Serious Games : The Recycling Strategy

Higher education organizations use different strategies when implementing serious games in their learning process.  Each of these strategies aims at reaching specific Key Performance Indicators (from students’ satisfaction to organizational benefits or ROI) and therefore corresponds to different deployment conditions. From my personal experience and some analysis, I think that there is a progression curve from a “Recycling” to “Co-branding” Strategy.


When an organization starts thinking about serious games, the very first approach is often the “Recycling” approach. In general, this is an individual initiative launched by a teacher during his own lecture. The key goal is to enhance students’ motivation when teaching complex or “boring” topics by using “classical” games in another perspective. This “recycling approach” can also be related to a “serious gaming” approach: it reorientates a game via different methods, in order to offer activities that go beyond mere entertainment.

Example 1: WoWinSchool

For example, the World of Warcraft game is a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) created by Blizzard Entertainment.

The game has been used in many different learning contexts for exploring Mathematics, Citizenships, Strategy etc.  The WoWinSchool Project  has developed a curriculum for an after-school program or “club” for students at risk in the middle and/or high school level to give advice and support to teachers who are experimenting this “Recycling” approach.


 Example 2: Training sales managers with the L’Oreal Hairdresser gamee

A few years ago, I was giving a lecture on customer relationship management to bachelor degree students. When discussing the concept of  “Understanding your customer needs and adapting your offer”,  I wanted to make them experiment. But there were more than 100 of them and we had 1 hour left. It was impossible for me to ask all of them perform sketches.   So I decided to make them use the first scenario of the game from L’Oreal: Hair-be12. This online game is dedicated to hairdressers using the L’Oreal franchise in order to train them in specific abilities devoted to customer relationship. Students were able to experiment different concepts by defining their perfect hairdresser, choosing clothes and attitudes, designing the space and choosing the decoration, welcoming customers, answering phone calls, etc. They were enthusiastic. Then I started to have remarks like: This is fun, but when I enrolled in this b-school I didn’t expect to become a hairdresser.


 Serious Games KPIs 

To evaluate the performance of a serious game strategy, I use the works of Kirkpatrick (1994) who proposed assessing the contribution of a learning method according to four levels: Level 1: satisfaction (did the learners appreciate the training?), Level 2: the learning process (what did they learn?), Level 3: individual skills (were the learners able to apply their new skills in the particular situations?), Level 4: the organizational results (did the organization or the company improve its efficiency by training its employees?). We completed this model using Phillips alternative framework (1996) which proposes a fifth level, focusing on Return on Investment (Did the training investment pay off?).


Evaluating the “Recycling” Strategy

Reaction:   The game was developed by experts. The level of immersion, the game design and the game art were therefore very high. The learners enjoyed using this training process but are conscious that this is not developed especially for them.

Learning: The game was not deliberately developed for this type of seminar. So I had to spend time and expertise to explain what is important, detailing the concepts. The learning process therefore relies totally on the way I coordinate and use the game.

Behavior: Even if the flow is high, the content is not exactly specific to the seminar. The contextualization relies only on the ability of the teacher to explain.

Organization: This approach is an individual one, not organizational. This kind of teacher, usually considered as a “geek”, is lonely, often without organizational support. Even if this can be considered as innovative, a business school cannot develop a specific practice or even communicate on this as a global strategy.

Return on Investment: The game is free. So the organization (or the teacher him/herself) doesn’t have to negotiate any rights or cost with the serious games company. But there is no possibility of making any financial gain using this approach.


How do you launch a “Recycling” strategy?

1 # Encourage (or at least protect) “geek” teachers

The main instigator of this approach is the teacher. We all know this type of “innovative” prof, willing to experiment every – and sometimes strange – new thing with the students. To do so, the “geek” teacher needs support. Because the experimentation often fails, the Wi-Fi crashes, the evaluation of student satisfaction is not as good as usual… So experimenting needs other performance criteria than just short-term student satisfaction. The Dean should be understanding and, even more, encouraging.

 IMG_20140225_111637I am testing Oculus Rift to see how I can integrate it in a lecture

2# Invest in strange stuff

Recycling needs a bit of material. And this material is important. The b-school might invest in strange stuff: games, board games, virtual games, raw material etc. to help teachers be imaginative and support their initiative. And it’s also part of the fun ;-).

IMG_20140210_152719 - copieMy office (when I’ve tidied it!)

And recycling is a very important first part. In my organization, I have launched a “game room” with lots of “raw” material, casual games, board games etc. to let people experiment and recycle. In this “recycling zone”, teachers and students can use the space to create and experiment. I will tell you a bit more later, but for now it’s…



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