Podcast 37: How we took a top grossing mobile game and are making it into a recruitment, onboarding and learning solution

Welcome to this week’s a question of Gamification. My name is An Coppens, I’m the show host and the CEO of Gamification Nation. This week we will follow on from our podcast from last week where we discussed how you could use Monopoly or a board game of any kind as inspiration for your game design for work solution.

How to take inspiration from top-grossing games for serious purposes?

The question we’re answering today is how can top-grossing games be the inspiration for your solution, for your game based solution, basically?

To give you an idea, the client that we’re working with is operating in one of the Asian markets. We are under a strict NDA, so I cannot disclose the people or the kind of company it is, but I can give you some context.

Step 1: user research

It’s an Asian facing client or audience that we’re targeting and what they wanted to do was come up with something that would work for their recruitment, onboarding and learning, both learning for the first time as well as continuous development in the workplace. Now we did research and that’s always the first port of call for us when we have a new client, is we do research in the target audience to find out, what motivates them? What motivated them to join the company? What motivates them to learn? What motivates them to think of improving their career? What motivates them to show up every day and do a good day’s work? We basically ask a lot of questions around that. We also ask questions because we were looking at a game based solution of some sort, to solve all the problems of recruitment, on-boarding and learning in the organisation.

For that purpose we also want to know what are the types of games people were playing and the most topical game and also the top-grossing game at the time, it was a mobile online battle arena game. Now a mobile online battle arena game is like a multiplayer game, but played on mobile. You join a team, it’s five against five, two teams against each other and you play different characters in the team. Out of a team of five there are some roles that each of the team members need to take. Some are much more driven towards, let’s say fighting and attacking. Others are much more support positions and people with more devious attack strategies, et cetera. So in the game you have typically different characters. One of the things that you need to do is battle true to defense towers or your opponent’s team. So two teams are attacking each other effectively and what you’re trying to do is capture the other one’s castle, so to speak, or the main tower.

Now the way to do that is to go into attack, but also to strategically use all the helpers in the field successfully, all your boosting power successfully and basically attack from the position of strength with your team. So it involves a lot of teamwork. It involves quite a bit of learning and it involves understanding what are the important parts for your character, but also the important things to learn in the game.

Because it was mobile and I would say this, if you are aiming at an Asian audience, you would also always have to consider mobile first pretty much because the networks in Asian markets are mobile first as opposed to in Europe and US where you have a lot of desktop first applications and desktop still being the main tool of communication in business. Now that’s not to say that this is not the case in the Asian markets, but in Asia the use of mobile is much wider, much more accepted and much more prevalent and in your face than let’s say in other markets in the world.

Step 2: Recognising requirements

We know we needed to come up with a mobile solution and we wanted to model it off a mobile game. Now a mobile brings in a quite an interesting piece of gameplay and translates well to the world of work. First of all, teamwork. One of the things that’s important to the client is that people learn to work in teams and learn to behave in a manner that’s helpful to the team and their teammates. So that everybody hits targets and not just one individual, which is exactly the same in the mobile setup. The other reason why we said, okay, we can probably work with the mobile, is that we could set a battle arena up with different stations where knowledge or quests were built would result into something or testing a skill better that’s relevant to the job.

So whether that’s a scenario, whether that’s a puzzle, a quiz, a knowledge test of sorts to show, “Okay, are you able to do this? How good are you?” We wanted to basically let the learning being the driver of success and battling with knowledge as opposed to battling with pure weapons. So what we working on in and what we’re doing at the moment is basically distilling where in the game we effectively marry knowledge, recruitment and onboarding quests into the game so that it makes sense. How can we make sure that we hit the targets that the organization wants us to achieve, but also how can we make it as much fun as possible for the players to play.

Step 3: Game design process

If we work backwards to our conversation from a week ago, and what are the key ingredients for a good game, one of the things we looked at, the genre, the type of game. So teamwork is important to the clients. So therefore the team battle does work, allowing people to also have individual battles. So there is a mode that we’re working on which allows for individual battles. So that was also important. We also wanted there to be a strong link to something that the people knew, something that they’re already interested in playing, which is why we went with the top grossing game in the app store at the time and we modeled off that.

So the characters in our game are loosely inspired by the mobile game, but also loosely inspired by personality profiling tools that were used within the organization so that we could match more or less and it’s not a 100% scientific and not a 100% exact. Based on let’s say an initial profiling game, we basically matched the person with a recommended player to start off with. Then we send them into a team where ideally you balance the team with a number of people from different skillsets and different personality profiles.

Then when you go into battle, some of the first things you’d need to do is obviously learn how to play the game, which is traditional in all the games that you can possibly play. So we have a tutorial which teaches them about game play, which teaches them about how the game will work. Then we have a narrative. Now we wanted the narrative to reflect the future and to reflect that, can you be the employee of the future? Can you battle the challenges of what’s coming to us in our future years? So there’s a bit of a narrative around that. The characters are loosely inspired, as we said by personality profiles and we linked them to animals so that we kind of disassociated from let’s say the typical office stereotypes that could exist. So we wanted to make sure it was free of office stereotypical behavior.

How did we want players to feel? We want players to feel that the game is fun and that they’re learning unbeknownst to themselves. So now there’s a lot of, yes we are taking challenges. Yes we are getting better, but we are doing it as part of gameplay as opposed to, I’ve got to take this course or I’ve got to take this onboarding challenge or recruitment challenges. So we wanted to be as much fun as possible and we also want to show to people that they are actually progressing in the game. So we do have what’s in-game terms, is the heads up display or in layman’s terms it’s like a dashboard that shows you how you’re progressing towards your skills. So we have regular items like that in the game and different prompts to make you improve and make you get better.

In terms of what makes the game or what were the critical game mechanics that were in it. So obviously the mobile layout, so if you’ve ever played on mobile or a multiplayer online battle arena game and there are some on the market, so if you’ve played League of Legends, maybe Dota or Mobile Legends or any take of such games, then you know that most of these games have a very specific field with lanes. There’s typically an upper lane and a down lane and a middle lane. In each of the lanes, you have different points where you have to battle. We kept the battle stations. The way of battling is through your character having the typical an axe, spears, the regular things that you would see in battle games, but you upgrade your character through knowledge and you win battles through knowledge and then you adapt and you use what you’ve gained in knowledge into better-equipped gameplay, better-equipped team, etc. The ultimate game to win and the ultimate final takedown of the opposite site’s tower is purely knowledge-based and it’s a team effort.

Everyone in the team is asked to take part. So having a team with wide areas of interests and good knowledge across a number of topics is always helpful. Plus people that are actually committed to doing their bit for the team. So we measure peer-to-peer feedback on how you played and how good of a team player you were. But we also measure your progress in terms of topics, in terms of learning and then your resilience in how often do you come back, how willing are you to try new things. So we set up a number of measurables that were important to the client and basically they include things like you trying again, repeating things, practising things like how quick are you to take up a new skill, how quick are you to try a new tool. So there is a number of measures that they would also have in let’s say, their performance management framework internally, which help you to upgrade and level up as a player.

Step 4: adapt the game to suit the serious purpose of the game

Can you use top grossing games as inspiration? Absolutely. You can. The only I suppose held warning I would say to give with that is that you may have to tweak and change some of the core design quite significantly for it to work in the context that you’re playing with. And I would also say that you also have to be mindful that not everybody in the company will be playing that game. The majority may. Find out if that is 60, 70% that plays, a 30, 40% that doesn’t play that specific game but instead typically plays other games or doesn’t play at all. So you need to make sure to your gameplay is also accessible for them. So we have included some extra tutorials and also an area where none of the in-game pressure is there for people to practice so they can learn the game do better as they go, so need to be inclusive.

The other things that we’re mindful of are the size of the game because as, as we did research, we also said, okay, what makes you download something? What would you stop, see downloading? And some of the main points were around bandwidth around how much data it would use and how long it takes to download something. So those are very practical considerations to take into account. So if we look up the narrative, the narrative worked for the organisation, the characters also worked for the organization. We have made them disassociate with humans so that we wouldn’t feel that anybody would be pigeonholed, which is why we used animals as a Dick counter and we didn’t want to go with the fantasy fiction character results are typical in in a battle arena game. So we want it to be different enough so that people would see it as a, as something fun to explore from.

How do they win? You still need to beat the server of the opponents and the tower or the server. We called it the server. And in order to beat the tower, it’s based on how well you know, the knowledge, not the company needs you to know and how well you perform that in the short space of time, which was mimicking some of the work that your organization does. On a day to day basis. So it’s a lifelike situation we could say. And we recreated that into a battle arena game. How do players feel wonder winning? When they’re winning, they basically, obviously you feel like it’s a team effort and hopefully the whole team feel like they have been able to contribute and win. They also feel that it was a challenge. So it wasn’t so super easy that you know, you could do it in your sleep.

And it was interesting for both people that play Boston arena games and people that don’t so that the new people to the team could also feel like they could contribute. What did the losers feel? A bit of remorse that they didn’t try harder and the sort of the urge to try again and take up the challenge again so that they’d try again to, to play a new game and I suppose to do better. And I’d known their topics better over time and comp to, to when the next time there is an element of balancing skill in understanding mobile game play on skill in understanding the knowledge not the company wants to transfer. And that’s basically why we selected a mobile game. But also it’s also where the challenge lies for us as designers to make it work. So it’s not that easy to achieve.

And bringing somebody along on that journey is also proving to be an interesting challenge. We know that’s from a learning perspective, the thinking is sound. So bringing a client on this journey is always interesting from our perspective because in effect you’re asking them to take a leap of faith into your ability. Translate let’s say complex business challenges into a game environment. And for us the challenge is also how can we make it so balanced that experienced players and inexperienced players will do well, but also people with little knowledge will be able to progress and dose with a lot of knowledge. We’ll be able to progress. So we’re looking at it from many angles and it’s, it’s a big journey of project like this takes usually about 12 months to complete. So it’s not a real quick fix and it also takes a bit of a leap of faith from the client organization to, to choose us and to stick with us and to help develop something into a meaningful, useful scenario for their workforce, for their potential employees and for their existing employees.

So hopefully in due course we will be able to share more on, especially when it goes live. We probably will share links [inaudible] that might be a good few months away if not longer. So if you are interested, let us know. If you want one of these things for your own organization, we definitely would be happy to talk to you. We can only take in a number of those a year cause they’re big projects and require a lot of resource time from, from all of us. So if you want this, be ready to go and be ready to embark on, let’s say a long term process. Open to bit of fates of jumping into the unknown. Because what we know from game design, we also know that most organizations are not yet accustomed to. Our agile way of working is also not as easy to understand for everyone. So if you want to do this in your company, be willing to take a bit of inspiration, but also be patient, work with and trust the process.

We know the process works. We have won awards with our work. We’ve won very good outcomes for our clients, so we know that we can do the job. It’s more a case of are you willing to trust us to deliver? And let’s hope that you come and talk to us for your potential multiplayer online battle arena game or something else completely based on a top grossing game that you believe your target audience loves and will engage with. So thank you for listening. If you have any questions, do please reach out and let us know and I’ll do my best to answer them.



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