Elearning games are a huge growth area with research suggesting the global market will reach $2.4 billion by 2018.
As more organisations explore their use within workplace training, the scope of elearning games is changing and expanding. Until recently, most of the elearning games we were being asked to create for businesses tended to focus on compliance needs such as information security training or social media policy. But we wanted to push the boundaries and explore what is possible with elearning games.
Can they work for soft skills or management and leadership training, for example?
So we set ourselves a challenge: create a management skills elearning game using interactive video. We learnt a great deal about the process, the pitfalls and the potential. Here are 11 tips to help anyone considering a similar project.
Assemble a multi-disciplined team
We quickly realised we would need a multi-disciplined team and that the project was too varied for one or two people to undertake on their own. We appointed a visual designer, writer/director, video director and games developer. We would obviously need a cast as well. We wanted everyone to have at least some input at the start of the project even if their specific skill set wouldn’t be required until the latter stages.
Create a strong narrative
It was clear that the story would need some tension or conflict so the learner could explore the pressure points and experience the consequences of various decisions within the narrative. Our story would involve a newly-appointed manager on their first day in the role, having to tackle an employee who was repeatedly late. This was the foundation and it was the job of the writer/director to define the plot, decide on the branching interactions, the outcomes and story resolutions. Ours was a single narrative but multiple scenarios could have been added to increase the complexity and challenge.
Decide who will tell the story
As soon as the story was agreed we needed to decide who would tell it. Would the POV be first person, third person or even fly on the wall? We chose first person so we could put the learner at the heart of the action and allow them to experience events rather than witness them. Our aim was to make the learner feel like a participant in the conversations rather than a passive observer.
There was also the challenge of deciding what to do about the ‘voice’ of the first person protagonist, given that this was a story about a difficult conversation. We decided against a physical voice so we could maintain gender neutrality. In our story, the learner’s actions would be phrased as choices so it was their decision which effectively acted as a voice.
Consider branch mapping
During script development, we managed the complexity of the story by using branch mapping. All possible situations and combinations were put on a big board and we drew lines between them and all end outcomes. This helped us to keep track of the different paths of the narrative and the possible combinations depending on the learner’s decisions.
Build an interactive Storyboard
The next stage was to build a working mock-up in Storyline (although you could use any authoring tool). This showed all the branching scenarios and allowed the game to be played before anyone picked up a camera. It proved a really important step which flushed out any bugs in the game logic and flow, and gave the whole team a chance to test out the unfolding of events and outcomes.
Find a good cast
The cast would need to be comfortable on camera, learn lines quickly, be able to take direction and adjust their performance as required. It’s a lot to ask of amateurs so we would recommend using trained actors. But as this was a ‘proof of concept’ experiment we used our own staff who delivered a credible performance.
Choose the right options for filming
Given our decision to tell the story in the first person, we needed to shoot the action from the learner’s point of view. We choose a chest-mounted GoPro camera with lapel mics. We used natural light and shot in our own offices as this was a ‘proof of concept’ project. We got adequate material but the quality of sound and images were variable. If we were creating a game for a client, we would definitely recommend using a professional film crew.
Think about visual design
Right through the process we were thinking about the visual design and had an early idea of what we wanted so we could shoot the action accordingly. The idea was to create an intuitive navigation for the learner so the visual cues would need to be strong with as few words to read as possible. It should clearly feel like a game not an elearning module.
Don’t scrimp on post-production
Once all the filming was finished the next stage of the creative process could get underway. The best video clips were selected and edited as necessary. We had to do this relatively quickly as part of the time constraints of our trial but for a full-blown project more effort can be put into colouring and grading the clips to create the desired look and feel.
Add the magic in the game build
This is the moment where the project really came together and everything was assembled as part of the game build. Storyline proved a great tool in this instance as it is easy to use and flexible. We decided there would be no top or bottom score as the emphasis was on exploring management skills rather than collecting points. At the end of the game, the learner would be named a model manager, decision dodger, muddle manager or desktop dictator based on the choices they made.
We incorporated a timer for interactions which added to the game feel as well as the challenge. We included a rewind feature so the learner could change their approach and find out what would happen if they chose an alternative action.
One final word on collaboration – it proved essential. Unlike a ‘traditional’ elearning project, which often has a more linear process, this needed continuous collaboration throughout. There had to be a very dynamic process so problems could be ironed out as they occurred. We certainly learnt a lot from the process of creating an elearning game using interactive video. It has a lot of potential for organisations looking to try something new for training where people interactions are important.
Author: Louise Pasterfield, Managing Director, Sponge