7 Lessons learned from modern gaming

It’s all about the reward

The learning industry is in a state of flux right now, with an ever greater focus on how we can shape learning methods to provide better outcomes for learners.

This is largely driven by the convergence of the growing understanding of both learning science and technology capabilities. Never before could we have conceived of delivering individual learning programmes tailored to the daily needs of both the business and the learner.

Big trends at the moment include blended learning, mobile learning, micro learning and gamification – the last of which is the subject of this piece.

Why is gaming relevant to eLearning?

It’s time for a confession at this point, I love playing computer games. I have done since I was about 7 years old when Pacman was released by Namco. 5

At that time the only reward mechanism for players was the hope of their initials appearing on the high score table for other players to see. Much of the current gamification of learning appears to be at this stage right now, and I think a great deal can be gained from examining how reward methodologies have changed in gaming over the past 30 years.

For those not familiar with modern gaming, game makers often employ a “micro reward” methodology to encourage commitment from players for many tens or even hundreds of hours. The player receives rewards for small achievements maybe as often as every few minutes. This happens both overtly through badges or rewards, and covertly through the structuring of the game narrative and cinematic sequences. For example, games in the “Bioshock” series demonstrate this perfectly with their use of short game play sequences dovetailed with compelling narrative – often whilst the player is actually completing the actions required.

Well done, you’ve just earned 50 XP for reading this far! But the story isn’t over yet…

Evolving beyond the basics

Independent developer Turtle Rock Studios recently released “Evolve” – an award winning 4 vs 1 multi-player game. In “Evolve”, one player takes the role of a powerful monster with four other players taking the roles of hunters (some of which you can see above). Each of the 4 different hunters has to be of a different “class” – medic, assault, support and trapper. Each “class” has a different purpose within the game, and only through close co-operation can the hunters hope to beat the monster.

“Evolve” takes the reward methodology a step further, with awards for mastery of each unique skill associated with the hunter/monster across all matches played, in addition to smaller goals that can be earned in a single match. For example, Hank has a unique skill that enables him to project a shield for a limited period of time protecting one of his teammates from harm. He has a goal of protecting his teammates using this shield from 200 points of damage in a single match, whilst another goal is to protect teammates from 10,000 points of damage overall. 3

After each match a series of animated infographics are displayed to the player clearly showing their progress along each of their current set of goals:

This allows the player to be rewarded for both the short term development and long-term mastery of a skill. In the player generally receives at least one reward each time they play.

To drive further long-term mastery of the skill each of the overall goals is tiered, so the first target might be 10,000 points and once achieved a new goal is set at 20,000, then 30,000 etc.

In the case of “Evolve” the learning curve for each character is quite steep, with almost certain failure when an inexperienced player participates in their first set of matches. Even set against the disappointment of defeat the player is rewarded for the use of their character’s abilities, so something is always gained.

How often is an eLearning assessment seen as an opportunity to fail, rather than to demonstrate what is mastered? As an illustration of this the basic two sets of measures for a SCORM eLearning course is complete/incomplete and pass/fail.

Ultimately any player mastering all of a character’s skills is rewarded with a badge that appears next to their name and a new “elite skin” which changes the appearance of their character in-game. This brings recognition within the Evolve gaming community.

I have experienced other recent game releases that on the surface appear to have similar reward structures, but set against the extremely diverse character roles and small team size it just feels more meaningful in Evolve.

Let’s get “serious”

It’s very easy to dismiss this as not being relevant to the learning sector, as participants in a game are at their core engaging in an activity because they deem it to be fun – but competition for the attention of gamers is fierce within the industry and long-term engagement is seen as critical to the overall commercial success of any game as it provides the opportunity to on-sell new expansion packs, playable characters or maps.

We are all at our most basic social creatures who have evolved and gained mastery of our environment through our unique abilities and working together. We have an in-built desire to feel we have achieved, while it is possible to recognise our own achievements, to be acknowledged by peers is for many the ultimate reward.

Our 7 rules

What we as a company have learned from “Evolve” and other games has guided the design features of the vLearning platform, in that:

1. All activities can gain the participant points

2. These points can be attributed to goals

3. On achievement of a goal the participant must be notified immediately of their progress

4. The participant must be able to view current progress toward each goal

5. The participant must be able to review past achievements

6. Even when failing to pass an assessment the participant should still be rewarded for having made an attempt as it is likely to have increased their understanding of where their weaknesses lie

7. The participant must be able to share their achievements with other community members


LMSs have adopted gamification techniques with mixed levels of success. Some have opted for tangible rewards for participation, others less so.
Successful online communities, whether they be in the field of knowledge sharing through discussion forums, social networking or gaming have an ethos of gaining approval or recognition from family, friends or peers.
It may be rash to jump to the conclusion that the best rewards are intangible, as it is possible that many participants perceive indirect tangible rewards for gaining recognition – but it does appear that this approach will motivate many, providing the goals are broken down into small enough steps, clearly expressed and achievement is clearly visible to the wider community.

About the author
Steve Mansell is the Chief Technology Officer and a driving force behind the technical architecture of the vLearning platform. He developed a keen interest in software at an early stage, passing his first programming exam at the age of 7! He’s passionate about learning and development and the benefits that leading edge technologies can bring to it.

When he’s not working, Steve loves spending time with his family, scuba diving, swimming and cooking – and gaming of course!

Follow Steve at vLearning Solutions on twitter @vLearningSlns

About vLearning Solutions
vLearning Solutions was formed with the sole aim of delivering the best in virtual learning using the latest innovative technologies.
We created the vLearning platform service to enable others to benefit from the knowledge, expertise and software systems that we have developed when delivering successful global training programmes for our global client base.
The vLearning platform takes all the features of an LMS (like lessons, tests, reporting, and schedules) and extends them with virtual classrooms, social learning, video content and web resources providing a single point of contact for distributed learning content.

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