Serious Games International, Singapore

As the popularity of casual and mobile gaming continues to grow so too does interest in research around how games could be used to improve our daily lives. Serious games are games that have been designed with a primary purpose other than entertainment. Business, education and health related organizations are beginning to recognise that the framework and experience of games can be harnessed to address specific problems in the real world.

Acknowledging the growing importance and interest in serious games within the region, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) initiated a strategy in late 2009 to promote the industry in Singapore. In order to capitalise on the experience of an organisation already well established in the area, MDA contacted the Serious Games Institute UK (SGIUK) based within Coventry University. Established in 2007, SGIUK’s portfolio includes research projects on serious games, mobile applications, 3D animation and virtual worlds.  This research has lead to the development of products that are widely used in the areas of clinical training, obesity awareness, disaster and emergency planning, and sexual health awareness in the UK.

Last year MDA and SGIUK announced a joint call-for-proposals in serious games, inviting established UK companies to setup or collaborate with Singapore-based games and learning companies who would then receive mentorship from SGI in the areas of game design, research and development. This catalyst for collaboration was also designed to extend serious gaming from predominantly education into new sectors such as healthcare and corporate learning. As a result of the linkage provided by SGIUK, two UK companies, Roll7 and Pixelearning, have already started projects in Singapore, and Pixelearning is even in the process of establishing a Singapore development centre.

Seeing the great support that Singapore has to offer to the serious games industry, and the tremendous opportunities within the Asian region, SGIUK also decided to establish a direct presence in Singapore, via a locally incorporated private company.  Officially opened in October 2011, Serious Games International (SGI) is a private company with an office at Block 71, Ayer Rajah Crescent. Singapore is the first location outside of the UK to host an SGI Overseas Development Centre. Chris Quek, Director of SGI Singapore, notes that serious games are very different from their casual entertainment cousins in the video game world. “Serious games are games that serve a purpose other than pure entertainment. Typical areas of application include health care, education, marketing, corporate training, and tourism,” he said. “We are open to collaborations with local universities in research activities and innovation. We are also keen to commercialize some of the serious game technologies and products created in the UK.”

Teddy’s Chocco Shop (courtesy of SGI Singapore and FrontSquare).

Since its inception, SGI Singapore has already work on some industry projects. Front Square from Dublin, Ireland is a company working in the area of game-based learning. It partnered with SGI Singapore to develop Teddy’s Chocco Shop, a training program designed to teach employees the basics of lean manufacturing. I played a couple of rounds and found the gameplay quite familiar, reminding me of other casual games with a customer order component like Gogo Sushi. As Quek, a former educator himself, points out: “That’s exactly the idea. The game should be easy and engaging, but with learning elements introduced at the right moments,” he said.

A core strength of serious games is the opportunity to present and structure content in an innovative way compared to traditional training models. Front Square CEO and Co-Founder Geoff Beggs said, “Typically my clients have at least 500 employees and are in the manufacturing industry. Using games can be a much more engaging and sustainable way of training staff over traditional methods. The employees are able to learn by doing and feel free to make mistakes in a safe environment.” There are many opportunities for serious games in the corporate training industry, but as Beggs notes the greatest challenge is to “Find the balance between scalability and customisation”. However, early stage alpha testing has produced encouraging results and Teddy’s Chocco Shop is about to begin beta trials with a large client in Canada.

But it’s not just an understanding of processes and procedures that serious games can impart. With a technical background and experience in the IT, mobile and startup industries, Quek believes that serious games can also facilitate the development of soft skills within organisations. “Virtual worlds can play a very interesting role in new ways of teaching and learning. [They can] teach things like EQ and skills in communication, management, critical problem solving and collaboration. These kinds of soft skills are extremely hard to teach in a consistent manner in real life, with virtual worlds, new dimensions and possibilities are opened up”.  In fact, Quek’s team has already started building a prototype of a multi-user game in a 3D virtual world, designed to teach such soft skills.

Is your next CEO a Blood Elf? Games can provide new models for leadership and teamwork (image courtesy of World of Warcraft Cataclysm).

There is a growing demand for employees with well-developed soft skills or “21st century skills” and gaming environments offer a host of advantages to develop and nurture these attributes including digital interfaces that enhance communication through voice and text chat, multi-media platforms, real time feedback, progress tracking and leveraging social networks. In fact, a few years ago researchers published their findings on leadership in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft in the Harvard Business Review. They concluded, “Leadership in online games offers a sneak preview of tomorrow’s business world. In broad terms, that environment can be expected to feature the fluid workforces, the self-organized and collaborative work activities, and the decentralized, nonhierarchical leadership that typify games. In more specific terms, we found several distinctive characteristics of leadership in online games that suggest some of the qualities tomorrow’s business leaders will need in order to achieve success.” Some of these characteristics included risk taking and the ability to work quickly and efficiently.

As organisations struggle to engage their employees and customers in a world full of distractions in constant competition for our attention, serious games provide a real opportunity for users to engage and interact with content and organisations, in an interactive and meaningful way.

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