It's important to think about how a game aligns with the business before shelling out hard cash, according to John Neston, global learning director, NCR Corporation. Having had game buying experience, he thinks certain parameters should be met, as Helen Boddy reports.

If you have a software team based across Scotland, India and Italy and you want to decrease defects through better teamwork, traditionally you could have flown them all to the same place for some teambuilding.

This sort of activity could be a prime candidate for games based learning, according to Neston when he spoke at the World of Learning Conference. He suggested that instead of actually getting people together, for example, to build bridges, it's possible to build a game that is a metaphor for a team activity.

Not only can that cut down on the cost of bringing together a global team physically but there are also some other advantages. A junior person may feel more empowered to take higher level decisions as an avatar in a game than they might have done in person, and it’s easier to get a team to 'work' together on a more regular basis. Plus, there are the environmental savings from not flying your workforce around the world.

Neston, however, warned that it's important to think how a game aligns with the business before shelling out hard cash. A game should also ideally provide an environment in which it is safe to make mistakes, is immersive, and where learning is by doing. It is definitely worth assessing whether a game is effectively just recycling other training material, or actually adding value.

'There are some good providers out there of games based learning (GBL), but some will sell you old wine in a new bottle,' he said. 'Some haven't got past turning pages on a screen since authoring tools came out.'

Nevertheless, Neston emphasised that you do need to engage a solution provider as it hard to create a game yourself, given the need for graphics. Having gone through the process of looking at games providers for NCS, he shared what he had learnt.

'As an L&D manager you need to think what your killer application is and ask the right questions to the salesmen,' he said. 'Are they thinking about a business-oriented game or just trying to sell you a box?'

Neston demonstrated what he meant through the example of his killer application, which would be to train his sales team: It would:

  • be role-oriented - for sales to take time out from selling it has to be very relevant;
  • have engaging content;
  • be based on agile software, so it can be adapted;
  • be a performance improvement model - to help salesmen get inside the mind of the buyer.

Neston suggested a provider should:

  • demonstrate it understands your business needs;
  • be driven by your business objectives;
  • have the credentials to meet budget and deadline;
  • be able to design and build learning programmes;
  • have its own platform to build the programme on;
  • be able to deliver learning programme;
  • integrate with your LMS;
  • have a portfolio of games-based learning.

The supplier's platform should ideally be low end and internet-enabled, according to Neston. It must be modular so that it's possible to adapt the game easily if necessary to fit a changing marketplace. It should have the capability to support remote multi-players, and offer remote facilitation. It needs to provide performance assessment, so for example, it’s possible to assess when a sales force is sufficiently trained to go out and talk to customers.

So once your game is developed, how do you get buy-in from staff? Neston said he would first focus on getting the team's 20 top performers involved. Once they have used it and improved their skills with it, that leaves a performance vacuum behind them. The next batch of people will be keen to catch up and therefore take part in the game. Neston reckoned 10 per cent are likely not to want to take part, but they would risk being left behind their colleagues, and would therefore ideally then be managed out of the business.

Having used the game, it is then of course important to assess how successful it was - how meaningful were the outcomes and how relevant were they to the context of the original problem or training need? 'For example, a flight simulator would score high on both,' said Neston. That said, it's worth taking into account that building a bridge would not score high in the context of eradicating software bugs either.