Game-Based Learning for the Corporate World

Gaming can improve problem-solving, creativity, risk assessment, and risk taking.

By Julie Brink, Director, viaLearning

For generations, games have been used to teach concepts, skills, and knowledge. Think Yahtzee, Monopoly, and math; Scrabble and spelling; Mastermind, Qwirkle, and strategy; Clue and problem solving…the list goes on and on.

Games are challenging, interesting, and engaging. And with the ever-enhancing technology landscape, games are more immersive than ever. Individual or massive multiplayer online games have grown exponentially in the last few years, and projections only show gaming consumption increasing.

According to the Entertainment Software Association:

  • The average gamer is 37 years old and has been playing for 12 years. Eighty-two percent of gamers are 18 years or older.
  • Forty-two percent of all players are women and women over age 18 are one of the industry's fastest growing demographics.
  • Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).
  • Twenty-nine percent of game players are over the age of 50, an increase from 9 percent in 1999. This figure is sure to rise in coming years with nursing homes and senior centers across the nation now incorporating video games into their activities.
  • Sixty-five percent of gamers play games with other gamers in person.
  • Fifty-five percent of gamers play games on their phones or handheld device.

Why is this information valuable? These statistics will help us shape how new delivery trends in training content are emerging. Adults like to play games, so let’s help them learn while doing so.

Similarities Between Gaming and E-Learning: To Play or Not to Play?

Research has shown that gaming, in the right context, can be just as, if not more, effective than traditional e-learning. It improves problem-solving, creativity, risk assessment, and risk taking. Gaming also supports B.F. Skinner’s Behavioral Theory: that behavior is a function of its consequences. As in real life, when most people have a negative consequence to something they do, they don’t do it again. In gaming it’s the same concept: You go through that particular door and fall down an elevator shaft and lose the game…are you going to do that again? Probably not.

Why Games Can Train

  • Gaming uses multiple intelligences for learning (logical, special, linguistics, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, music).
  • Games are immersive, engaging, and motivating through new technology and interactions.
  • Active learning—the learner is seeing and doing something.
  • Storytelling, one of the most effective training design concepts, can be woven into both e-learning and games.
  • Games provide another means of performance support and, when woven with other training, can give learners a competitive edge.
  • Gaming provides just-in-time learning.

Differences Between Gaming and E-Learning

While the similarities are real, the differences are, too. Gaming has a stigma of being fun, which does not always fit the corporate message. Some content just does not lend itself to a gaming environment and the audience determination. The core message of the training may need more context than what a game can easily provide.

When Games Are Not the Best Tool

  • If there is too much information to get out. This would make the game too long and possibly confusing.
  • Some content is not appropriate for gaming. Some subjects are too sensitive or personal to be taught in a game. For example, assessing a person’s mental health or sexual harassment may not be the most appropriate subjects to teach through a game. Also, games need context, so unless you plan on providing a lot of background to the game, the lack of context will not support the learning objectives.
  • Technology does not always lend itself to be game friendly. Be intentional when deciding where a learner will play the game. Will the game be played on a mobile device? Will it be played on a computer (desktop or laptop)? Know this so you can build for the appropriate platform.

Who Likes Gaming?

There is a general misconception that Millennials (those born 1977 to 1997) and Generation 2020 (those born after 1997) prefer learning by gaming and, therefore, games should be targeted to them. But everyone likes gaming; the games just may take a different form. After all, the largest consumer of games is not the teenage boy, but rather a 37-year-old, 42 percent of whom are women. This demographic has seen it all, from the Atari to multiplayer online games to 3-D games on handheld devices. They know how to operate games, know what they are capable of, and enjoy immersing themselves in it. This population is the first “digital native” group of people.

Ultimately, knowing your target audience is vital. This persona assessment drives the type of games developed, the level of design and game play (simple to complex), and the content tone and delivery.


One of the first adopters of game-based learning, the aviation industry has seem immense success in training pilots and other air crew through sophisticated video games, which simulate the experience of flying an airplane. Similarly, other industries can benefit from bringing a simulated environment to its learners, where they can learn by experiencing life-like situations.

At the 2006 Serious Games Summit, a session on “business and deals” featured Six Games for Cisco: Incentives and Rewards to Increase Learningdeclared gaming a “lifelong learning tool” for IT employees. Findings showed that about 75 percent of respondents rated learning games favorably, and learning games score higher than slides on engagementin learning and retentionof content. After this pilot of six games, Cisco went on to develop additional games for training its employees.

Game-based learning can address many kinds of trainings—for new recruits, managers, CEOs, and directors. The utility of games is vast. Simulation games can be used for skills training. Character-based games can be used in a multitude of ways and can impart myriad trainings—from soft skills to product/process knowledge.

Game-based learning, for example, can train on the various tenets of client interaction by using a senior team member to play the role of a client and the learner playing the role of the vendor-organization representative. Not only will it improve relations, the natural knowledge within the group will be shared successfully.

Using game-based learning to teach channels how to sell new products and services brings many benefits:

  • It works for sales executives, channel partners, and product managers
  • Teaches product features and benefits in a fun, memorable way.
  • Provides “practical practice” in real-life scenarios.
  • It’s a quick and easy way to augment other learning formats.


Many organizations perceive game-based learning as cost prohibitive and don’t think of it as a supplementary piece to a blended program. This is a misperception. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that the tools and software to develop games are more readily available and more economical. You can even purchase game templates and customize the content in them. This makes publishing games more affordable than ever before.

It is true that game development can run into the millions of dollars: on average between $1 million and $5 million per game. Those games are for entertainment and are revenue-generating games for gaming systems such as Sony Playstation, Nintendo Wii, and Xbox. Those games are complex, lengthy, and have advanced gaming options such as avatar creation and real-time competitions with other players located across the globe. While glitzy, they are not practical for private industry. Those elaborate options are not necessary—nor needed—for corporate games. Games made for educational purposes in this context cost a fraction of the cost, from $15,000 on up. An average cost for a custom-built adult e-learning game is anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 or more, depending on the complexity and levels of play. Some games can be bought off the shelf and repurposed for much less.

So should game-based learning be incorporated into the training world? Yes! Games can be a strong and innovative medium of imparting training at the corporate level. Game-based learning:

  • Augments existing learning programs by reinforcing key messages
  • Increases learner adoption and retention
  • Is fun when developed with stories, continuous challenges, rewards, and competitive winning
  • Works for the multigenerational workforce

Try it. You just might like it.

Julie Brink is the director of viaLearning, a leading provider of e-learning services for global companies. She has more than a decade of experience in training and development, from curriculum design and implementation to production and program management with an emphasis on sales training. Brink has developed e-learning courseware and blended training programs for a vast client base, including Waste Management, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Comcast, Nike, and The Pampered Chef. Her previous experience includes curriculum development, implementation, and management of academic, vocational, and job placement training programs for high-risk youth.

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