Get Playing: 5 Tips for Great Learning Game Design

Christmas is a time for games, japes and wheezes of all types. But you know, you’re probably more than just a player (of course you’re a total player, we know that). You’re designing games, or you’re working with people to make a game for your business. So you need to know what makes them work. What causes people to put another coin in the slot, to go one more round? What makes for effective game design in a learning context? We share five festive tips to ensure you’re playing nicely and designing effectively this season.

Let’s roll the dice, put a coin in the slot, and see what winners are made of...

1. Winner Winner, Turkey Dinner

“It’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s about how you play the game”, said the person who came second. It’s about winning, we all know that. We have a natural desire to win, whether that’s beating others or our own best records or targets.

Tap into this natural desire for competition in your game designs. Make sure it’s clear what winning means, and what it’s going to take:

Benchmark at the Start: We often design game-based learning with an opening diagnostic or healthcheck. This can show you how you rate or rank against your peer group, or directly against others in your team who’ve done the same. That implies a competition immediately.

Sharing Scores: For the quiz design work we did a client, we recorded high scores and shared them on a leaderboard. For competitive sales teams, this worked well to get healthy competition going.

Gamification Top Tips Leaderboard and Benchmarking

2. It's Always Storytime

Effective scenario-based games have a narrative. They’re not just about perfecting a rote activity. They’re the best kind of stories too, ones in which the learner/gamer is the hero. So invest in the storyline - build out the characters and create episodes with tension, rising climax, and resolution. Can you get through the difficult interview, or the client meeting from hell? Getting to the end should feel like its own reward (you can also throw in some other rewards too, as you’ll see.)

For our work with a professional services firm, we created a fully branching video simulation. You need to interview a candidate. Asking pointless questions will cost you in time, and points. The game is very much on...

3. Don’t Make Me Choose! Actually, Please Do

For a game to feel real, learners have to be able to make choices, real choices, and have real consequences.

This is where simulations and scenarios part company with your standard multiple choice set of questions. Choices have to push the action forward and have an outcome, e.g. customer more/less happy, more likely/less likely to buy from you. But make sure the universe of choices are complete (e.g. make sure there isn’t something that people would really want to do, but isn’t covered in the choice set).

The outcome of your decisions in a game must also have a direct and immediate bearing on score. Are you getting closer or further away from completing and winning?

There’s a fatal moment in lots of our game-based simulations and scenarios where it’s all over and you’ve got to rewind to the start and try again. It’s frustrating - but it’s supposed to be. Don’t be afraid of making it just maddening enough for the gamer to want more.

4. Raise Your Game, Ramp It Up...

If you want people to play, replay, and demonstrate improvement that’s transferrable to the job, you need to ramp up the challenge in line with people’s performance. Design increasingly harder levels - but you need to find the right step-ups. Too dramatic an increase can cause failure and sap away at motivation.

The McDonald’s Till Game gets harder the better you get - we did this by asking the learner to begin by taking some simple orders, but as the learner advances through the levels the orders become increasingly more complex. In the later levels the learner is racing against the clock to place large orders from customers who change their minds at the last minute, which also include some of the less common items from the menu.

For one of our Kineo Pacific clients we used a diffused assessment approach. At key moments throughout the course we quizzed the learner and used their scores to configure a final assessment. For those achieving ‘in game’, we offered a simpler path through to completion, but getting things wrong lead to a more complex assessment, allowing us to strike the right balance between challenge and capability at all times.

5. ...But Payout As You Go

Coupled with the above, you gotta give a little to the players on the way. Gradual reward, powering up to the next level, unlocking hidden levels - this is all the currency of game designers. In corporate game-based learning, an overall win is a delayed gratification; you need to provide rewards and recognition on the way. It’s also sharable for bragging rights among peers.

For McDonald’s Till Game, we included various bonus points, badges and multipliers, including a perfect score bonus, and 3 right actions in a row. We also include gaming options to help you manage your choices as rewards, e.g. lifelines, time machine features. This helps a lot with playability and can contribute towards prizes.

McDonald's Lifelines Gamification

Give Your Learning Game

We’ve designed award-winning learning games, scenarios and simulations for clients in many sectors. Find out how we can help you by joining us at stand 144 at Learning Technologies 2015 - or get in touch now.


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