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How to create successful serious games

The type of game is less important than the rules of the games themselves

Serious games could be seriously helpful for your organisation. Using the levers of game design such as competition or curiosity, these games enhance the motivation of participants to start, follow and complete tasks. They are applicable to a variety of professional situations such as education, training, assessment and recruitment.

At Grenoble Ecole de Management we have gamified the annual job fair. To help 120 candidates showcase themselves to recruiters from companies like Bloomberg, Oracle and Salesforce, the career centre has created three games.

Readers may already be familiar with one particular type of serious game: escape rooms. Participants have to work together and solve a series of clues to be able to break out of a locked room. Skills needed to succeed include analysis, problem solving and team working. Other games we use include building a prototype of a product, and a version of Guess Who? However, what we have found is the type of game is less important than the rules of the games themselves.

Four guidelines to creating successful serious games:

  1. Create a ‘magic circle’: Players must be able to try, fail and learn. The gamified context offers a protected environment that allows immersion and imagination. In essence it is not who wins that matters, but how you play.
  2. Empower candidates. An individual’s cognitive state is often over-stimulated, especially in a stressful situation such as an interview, and a candidate may feel less able to deal with a recruitment challenge even if they have the ability. Gamification uses the emotion to encourage participants to deal with a challenge. For example, a game could be organised to encourage collaboration or curiosity, which would give confidence to the participant about their ability to deal with complex tasks.
  3. Create dilemma. Candidates should be able to make decisions in non-well-defined situations by detecting and characterising key information, defining a range of scenarios, evaluating, and taking action. There is never only one good answer. Recruiters need to create dilemma, not simple quizzes.
  4. Reveal soft skills: During a recruitment process the company tries to evaluate skills, knowledge and behaviour. Everything could be gamified. However, is it relevant to invest time and money to gamify something that we can detect with more classical techniques, for example knowledge and skills? Games seem especially interesting when used to reveal soft skills: empathy, mindfulness and critical thinking for example.

L’Oreal gamified recruitment processes

Each year L'Oréal receives thousands of applications, with strong interest in marketing and communication positions. It wanted to attract candidates to other roles and promote other potential careers within the group.

Launched in January 2010 the game Reveal was available free online, and connected with the player's Facebook profile. The player undertook a mission in an area such as logistics or finance and, in doing so, better understood the diversity of the group's activities. Moreover, the results obtained in the game could affect the recruitment process. Players – mainly young graduates – obtaining the highest scores were invited to L'Oréal's headquarters in Paris for a meeting that promised to be the beginning of the recruitment process. Of the 4,500 young graduates who finished the game 185 were recruited.

Helene MIchel is professor of gamification and innovation at Grenoble Ecole de Management