teachers integrate free-to-use serious games in their lectures. But this approach relies on an individual, often a “geek”, professor to use his own expertise to translate what happens in the game in a pedagogical context. This is difficult to communicate and to replicate in other lectures and also leaves the business school exposed to the risk of the professor leaving.
The second approach sees the business school invest in buying the licences of some serious games, but soon professors tire of this approach also and begin to find fault with the games.
At the third stage an institution sees the value of a serious games authoring tool and start making their own games. Motivated teachers develop stimulating simulation for their own lecture, and even sell them to other organisations. But after a while, most teachers realise that, even if it is fun, it is not their job to develop games and that they prefer to focus on their area of expertise.
In the next stage an organisation decides to help teachers by getting external professional games editors to make bespoke products. However, this is expensive and the high level of investment reduces the number of games that can be produced that way.
In the fifth stage the business school decides launch a suite of serious games. As the level of investment is not affordable, they develop a co-branding strategy with an external games editor in order to co-develop and co-brand a collection of serious games on specific topics. The editor and the school share costs, expertise and copyrights. The collection can then be sold in serious games stores as generic games.