Corporate Trainers Turn to Video Games

Technology first made popular in the video gaming landscape is poised to enter the enterprise by powering training and other tools that can help companies cut costs, meet the needs of younger workers and help fulfill "green IT" requirements, according to Forrester Research Inc.

Forrester said several companies are starting to evaluate what it calls serious games, defined as "the use of games or gaming dynamics not simply to entertain the player, but rather to inspire a particular action, effect some type of attitudinal/behavioral change or instill a particular lesson in the service of an organizational goal."

The Forrester report, released this month, notes that major companies like Johnson & Johnson, Volvo and Hilton Hotels are using such "serious gaming" tools to train employees for various tasks.

"This is really a story of ... hitting this [younger generation of workers] where it lives as well as speaking to some of the issues like the desire of workers to bring personal technology to the workplace and the need to be more environmentally and cost conscious in IT decisions," said T.J. Keitt, a Forrester researcher and an author of the report.

The report, called "It's Time to Take Games Seriously," notes that many IT departments are already leaning on emerging technologies like virtualization and videoconferencing tools to help meet corporate demands to use less energy. As IT departments become more comfortable with those technologies, they are willing to turn to video games to help reduce employee training and education expenses, Forrester noted.

Keitt acknowledged that the use of gaming technology in corporate settings does face some challenges. First off, he noted, many companies may be put off by the impression of using "games" to conduct serious tasks.

In addition, proving the business worth of using games internally may be tough for some IT managers, according to the report. "For those deploying games, [deciding] whether their target audience internalized the lesson instead of just becoming good at playing the game is paramount," the report noted.

"Proving the efficacy of a game for a particular business depends on the goal of the game. For something as straightforward as training, it is important to tie the goals of the game to a particular outcome," it noted.

For example, Hilton's Garden Inn customer service game, called "Ultimate Team Player," is tied to a loyalty and customer satisfaction survey that guests complete at the end of their stay, Forrester noted.

Finally, Keitt noted that for serious games to flourish, companies must understand how they are different from virtual worlds like Second Life. "A lot of the technology is similar to virtual worlds," he added. "There has been a tendency among some to confuse a game with those persistently existing virtual environments. A game is a purposeful act where you solve some particular problem and move on versus this open-ended environment where you can do any number of things."

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