Serious games – a new trend in the digital sphere of business

blog cover - Serious games – a new trend in the digital sphere of business

Having fun isn’t the only purpose of games. When they are properly used, they are a powerful tool for developing competences and personalities, as well as increasing the potential of company departments and even entire enterprises. Serious games make players significantly more engaged in solving a problem and are more educational than traditional coursebooks. For this reason serious games are extremely popular with the army, police, medical services, and in education and business. Thanks to digitalisation, the development of serious games can be moved to a totally different level. 

For over a decade digital serious games have been growing in popularity. Appropriate narrative of these technological products allows us to make better use of this technology in the service of people. Studies show that participants in training sessions where interactive games and additional motivators, like enhanced instructions, are used, are 20% more effective than in traditional courses. Find out how serious games can help you achieve your goals in business, social relationships, consumer behaviours, education, and in many other areas. 

Games in people’s lives

Games have accompanied us from nearly the time we are born. They come in various forms and have a variety of goals. As a sequence of actions performed by one or more people, they can be intended to solve a specific problem or to achieve a particular effect. In domestic situations, this is usually associated with having a great deal of fun and a pleasant time (unless you are playing Monopoly with your family).

The technical definition of a game doesn’t explain their positive influence on people or their behaviours. What function do they play in people’s lives, and why are they so common? First and foremost, games offer a universal language of communication. Cultural studies indicate that playing and games have permeated human civilisations, impacting both formal and informal social structures and institutions. Games are not just the boards and pieces. There is a reason why we use such terms as a parlour game, playing the market, game of deception, and word games – all a play on words. They are all about following certain rules in order to achieve a desired effect.     

Games are nearly as old as civilisation. The mixture of following the rules through play, cooperation and competition, elements of gambling, and satisfaction from victory, foster engagement and awareness of both people and animals. Games play the following functions in people’s lives:

– emotional stimulation,

– enhancing the mind and motor functioning,

– providing a sense of fulfilment and social engagement,

– helping to learn faster,

– having an influence on life beyond games (e.g. professional successes and failures),

– regulating social relationships (giving rise to conflicts or strengthening friendships).

Properly prepared games are not just fun, but are advanced tools for solving real issues present in nearly every sphere of people’s lives, from social relationships through development of competences, to crisis management in private companies and government institutions. This is the reason why gamification, specially promoted and used in business, has become so popular in today’s world.

Gamification in business

Games have their rules and describe how players should behave in order to win. Although the reward is a relative concept here that can come in many forms, it is associated with inducing the body’s reward system, i.e. a group of structures in the brain that are responsible for a sense of happiness and euphoria. If players want to win, they need to achieve the best results by following specific rules.

This mechanism impacts people’s behaviour while playing, and beyond the game. The method of having a nice time turns out to be an exceptionally effective tool for shaping personality and behaviours. This tool has been called gamification and works well in multiple areas, such as politics, medicine and business. Using gamification in business is particularly interesting due to the large number of applications. What exactly is gamification and how can you turn it to your advantage?

Gamification comprises transformation of processes and situations from the various spheres of life that potentially have nothing to do with games, into a more straightforward form of engaging play or game. Game-related mechanisms (e.g. gaining points, completing levels, and of course elements of entertainment) have been widely used in business. Gamification works well in recruitment, in maintaining employee motivation, in knowledge management for organisations, in marketing, and in sales.

Currently a lot of companies in the market are providing excellent examples of the use of gamification, many of which are simple and engaging computer games, commonly available online. Developers are able to prepare uncomplicated and funny games that can increase sales, grow your customer base, and build your brand awareness in a new market. Digital  gamification is also used inside organisations to recruit specialists and in motivating employees. 

Gamification in business serves to achieve specific goals:

  • enhancing brand awareness,
  • increasing the number of customers,
  • extending the time that users spend on a website,
  • motivating employees,
  • risk project management,
  • increasing sales,
  • and many others.

The implementation of gamification into business would begin with determining a goal that is adjusted to the actual needs of your business. Ensure that it meets the SMART principles. What does that mean?

A goal in gamification should be:

Specific – well-defined, clear (e.g. a larger number of orders in the e-store). 

Measurable – monitorable and measurable (as countable events).  

Achievable – attainable (adapted to available resources). 

Relevant – essential for business and players (e.g. profit for a company and a gift/discount for a customer).  

Time-bound – with a clearly defined timeline (deadlines motivate work).

New levels in business gamification can be achieved through systems using points or achievements. A prime example of using point systems are loyalty programmes, where customers can exchange their points for gifts, cash prizes or discounts.

What would it look like in practice? After an order has been paid, the e-commerce platform assigns points to the customer profile. A determined pool of points can be then exchanged for a free-of-charge delivery, a gift or a discount on future purchases, which increases customer engagement and their willingness to receive a reward. The rules of this kind of a game are simple, and customers win practically every time, which has a positive influence on their wellbeing, and ultimately on their loyalty toward the brand.

Another common mechanism of gamification in business is a feedback loop that consists of three stages: challenge, feedback, reward. Challenge is the specific task to perform. It should be easy and adjusted to a player’s level of advancement. At the feedback stage, the player should be praised and informed about the outcome achieved, and how far they are from the next level or victory. The reward is the most motivating stage. This can be participation in the game itself, completing the next level, or praise, but prizes and discounts are significantly more effective. 

Gamification in business is the art of changing complex and often boring processes into simple games that entertain and engage particular players (customers or employees). Processes that are worth gamifying can be connected with team management, winning customers, and customer service. Irrespective of the situation, straightforward rules are of key importance in gamification. Thanks to clear and comprehensible rules, anyone can take part in play, and a game (and a brand) would leave the player with positive feelings.

What are serious games?

While gamification is intended to give a bang, the priority of serious games is problem-solving, i.e. an educational factor. 

The purpose of serious games is not to entertain, but to solve a problem or meet an important need (through education or gameducation). Their additional purposes include:

  • development or acquiring new competences,
  • obtaining knowledge or information,
  • increasing experience,
  • mental development or rebuilding skills. 

Serious games stand out from others by their educational content, added value in the form of effective learning (which can also be pleasant), as well as the sense of competition and satisfaction. 

Some features characteristics of serious games were present in the oldest games in the world, e.g. the Royal Game of Ur. Apart from the element of randomness, they developed strategic skills and logical thinking. The beginnings of Serious Games trace back to early war games (chaturanga, chess, draughts), military games from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, advanced simulations of military operations from the second world war, and military and political games of the 1950s.

The term “serious games” was coined and promoted in the 1970s by Clark C. Abt, who described them as games with an explicit and carefully thought-out purpose, whose main intention is not amusement (but this does not mean that they should not be entertaining). Since then, serious games have entered a totally new era. Learning through experience has become even easier thanks to the Internet. The development of cloud services as well as common access to computers and smartphones foster these solutions for a huge number of people.

Serious games can take the form of computer games, board games or feature games. The main division is not subject to the rules of technique or technology of workmanship, but rather relates tightly to the content and context of use.

According to data from various publicly available sources, Serious Games can be classified in the following way:

1. Persuasive Games (e.g. eConfidence Serious Game)

2. Games for Health (e.g. Glucoboy)

3. Corporate Games (e.g. Houthoff Buruma the Game; EvE Online)

4. Games for Learning (e.g. Minecraft Education Edition)

5. Military Games (e.g. drone flight simulators, Virtual Battlespace Systems)

6. Government – NGO Games (e.g. Learning Sustainable Development; IBM City One)

7. News Games (The Amazon Race)

A lot of games that are being developed nowadays also come in electronic form.

One example is “Houthoff Buruma the Game” – a serious game created more than ten years ago and considered to be one of the first games used in business services. Developed for one of the largest Dutch law firms, it fosters effective recruitment. Candidates receive tasks related to negotiations and they have 90 minutes to persuade the largest number of shareholders possible to buy their shares.

blog picture - Serious games – a new trend in the digital sphere of business

Interactive serious games

These days serious games very often take the form of interactive electronic games. Developing this software can take a few hours to several months, depending on the complexity of the rules, the logics of the action, and the number of necessary elements.

Interestingly, serious games are also used in software development, which allows improving such aspects as project risk management, creative creation of new technological solutions, developer motivation, optimisation of the application implementation process, and testing the code prior to deployment.

Serious games work extremely well in highly specialised areas, e.g. business, the army, healthcare, education and engineering. This is why they are called “serious”. This category is part of more broadly understood serious storytelling. The narrative of these interactive games is based on schemes, potential scenarios, patterns of various serious situations, and significant needs occurring in real conditions.

Earlier in this article is the classification of serious games by Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab. It is not a coincidence that each of the mentioned games is a digital product, as the popularity of this software is growing very dynamically. Advanced military flight simulators are of course reserved for the army, yet a large number of serious electronic games are available for anyone who has a computer or mobile phone and access to the Internet.

Data shows that games (particularly online) have become omnipresent in our societies. Games are a new lingua franca. They enable communicating and participating in mutual initiatives, irrespective of longitude and latitude. People from all over the world who speak different languages meet in multiplayer games. This is not a barrier for the development of highly engaged micro-communities.

Serious games use both the language of theory (e.g. testing hypotheses) and practice (exercises in solving problems). This software is equally beneficial for researchers and practitioners, giving them the opportunity of a better transfer of knowledge.

Cloud native software development, flexible cloud services and new technologies for digital product creation enable creating innovative, interactive and multi-purpose serious games. On one hand, serious game software helps meet people’s social needs, and on the other hand, it responds to specific and current business issues of many companies worldwide.

One example of a serious game that educates and entertains at the same time is “The Amazon Race” developed by ABC News Story Lab. This news game shows what it is like to work at Amazon. The plot of this game is based on interviews with present and previous employees of Amazon. Another example of a news game is Snowden Run 3D, which refers to extracting secret NSA data by Edward Snowden.

It is worth mentioning one example of a serious game that can be used for developing your business. “Merchants” is a cooperative serious game, where a player can become the best merchant in Venice in the fifteenth century. The main goal of the employees participating in the game is to raise their competences in solving conflicts and negotiations. The plot is based on true issues and historical figures such as Machiavelli and DaVinci, teaching negotiating techniques.

Digital serious games are on the rise in business. There is increasing evidence that the form of the game is effective in promoting change in people’s behaviours and attitudes. Serious games can be used in a wide array of areas, and they enable interested parties in sharing various types of knowledge:

  • For learning: “ABCDESiM” is a simulator that uses the latest online gaming technologies, and is intended for medical staff (doctors, nurses, rescuers). An exceptionally detailed model of the human body and advanced software facilitate gaining medical practice “dry”, which significantly reduces the risk of mistakes when dealing with living tissues.
  • For health: “Balance” is a game created in order to develop self-discipline in keeping better control of Type I diabetes among teenagers. The first edition refers directly to diabetes, while the other aims at increasing awareness to reduce the risk of this disease among the youth. Despite the fact that the first version puts a greater emphasis on the aspect of “seriousness”, studies have showed that it provided more fun than the later edition.
  • For the army and other services: This category includes any simulators that test human behaviour in maximally close to reality conditions (technical and motor), e.g. simulators for pilots, soldiers and astronauts. One interesting example of serious games for the army is “The American Army” that depicts the actual condition of the US army. This game has lived to see a commercial version for several consoles, and its major task is to encourage potential recruits to join the army. 
  • For business: Serious games for business can extend cognitive (conceptual, procedural) and strategic knowledge. “Unlock: Project Management” is an idea that supports the development of project managers, and helps them acquire skills in communication with shareholders, project scaling, planning, risk management and proper reporting. This game has levels and motivates participants to achieve new successes. It is considerably easier to translate the knowledge obtained in this way into real activities in a company.
  • For changing social behaviours: Serious games also serve as carriers of information with a persuasive message. Affective knowledge is intended to change beliefs, values and attitudes. For example, in “My Cotton Picking Life” you can take on the role of a child picking cotton. This game is aimed at making society aware of the reality in Uzbekistan, where every year the government forces hordes of citizens, including children, to pick cotton. Schools are closed during this time, and a lack of cooperation can result in a loss of their source of income or access to education. 

Another interesting example of a serious game that is intended to change certain behaviours and habits is “Escape Covid”, which was developed for medical staff in healthcare facilities in Switzerland to change risky behaviours among the staff, and ultimately to reduce the spread of the virus. Studies have showed that 82% of the players were definitely willing to reduce their risky behaviours.


Serious games are widely used in many spheres of people’s lives, e.g. in the army, educational entities, scientific studies, health care, and crisis management departments. They always contribute to increasing people’s competences and organisation development.

Serious games are also extremely popular (and effective) in business, as they work successfully in winning leads and educating employees. Educational goals hidden within serious games open totally new possibilities for a variety of branches, especially when combined with VR technology.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a great impact on the development of these games. People suddenly had to limit their movement, and they have been enjoying the fruits of the Internet, such as in serious games. Government institutions have been using serious games in enhancing awareness of the disease itself, as well as for protection and prophylaxis. Educational units have been using this software for educating, monitoring student progress and maintaining their motivation during remote classes. Similar solutions are also being used in business in this time of a pandemic.

It is possible that the global demand for games (including serious games) will continue to grow. Although the market of serious games is a relatively new branch, there are already courses, case studies and research that prove the practical effectiveness of this software in shaping people’s behaviours and attitudes. Training and educational advantages for employees, as well as sales potential while winning and servicing customers, seem to be most attractive for businesses.

Serious game development requires best software development practices. A  carefully thought-out integration of solutions, storytelling tailored to a specific business need, and engaging interactions, are of key significance in this respect. For this reason, infrastructure for trouble-free scaling of new applications is necessary.

If you need a reliable software house with a team of experienced developers who are able to create a truly innovative serious game for you, contact Stepwise. Not only will our IT specialists write code for you, but they will also help you specify the context and objective of your game, and your company can spread its interactive wings. Contact us.

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