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Business Report

Serious Games

Six titles to train employees, educate the public, or recruit new customers.

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Teaching new employees the ropes, or bringing existing employees up to speed with changes in policy, can be expensive and time consuming—especially if employees don’t pay attention to what they may consider tedious busywork. In hopes of both increasing effectiveness and reducing costs, some corporations and government agencies have turned to so-called serious games, which aim to make training sessions more memorable.

Ribbon Hero 2, an experimental game from Microsoft Labs, trains people on often overlooked features of Microsoft Office. It displays a healthy sense of humor by featuring Microsoft’s much-maligned “Clippy” character. Players help the now-unemployed Clippy get a new job by completing tasks in programs like Word and PowerPoint.

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Cold Stone Creamery commissioned Persuasive Games to make Stone City, a game that teaches employees to serve correct portion sizes—an important factor in determining the profitability of the chain’s ice cream restaurants. The game simulates different customer scenarios, such as a busy shift, while workers try to serve correctly sized portions combined in accordance with the company’s recipes. Differences in viscosity between different flavors are modeled, and workers across the company can compete against each other on Cold Stone Creamery’s intranet to achieve the greatest virtual customer satisfaction with the least waste of ice cream.

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BreakAway’s Virtual Bank was developed as a trial concept for the U.S. FDIC, which insures individual depositors in the United States against losing their money in a bank’s collapse. Virtual Bank is designed to train auditors to detect fraud. Its goal is to teach new employees some of the lessons learned by now-retiring auditors who had worked during the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s. In the game, players interview personnel and examine documents as they search for a money trail that reveals insider fraud.

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As well as training the existing members of an organization, games can also be used to find new members. For its potential recruits, the U.S. Army offers America’s Army, a sophisticated first-person shooter that can be downloaded free or picked up on DVD at recruitment centers. Players establish virtual army careers and progress by accomplishing missions alongside other online players. Emphasis is placed on teamwork and obeying the rules of engagement. The game was first offered in 2002; the latest version, released in 2009, lets players train their characters to gain specialized skills and use current weapons and other equipment in a variety of scenarios that correspond to recent military experiences with urban warfare and insurgencies.

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IBM created CityOne as a way to engage current clients and lure prospective customers. In this browser-based game, the player works with a team of consultants to guide a city through a series of challenges facing the energy, water, retail, and banking sectors. Progress is reflected in scores that measure the business climate, citizen happiness, and population as the player balances investments in things such as smart-grid infrastructure and supply-chain management against capital and maintenance costs.

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Moonbase Alpha is the brainchild of NASA’s education program. In this free game, designed to teach the public about space exploration, the player assumes the role of an astronaut stationed at a small outpost on the moon. The outpost is struck by an asteroid, and the player has 20 minutes to repair the life-support systems that have been crippled by the impact. The game, which simulates reduced gravity and other aspects of the lunar environment, allows multiple solutions to the problem of saving the base; faster solutions are scored higher.

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