Gamify your 9 to 5: Design Games as a Business Tool

March 9, 202010min

Most of us have fond memories playing (or arguing) our way through a game of Monopoly with the family or bringing together a group of friends for a game night.

That said, few people would associate the term “board game” with business, although gamification has the ability to bring people together to discuss challenges in an objective way, and to enable participation of a variety of stakeholders.

Additionally, the ‘out of the ordinary’ setting of a game creates a more relaxed and informal environment, which fosters learning, creativity, and idea generation. It is therefore unsurprising that design games are increasingly being adopted by organisations as a method for meeting business objectives, especially related to co-creation and collaboration.

Design games are tools which are created for a specific context and purpose, e.g. building consensus, training, or project planning. The purpose, as well as the research during the game planning phase, influence the look and feel of the design game and the types of prompts/artefacts which are used.

However, they include a physical ‘board’, game pieces, cards (e.g. question or ‘what if’ cards), profiles (e.g. different types of customers), and future scenarios. These prompts help trigger ideas and reactions and help players approach a topic from multiple perspectives, while game rules help maintain a focus and downplay potential power-relations and contradictions between interests, improving collaboration.

Hellon has created a large number of tailored design games for a variety of organisational contexts and aims such as: training and development, project planning, future scenario building, embedding strategy, and facilitating ideation. Irrespective of their context, design games can have a massive impact in a business setting, whether through developing new innovations or improving internal processes.

The benefits of gamification in a business setting

Making the unknown tangible: Design games can present a variety of potential future scenarios which help ground future alternatives into reality. This enables discussion around future opportunities and challenges, to guide e.g. policy making.

A recent example of a ‘futures’ game includes the Nordic Urban Mobility 2050 game Hellon created for Nordic Innovation. The game presents a number of scenarios for what the future might look like in 2050 when it comes to mobility (transport modes, infrastructure, energy) and acts as a conversation starter for municipalities, businesses, and policy makers. It facilitates co-creation and consensus-building on how to meet future mobility needs in urban cities.

Gamification promotes creativity: Design games are visual and playful tools, which facilitate exploration and idea generation. Most people like to work in the safe field of knowledge, which unfortunately limits innovation.

Through the prompts and artefacts of a game, people are enabled to improvise, question habits, and consider different perspectives, giving rise to ideas which might not even have been thought of before.

Facilitating ideation and co-creation: Through gamification, organisations are able to participate a wide range of customers in the planning of new services or gain their support in coming up with new ideas.

The City of Helsinki, for example, used a design game created by Hellon to enable citizens to generate ideas on how an annual citizen-allocated budget should be spent. The Participatory Budgeting Game concretises budgeting for players, which enables a more varied group of people to participate and helps people come up with ideas using cards as prompts.

The game resulted in an unprecedented number of ideas on how the City of Helsinki could be improved, out of which a selection was shortlisted and then voted on by citizens.

Learning through playing: Design games can be used as engaging and inspirational tools for learning. The hands-on approach of a game, as well as a relaxed environment, opens up the field for discussion and thinking outside of the box, enabling people to show their personality and participate to a much higher extent than traditional lecture-based learning.

Hellon created a design game to support personalised and engaging training at Stockmann, a large department store chain in the Nordics and Baltics. The Diamond Game presents salespeople with various scenarios through a board game and cards, which allows them to use their own personal approach as a starting point, followed by suggestions on how to improve their skills without losing their personal traits. The game is also taught through a train the trainer methodology, which allowed the game to be used to train over 3,000 salespeople (see main image).

Building a common language: Design games create a common language in multi-disciplinary teams who may use similar terms but mean different things by them.

Games concretise the meaning behind the words and generate a common understanding of the language which is used. This is particularly useful in, for example, training customer service teams or embedding a new strategy, which was the focus for a development discussion game Hellon created for Airpro, a company providing aviation services across a range of Finnish airports.

The game set a structure for development discussions, but also supported the grounding of a new strategy by engaging employees to think about how to manifest the strategy in their specific roles.

The game as a safe space: Design games allow participants to step out of their ordinary working day and, because people associate games with play, encourage a more relaxed and informal setting. This enables people to speak out, even on difficult and sensitive topics.

The focus is on the game and its outcomes, rather than on any specific person. As a result, it is easier to explore various feelings and ideas and to think of the “art of the possible”.

Design games are fun: We recently heard a conversation between two designers, who discussed the outcomes of a design game which had been introduced in a large UK public sector organisation. In addition to a variety of business outcomes, one of the unexpected results of the project was that the process of playing the game was seen as very enjoyable.

In the world of spreadsheets and reporting, why shouldn’t we embrace an element of fun into our working lives – especially when the benefits attached are plenty?


Christa Holmborg

Christa Holmborg

Christa Holmborg is Business Development and Project Manager at Hellon. Christa firmly believes that the successful businesses of the future are built on relevance, transparency, and truly placing customers at the heart of development.




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