Serious games have been on the agenda for a while. Disruptive learning solutions is a new technology company focussed that wants to take them one step further by creating video games for the business training marketplace. They are working in a number of areas including leadership and teamwork training. They created one of the first mobile games in medicine which is an emergency room interviewed Toby Coop who is the founder of that company to understand better how gaming could be used in education. While we were at it, he explained his strategy and his vision for the future of gaming in training.
From Serious Games to Gaming as a Service for Education
So the idea is that you can teach people serious things through gaming, isn’t it?
That’s perfectly right. We’re beginning to realise that the gaming world is not just a means of entertainment. But what we’re starting to understand as well is that good design in the gaming world involves setting a series of challenges for the participants in such a way that they have to learn.
And in fact, coming from the bottom of the competitive side of the gaming world to the top requires a feat of training expertise which is the equivalent in the physical sports world.
You’re based in Paris. And your product is called CINQ, which means five
What you’re looking at is five collaborators, five members of the team who have to go and get something from a secret laboratory at the bottom of the building. But to do that they are given a minimum amount of information but enough to plan what they have to do. And they have to work through something like 40 to 50 obstacles that test their ability to collaborate, make rapid decisions, deal with failure and test their teamwork and leadership to solve problems.
So how do you design a game like this? I suppose it’s bespoke for each kind of training that you do?
You have to understand the problem first. The technology is just a tool. We’ve worked on the teamwork for over six years. We worked through trial and error. The first idea we came up with was to imagine somebody who has a view with the maze and that somebody has to guide somebody through the maze. But the other person is blind or has some sort of difficulty in the way that they think and they can’t see the overall picture.
Just take that principle and add five people and a set of predicaments in the game and suddenly you’ve changed the challenge. And the real difference is that you are not just sitting in a classroom where you’re just discussing theoretically how you’re going to lead the team or how are you going to manage how they work.
Here you are, faced with the practical problem of doing it. And the feedback is you fail or you win. But here when we talk about failure the key essence as to what we call forward failure or forward error. That is that by making a mistake it’s a learning point that allows you to come back and adapt what you’re doing and move forward as if you were doing something serious.
The only way that you know you’ve done something wrong when learning how to drive is when you crash the car. And you are sanctioned if you do something wrong. If you are in a game there are no sanctions. How do you make it sound serious to the participants?
What we’ve discovered when we were working with the teams is that their sense of presence within the game and the sense of role play is such that they feel like they are in a real situation. In a flight simulator for example when an aircraft crashes they almost feel physically and psychologically the same as if it had happened for real. So what we now know from studies is the emotions that take place.
So for example as in many games, you jump off a cliff and you land at the bottom, you experience the same sensations as if you did that in real life. Now that’s a physical sensation but it is also accompanied by a psychological sensation.
Let’s take healthcare simulations with dummies as an example. These simulations allow you to train in the way that you make decisions. But in terms of the actual impact of the failure, it’s different: the patient doesn’t die. So they’re able to retrain themselves again and again.
What matters most is whether technology solves a problem. Not everyone gets that.
Technologies have become cheaper and much more sophisticated, which allows us to publish much more quickly solutions across mobile across tablet and an across P.C. on even consoles. This means that we changed strategy about 18 months ago. Before, we would tailor make a solution for a client. Now we are about building a series of solutions that clients can rent from us. Now what we’re talking about is Games as a Service just like you have Software as a Service.
Who are the potential clients for this?
The biggest marketplace in the world for PC games is called Steam. Our ambition is to create a series of games for it that provides content that anybody can use. So do you just come in and you rent it and the cost is, for four or five players, for example, 25 euros per month.
Instead of fifty thousand dollars to solve one problem in one company anybody could come and use this product and they could use it on the server inside ou outside of their business.
Similarly, for the mobile game, we will have it distributed through standard stores for this kind of products.
Who is your primary customer?
One thing we have discovered, without being negative, is that HR have a real difficulty in working with innovative products because of their internal processes and the due diligence that finance imposes on them.
Our approach is horizontal rather than vertical. We are getting people interested in learning new skills and we’re coming horizontally at the business. So it’s very easy to distribute a link that allows people to download the game and play. That actually is a big change in the model of learning management systems.
Do you think that this kind of tools can be used in the hiring process as well?
Absolutely. One of the greatest difficulties in the recruitment industry is when people walk in with their CV and say “I’m an expert in soft skills leadership etc.”
Your only way of testing that is by a reference or by them talking to you or doing a powerpoint presentation. It’s not really a test. And whoever has been in the industry for a while knows that what’s on the CV and what you get in the interview is not necessarily what comes out the other end.
Using a vehicle like this means that you can pre-test the person and you can have them down to the last three showing their capabilities you can even shoot a video to show a real representation of this person leading.
What is your vision of potential future innovations in that space?
LMS systems are now commoditised. No matter how hard they try to say we are the Netflix of learning, they fail to understand what learners need. There’s a bigger growth in the self-learning marketplace than there is in the corporate marketplace because the corporate marketplace doesn’t actually provide products that employees are asking.
Google, Apple and other companies are now suggesting that you do not need a degree to be hired. If you have some form of qualification that certifies that you’ve done coding or you’ve got practical hands-on experience, you can get the job.
Similarly, in our type of video games, we are looking at the level of expertise that you have to show to be able to solve the problems as a team and be given awards and recognition for that. This is where we come into this idea of teamwork and leadership as an E sport for business, so that there is a ranking of your ability to solve these problems and work as a team.