Your questions answered: games, training, xAPI and…robots

By Ben Templeton, Events, Opinion

By popular demand, this follow up Q&A responds to the issues raised in our inaugural training games webinar, ‘The state of play: Games with Purpose’ on May 5th 2016. Here Ben Courtney, Game Design Lead at Preloaded, and Andrew Joly, Director of Strategic Design at LEO, answer some of the questions raised, covering terminology, technology, stakeholder buy-in and the scientific evidence for game-based learning.

Access the webinar video here.



How hard is it to get buy-in from stakeholders to use games for learning? (JMC)

Ben Courtney: Less hard every day, in my experience – understanding of games as an engaging medium for learning seems to be spreading rapidly as games move into the mainstream. The challenge is making sure games aren’t treated as a blanket solution, instead helping people understand the unique benefits and applications of particular mechanics.

Andrew Joly: When they understand the range of gaming solutions there are – from simulations to quick practice games, solution construction to social games – clients begin to understand a) how powerful they are and b) how they can’t not consider them in a technology enabled learning context.

What scientific evidence / learning theories can I use to justify gamification? (SK)

BC: This great article from the American Psychological Association is a good starting point, which summarises (and includes a bibliography listing) most of the research up to 2013 on the positive impact of games, including their power as a tool of engagement to foster learning, prosocial behaviours and change behaviour. As far as learning theory, I’d point to the sections on games as motivation, and on the educational philosophies of constructionism (actively constructing your own learning experiences) and social learning (learning with and from others) as inherent features of games and game-like learning.

A few more quick statistics:

The most rigorous approach would be to run experiments within your specific organisation and in light of your particular learning goals – a small-scale pilot of games-based learning, for example, with clear intended outcomes and KPIs as measures of success.

What differentiates a game from a simulation? (JR)

BC: Generally, I’d consider a game to offer more sophisticated mechanics in encouraging players to pursue their goals, like a variety of tasks and escalating difficulty, reward loops, and more nuance of story, character and world as drivers of engagement. It’s a fine line, however, and good simulation design inevitably moves towards the game-like, with goals inherent to the experience, even if they are as simple as ‘can you pilot this airliner all the way to Houston?’ High Tea is a simulation of sorts, and a very gripping game.

Over one million people played our tea-trading simulator during launch week

Should the word ‘game’ be replaced with a more formal sounding name to reduce the connotations of triviality? (JA)

BC: I would personally prefer to change the mindset – as academia catches up, I see more and more people understanding the ‘serious games’ concept that while the medium may be engaging and (*gasp*) sometimes even fun, there is nothing about it that is inherently trivial or flippant when put to the right purpose.

AJ: Gamified Learning? Game with Purpose? Simulation? Deep engaging scenario environment…? I agree with Ben – the mindset really needs to change. The way we sell games does depend on measurable results and there are now ways of using xAPI and Learning Record Stores to drive more profound results gathering in this area than ever before.

What is your take on on adult learning, whether in universities, work, business, or even informal learning situations? (AJB)

BC: So much potential! The average age of a gamer is 35. Education is one of Preloaded’s strong points, traditionally for young audiences in partnership with companies like Amplify and the BBC, but there’s a lot of activity in adult learning now. Companies like Coursera, General Assembly and Udemy are challenging established organisations like OU and games are a great way to add value and cater for different learning styles. Informal learning games like Peak are incredibly popular, played on the bus, the sofa, at work even…

How can you compare an online community playing multiplayer games to learning in the workplace? The desire is different and learning has to be linked to some kind of motivation… (JA)

BC: Well-designed game mechanics (especially with a social twist) can intrinsically motivate people to do a wide range of things.The motivation of players to play Candy Crush doesn’t stem from the desire to match sets of three things! Good interfaces, drama, timing, reward loops, social competition and more combine to create an inherent mechanism of engagement and motivation. The APA paper goes into more detail:

“…Game designers are wizards of engagement. They have mastered the art of pulling people of all ages into virtual environments, having them work toward meaningful goals, persevere in the face of multiple failures, and celebrate the rare moments of triumph after successfully completing challenging tasks…”

AJ: Rather than a direct comparison, this was more of a challenge to ourselves. People play games for fun, not pay, so how can we get some of that motivation onto our learning culture? Maybe we need to reward their specific abilities and skills in the way that a MMO gamer is recognised by their peers. That could begin to drive the kind of behaviours we see in gaming back in an organisational environment.

Social play between colleagues is an exciting opportunity for workplace learning 

How often do you find yourself limited by the client’s technology or LMS? Have you developed a trackable game that can be played on phones? (PP)

AJ: There are many ways games can be delivered. The issue, as you say, is linking up with corporate systems. We’ve developed games within fully SCORM-conformant wrappers for web and the advent of xAPI / Tin Can will certainly solve many of the data issues on mobile…have a word with Rustici.

BC: Revenue from mobile gaming will outstrip both console and PC this year but SCORM-compliant mobile games are yet to take advantage. xAPI is making this a reality and its creators, Rustici, are now part of the group so watch this space!

Can we briefly discuss VR? Will this be used more in the future? (HF)

BC: VR offers a powerful medium for immersive, emotional engagement and the visceral and memorable experiences it creates will revolutionise the simulation end of learning with games. The sense of ‘being there without being there’ offers the perfect chance for firefighters-in-training to experience the stress of making decisions in a burning building, or for security staff to hone their skills in spotting suspicious behaviours in the midst of a crowded city square. We’re also developing much simpler applications for product training on GearVR headsets.

AJ: I really think so. The cost barriers are dropping so fast (google cardboard is now less than $10) that it can be considered for any audience.


Both physical and information security can be brought to life cheaply and safely in VR

What is the future of training? Social games, smartphones, consoles, augmented reality…robots? (AB)

BC: All of these platforms (I’m not sure yet about the robots!) are likely to have relevance for future learners. Consoles, AR, and VR can be powerful add-ons to face-to-face learning, but the powerful computers we all carry, wherever we are, and with whose operation we are intimately familiar– smartphones, tablets, and other devices — are the next great step for reaching learners.

AJ: I agree with Ben that social games could become very important in the near future. Consoles, VR and AR will be big in certain areas, but games that build on interaction between people will change the field we’re in.

If I want to build a learning game tomorrow what tools/software do I need? (RW)

BC: As a starting point, you’ll need a logical mind and a sense of how to use gameplay mechanics effectively to create a good experience. Preloaded’s bespoke learning games are built by experienced developers, artists and games designers using custom software libraries and professional tools like Unity, to create highly stable and usable experiences on mobile, tablet and desktop platforms. But at the other end of the scale we’ve seen people building things in Powerpoint, on paper, or by subverting the tools in a learning management system.

How long is the development process for the training games you make? (RS)

BC: Bespoke games can take anything from a month to upwards of a year to build, but the turnaround on populating games built as content platforms with original material can be much, much faster; analogous to populating an online course with materials via a CMS.

AJ: If a game is based on an existing pattern then development can be much faster. It’s worth spending time to get the ‘story’ and learning design right, however tight the deadlines are.

Which projects are you most proud of? (SK)

BC: I’m very proud of Rugged Rovers, our addictive social play experience currently installed at the Science Museum and the Franklin Institute in America, which gets players working together and competing with each other to think like engineers. I also love the way it takes the physical reality of where and how it will be used into account, beginning a process of engagement on the museum floor which can be then be picked up and extended on the player’s own device.

AJ: A business strategy game for a major Pharmaceutical & an induction game for an energy company. And (this shows my age) the Live and Kicking game for the BBC, which had a BAFTA nomination.


Rugged Rovers, a multi-player multi-platform game of design, in various guises around the world

A fan of arts, culture, capoeira and cups of medium strength tea. Above all, Ben is passionate about the power of play to transform the way we learn. Since 2005 he has created learning games for businesses, brands and cultural organisations around the world.

Previous post

Adopting a product approach

Next post

How to fail (and succeed) with digital / physical play