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Building a Case for Game-Based Learning for Companies

The research is in. And it keeps coming in. The effectiveness of digital learning games as a learning modality in corporate organizations has been proven[1]. In addition, digital learning games score high on engagement and their ability to promote long term retention in learners of all ages[2]. The corporate training game market is set to grow by 20 – 30% over the next 5 years depending on the market segment according to Ambient Insight[3]. Despite all this, many potential clients we consult with struggle to make the case for investing in digital learning game technology.

Over the last few years, there’s been a big push to look for ways to reduce the cost of making and implementing corporate training games. Gamification, or adding game-like elements such as leaderboards and badges to enhance existing curriculum, grew in popularity for many reasons. One of the reasons it made sense to try gamification is that it leverages existing content investments and tries to get people to use them more. There are various case studies that point to different degrees of effectiveness of gamification. On one end of the spectrum, organizations have found positive impacts derived from implementing gamification, and on the other end of the spectrum, organizations found that employees resented being goaded into completing their professional development training, which in the end still involved traditional training modalities.

We’ve also seen the rise of eLearning companies who have started offering templated corporate training games to the professional development market. You’ve probably all seen a digital version of the Jeopardy game or the Family Feud game where you can upload your own training content. While these are technically games, they are simple, uninspired drill-and-practice games that do little to improve on flash cards. The primary way to harness the real power of learning games – specifically effectiveness, deep engagement, and long term retention – is to build a game with authentic learning mechanics tailored to the specific content you want to teach.

I get it. It’s a big leap of faith to invest in something that doesn’t exist yet when it’s easy to make a case that other learning modalities (text, video, interactives) can sort of do the job and are less expensive by several orders of magnitude.

In the rest of this post, I suggest some approaches to building a case for your digital learning game project within your organization:

1) Align your project with your organization’s most strategic initiatives…

The first piece of advice I give to potential clients is to look for a way to align their project with their company’s most strategic initiatives. Maybe your company has declared that this is the year to lean hard on customer acquisition. Are you focusing on recruiting the next generation of talent? Digital learning games have been used to create results along both of those dimensions.

One of our clients came to us because their organization was pressing hard on the innovation pedal. The CEO had announced that everyone at their company, from engineering, to operations, to product development, and yes, professional development was to dig deep to find a way to spur innovation and position their organization as a leader in their field. Too often professional development departments are relegated to “cost center” status, but this client knew that they could move the needle with a digital learning game for professional development. Clients who have been most successful at gaining buy-in for their digital learning game projects have justified the spend by aligning it with their company’s most ambitious goals.

2) …And/or align your project with your organization’s biggest pain points

Another approach is to align your corporate training game project to your organization’s biggest pain points. One organization rep I spoke to explained that the problem in her industry was a surplus of “how to” content and a lack of content that developed their talent’s behaviors and mindsets for achieving results. Digital learning game design, when done right, can be tuned to not only teach content but to develop behaviors and mindsets that stick with the learner long after the power button is turned off.

3) Track and measure

It’s tempting when doing something radical at your organization to keep it under the radar in case the whole thing flops. I can understand being tentative, but if you are asking for the type of investment required to make a digital learning game for your company, someone will want to see results.

As a part of the Discovery process we undertake with our clients, one of the first dimensions we explore is their need for assessment. Because these learning games are a digital tool, there is ample opportunity for data collection and analytics to measure things like knowledge acquisition, engagement, and progression. This enables you to build a quantitative case for the effectiveness of the game as a learning tool.

Another organization I’ve spoken to wanted to work with us to create a digital learning game as a part of a pre-learning program before their big user conference. Digital learning games are great tools for preparation for future learning [1], as well as for generating excitement for an event like the onsite conference that took place in conjunction with the game release.

4) Broaden your learner base

Logic dictates that you can justify your spend more easily by spreading that investment over the largest number of people. Most of the clients I speak to about investing in corporate training games think about how the whole organization can benefit from them. Think about what gets covered in your onboarding program. Are there certain methodologies that you teach that would be fodder for a digital learning game? Do you have mandatory training like document security standards that might justify the investment? I also like to ask clients to think about change. Is your organization going to experience a radical transformation in the next 6 months where you are looking for a solution to gain organization-wide adoption quickly and effectively? These are all scenarios where real organizations have come to us for our services.

That being said, the opposite can sometimes be true. Digital learning games are ideal to teach complex and specialized systems-based subject areas in high risk and high reward areas of your business. Sales departments, for example, are proportionally small compared to the rest of the organization yet they are responsible for most, if not all of the company’s revenue, which in itself justifies the investment.

Another way to make the case for your digital learning game is to think of multiple applications for your game. If the game was conceived of as an internal professional development game, could a limited version of the game be released to the public as a customer acquisition tool or for promoting brand awareness? One of our customers approached us after discovering that a lesser-known competitor had a branded educational game out on the App Store that was steadily gaining traction and was creating a lot of buzz in their industry. Don’t let your competition get a leg up on you!

There are also numerous cases where digital learning games are used as recruitment tools. One well-known project was an effort launched by the Army called “America’s Army” where the public was invited to play an online game around military exercises and skills which served as a recruitment tool for new candidates. So when you think about investing in a digital learning game for your organization, think about if it might make sense to put a limited version out to potential candidates to teach them about your organization and position you as a forward facing, innovative place to work.

If you are thinking about launching a digital learning game project in your organization and need some help forming your own case for investment, feel free to contact us!


1. Clark, D., Tanner-Smith, E., Killingsworth, S . (2014). Digital Games, Design and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (Executive Summary). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Accessed September 10, 2014. http://www.sri.com/work/publications/digital-games-design-and-learning-systematic-review-and-meta-analysis-executive-su

2. Wouters, P., van Nimwegen, C., van Oostendorp, H., & van der Spek, E. D. (2013, February 4). A Meta-Analysis of the Cognitive and Motivational Effects of Serious Games. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 249-265.

3. http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight_2014_2019_Global_Edugame_Market_Whitepaper.pdf

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