ECGC Conference: Serious Games to Effect Change

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At a 9am session in the East Coast Gaming Conference held in the Raleigh Convention Center, Phaedra Boinodiris spoke to the Serious Games Track audience about how Serious Games effect change.

ECGC Conference: Serious Games to Effect Change: The new business model in serious games

How the space is evolving and how we can use technology to evolve the space was started by Phaedra and a family member because no games were pointed or marketed to women. In fact, women were not encouraged to work in the industry. In the early days, the trend of ads and advertisements for video games began with families. Shortly thereafter, it starting to show only boys. This disenfranchised many women gamers. Once the Wii came out, more women and families began to be shown in commercials and advertisements. This prompted her to begin working in earnest to get back into gaming. Phaedra pursued her MBA to begin a business and get loans to get her business off the ground. In school at UNC, she worked on “case competitions”. This would allow students to come together with other colleges and pitch answers to real client issues. Her breakthrough project had to do with a problem business process management for IBM. She realized reading the papers provided that the problem was really just one of creating a proper strategy.

She pitched a video game to gauge, assess, and teach. The Vice President of IBM in attendence was interested in having a proof of concept to create a business process management game. He proceeded to grab her at the meeting, and request that she build and code a bpm simulator. Her first example INNOV8 was a call center environment. Character had to talk with employees and management and find out how the call center process was working. Required talking to people, and identifying issues and possible solutions. Suggested solutions could then be mapped out and used to determine their effectiveness. It was a hit, and she was hired. this was the innov8 engine.

innov8 2.0 was built to teach marketing tools for clients and business. it was an even bigger success, and IBM sales were enormous.

CityOne was her next roject, a smarter planet game. It was a simulator for a city with challenges. How can you effect change in a city systems? What steps might be needed to make an electric car for a smarter grid. How can we use games to explain the things we already do? With the success of this item, fast company listed them as a top serious games company

Working examples of current serious games include:

  • civilization for sustainability
  • fold-it for process options and complex problem solving
  • WOW for talent management
  • Eve online for strategy
  • Tetris to teach PTSD
  • Candy Crush for recruitment

So, how can you leverage games for management? Everyone wants it cheaper, faster, and customized for their businesses. That is the real opportunity for gaming businesses.. 99% of companies use their dollars for professional development, with a special focus on skills training. Games can be used to train individuals to do specific tasks quickly and often encourage them to try again if they fail (perform emergency surgery, fly a helicopter, etc.). Once you can create a game which can include real data, you can integrate strategic execution, teaching a skill and optimizing learning.

Last year, HR summits across the globe began focusing closely on serious gaming. Serious Gaming has some obvious advantages for HR. It is:

  • rapid dev
  • tested mechanics
  • inexpensive
  • sclable
  • visulal
  • engaging
  • repeat play
  • real data

How can you deliver on that?

We know you have built components that can be reused and repurposed. The future of game design is MODULAR design. Companies are outsourcing parts of games that are not ancillary to their business. Its same with software development. This is not a new trend.

Building modular components for your games and your designs allows you to sell not only your game, but also the pieces of the game. It would not be unthinkable that the pieces of what makes your game great might also be used by other games to make them great.

BLUEMIX- cloud based offering

What if your game could leverage Business Process Management Software? After innov8 2.0 — a game for marketing— was built, Dept of Defense became interested in their work. She presented her software at an enterprise architecture conference, and she was invited to present to the department of defense. They asked “How can we vet our playbook to be able to visualize the complexity of the situation, collaborate with one another, and communicate about issues well before boots are on the ground, and dollars are invested?” She presented a similar set of ideas to attack the problems she had been shown. She posited to them the idea of a game in which the actions and their reverberations could be shown.

“There is a confluent of gaming engines out there,” she noted “a deluge of data available to us at all times, and the ability to include this data in the game.”

She was asked after the even if she could show a game to demonstrate how they might affect an experience like logistics for getting aid to a country like Haiti in the midst of takeover or natural disaster.

She knew of a designer who had built a Resequencing engine for the game Achron (find at: ). The game allows players to go forward and backward in time. The engine was usable for process invitation. People can play the main characters or the adversary (could be manmade disasters such as alqueda, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, etc). As you play, you are effecting process change.

Could our team use this for commanders to optimize missions for platoons to examine and try again? With out team, we were able to integrate real data and make adjustments in real time. So one scenario could be played again and again, and different iterations might have topographical changes, troop and boat positioning differences, and natural disasters or uprisings that could be triggered at the hands of a secondary team or player. Teams could go head-to-head with real updating.

This was such a success they also requested the creation of another game called PointRecon for recon analysis, that worked in a similar way.

In healthcare, BreakAway Games created Code yellow, a hospital process optimization game. Certifications were needed to keep hospitals up to date. Most customers enjoyed a game in which a fictional hospital was setup and participants effected process change to assure that they received their certifications and training. However, not all were satisfied. Many wanted to see their own data reflecting in the game, not canned games, but their own hostpital numbers data and floorplans. They approached Phaedra and IBM to find out: “Can we base this on a service, piping information through the cloud?” This would allow them to create a modularized system into which The game hooks into hospital data fields and online records and floorplans.


Watson (the computer AI) looks at a question and gives answers with a percentage of confidence (see jeopardy, and the book 4D gaming with Watson). Watson was experimentally placed with a simulations similar to CityOne. Using a city plan, watson can react to placements of fire stations, etc. Rules are created PRIOR to game launch, and Watson can work within those rules to create challenging gameplay. Imagine the rules integrated with Watson on a broader scale, or within YOUR game. Rather than a developer setting every mission, an artificial intelligence can take city data and codes into account before on real historic data, etc. what will that mean for defense, public policy, etc. What if scenarios can really help build a city more efficiently?

City Resilience Game

What if your game had real analytical computer engine behind it? Serious games are good for assessing your work personality and leadership. Kenexa is the standard IBM process for assessing potential employees. The project gives a multipage assessment upon completion. How you approach the task tells them about you and how you work individually and in a team environment. The future of HR is in analytics.

Workright created the game: The Guardian Angel. Biofeedback and sensors were integrated into clothes and helmets. These items of work uniform (helmeted sensors, clothing with GPS and biofeedback) were used to locate persons on the construction jobsite to note how their bodies reacted when in certain zones, how and where they traveled in the site, and how their bodies reacted to area of the jobsite. It is interesting to find out how your analytics might gauge biofeedback to help create a safe work environment and process change.

What if your game had a social wrapper?

The Next Grand challenge is to see how larger companies and systems can leverage social tools in their business enviroment. IBM’s Grand Challenge leveraged social tools to leverage worker participation. This materials was covered pretty heavily last year. Find the article: ECGC: Gamified Talent Management: Using RPG design to motivate employees and redefine work.


Bluemix is a platform specifically built for gaming. The need for this system comes directly from students and business owners who have an idea to get a game off the ground but may not have the ability to purchase all the front-end work, or may have a great component and no way to bring it to the market.

Monetize their IP. Build your market and win together. Developing on bluemix can be built as a web service. Integrate your service or game with other services, and then sell it. 130 million people play with IBM services. (here she talks about working with IBM as a business partner)

Bluemix is made on SOFTLAYER ( cloudant ). Thursday you can sign up to meet with a bluemix consultant. The Watson incubator lead will be looking for projects to fund new materials. See games at


If I’m a small studio, why is this interesting to me?
If you don’t have the bandwidth or funding to make your own AI, bandwidth, etc. BLuemix is pay as you go, and has a free trial. Use their services to meet enterprise-level clients without having to spend up front.

Success metrics: what can you plug in to give back to clients:
What are the success metrics? What do I need to show? When you build your own platform, you need to integrate into that platform how to cough up those metrics at any time. Bluemix has those capabilities already built into the system and they can be adjusted live.

Without a client, will I have to make my own use cases? There are wide ways to go about this. You might break into groups of participants or not. Bluemix has built-in analytics and that can be used.

Business and gamification. Those who ignore this… where do you see them going?
Few notes: a large trough of disillusionment on gamification. because points, badges and leaderboards are enough to cause change. But it fails. Those who go about this the right way find work attitude, process, and participation go up. I suggest you read this book on motivation THE BOOK DRIVE. What motivates us is a sense of self-direction. I encourage you to read the book and think about if the book is giving them mastery, purpose, self-direction, etc. you really want this to be as engaging and enjoyable as possible

You talk about fast turnaround times. How big were your teams?
innov8 and DOD games. innov8: 1-3 months per iteration. Teams of 7 part-time people. Artist, sound, etc. For large data-integration and AI-integration, they aren’t ready to integrate. We create a canned diversion of this. As data sets become available, different iterations will change. With a cloud model, times have drastically increased. However, we can’t wait a year for the military to have ISIS training. How can you create a game that changes and is customized with new data in a modular design environment? Only through integration of live data, and that is what makes Bluemix and cloud data integration so exiting.

how does bluemix work with twitter?
What are people saying about the game? Learn more at the bluemix booth.

As a teacher, what within bluemix would be valuable?
We will have an academic initiative, but its coming slowly. To leverage a free trial, join the academic roster. Then you’ll be able to find out as soon as possible when that’s available.

Learner metrics with bluemix.
Kenexa team will be looking to move onto bluemix. Once that is integrated, you’ll be able to find many ways to use our HR metrics.

Using Watson would compromize gameplay because no programmer could be involved. However, no programmer can access all info fast enough. Watson is really to mirror the real environment, because that’s what we want. In gaming, Watson could be an advisor for the gamer. If you have certain players, what is the best gameplay methods to win? Can Watson recognze patterns and advise in real time? If you could use a game to teach Watson faster, that would be fantastic.

Phaedra Boinodiris is the Global Lead for Serious Games and Gamification at IBM