Training magazine Events: ABCs of Game Design

Not really sure what it takes to create an instructional game? No problem, here are four suggestions for getting started.

By Karl M. Kapp, Ed.D, Professor, Instructional Technology, Bloomsburg University

You just got the news. You need to create an instructional game to teach an important topic within your organization. One thought flows through your mind: “What do I do first?” It’s followed by “What do I do second?” Quickly, you discover you are not really sure what it takes to create an instructional game. No problem, here are four suggestions for getting started.

  1. Ask Questions. First, ask tough questions of the person who wants the game. Ask, “What is the business need driving this instructional game?” If this question cannot be answered, creating an instructional game might not be the best course of action. Yes, it might help with learning, but does that learning have a positive impact on the business? You want to create a game that increases sales, improves quality, makes customer service more responsive, or something along the lines of business impact.
  2. Narrow the Focus. Define the goal of the game so everyone understands when the learners achieve success. Often, the people requesting the game want it to accomplish multiple objectives. Your goal is to narrow the focus to one or two learning objectives. Typically, Learning and Development organizations do not have the time, money, or talent to create a multifaceted game with the complexity of The Sims or one of the tycoon-type games. Keep the focus narrow and measurable to help ensure success.
  3. Brainstorm Ideas. Gather the people in your organization who play games and brainstorm. Some of the best corporate games are based on common game play elements contained in games people play all the time. Tap this unused resource for ideas concerning game play, artwork, and approach. Even if these people are not in the Learning and Development department, they can prove invaluable in determining the overall direction of the game. When brainstorming, do not lose sight of the learning and business objectives.
  4. Storyboard and Playtest. As you begin designing the game, create storyboards outlining the game’s flow and artwork. Use the storyboards to walk potential learners through the game, so you can gauge their reactions and input. Additionally, you’ll need to playtest the game. A good place to start is with a paper version of your game. Paper prototyping is an important aspect of instructional game design. It’s so important that Sharon Boller, president of Bottom-Line Performance, and I are going to spend a great deal of time on this subject as we discuss game design in our session, “Play to Learn—Designing Effective Learning Games,” at Training’s 2013 Online Learning Conference in Chicago in September. It is always  easier to change paper than to change programming code. Make the time to paper prototype your game.

Let the Games Begin

Creating an instructional game is not a simple process. Remember to ask the right questions, keep the focus of the game narrow, gather gamers to brainstorm, and take the time to storyboard and playtest your game. Game on!

Karl M. Kapp, Ed.D,is a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA, and author of five books, including best-seller “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.”


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Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.