Emerging Learning and Development Models: Part Seven

Distributed Gameworld Knowledge Structures


Mobile gameworlds are a big thing. Mobile games, including poker and other traditional designs, represent a market of over $5B annually from China alone, and as the figure below depicts, an even bigger market share in Japan. What is a mobile gameworld and how might it fit into the customer desirability matrix in training? At what point do we want to create an imaginary world, be it a city, a sales empire, a fantasy planet?

The answer is simple, whenever we want the player to return to the game to pursue their training with some measure of agency. We are going to take this powerful $12B industry and put it to work for us in training and education. And as our figure below shows, there is also an emerging e-sports market which shows us that competition is very big in this space. A well-designed gameworld.

A gameworld is an open exploration platform where the player is free to make choices and build in some way. Second Life is a gameworld but it is graphics-rich and not suitable for mobile users given realistic development budgets that our clients can provide. So we have designed gameworld apps which let the player learn through exploration. Exploration is fun and curiosity is a strong motivator. A distributed gameworld knowledge structure (should we create another acronym, DGKS?), is a way of integrating learning and exploration.

It is not that difficult to design the basic mechanic for such a game. Imagine you have a map which is all blanked out, what we call in game design, the “fog of war”. Now, in order to explore the map, such as turning right, you face a door which orders you to answer a question first. You do so and if you get it right, the door opens.

The exciting thing is that you do not have to teach the trainee anything at all first. You can simply have them explore, answer questions about content to enter each location and have them repeat that process in order to activate that node or gain in-game currency. You can set a limit on how many times they answer the question to receive in-game currency, such as no more than 3 times, or an upper limit of 10 times. That means they answer the question so many times that it becomes boring to them, rote.

As you set up progressive learning this way, they use exploration itself to learn. They do not use the game to motivate only, they use it to get the content. That is what is meant by a distributed (knowledge is located throughout the game “landscape”), gameworld (a fantasy world like an island or jungle, or city), knowledge (core content released) structure (a game mechanic that couples learning to exploration).

How do we score this and turn it into a game? We can have the user seek out artifacts or other objects in the game, which incentivizes them to explore. As they collect artifacts, these unlock access to new regions of the world or enable objects to be purchased for faster transit. We can build travel times into each node so that some take, in real time, longer than others to unlock. A mountain might take an hour to “climb”, and the user will be pulled back into the game an hour after they have decided to explore that node.

A valley might instantly unlock. A river might unlock in a minute. You might be able to buy a boat, unlocking river travel. The river might visit many locations, hence making exploration faster, and with it, learning. The whole idea is to give the player many things to do in the exploration gameworld. They can buy things, defeat enemies, claim lands, uncover objects, collect objects to unlock higher learning, unlock multimedia with hours played. Yes, we can use hours of play as an unlock feature. We can design decay to the game, using our behavioral currency model, so that the longer the stay away from the game, some resource diminishes. We can also score the game in many ways.

We can have the player visit various locations to gain “faction rep”. This reputation enables them to purchase objects in the game. Suppose you want them to learn about cyber security. We could code certain areas of the map “red”, meaning that they are all about cyber security. We could link that to a game theme of having to navigate a blocked passage. Knowing cyber security protocols can unlock that passage, like a hacker unlocking areas. The more you work cyber security questions and content, the “red zones”, the greater your faction reputation. Gaining a high standing with the “red” faction enables certain types of learning. We can steer users toward specific goals this way.

No gameworld is engaging without some form of story. The story defines the boundaries for the player and this is especially true in training. Game and Train designs “build” and “explorer” engines to permit gameworlds to follow one of two major paths. The build engine permits us to design an entire world, based on user achievements. Imagine a fashion or a rock and roll empire, where all your assets are accumulated by in-game training.

Now, in order for this world to live and breath, we need to add conflict. Build games without conflict are not stories, they are digital report cards! Conflict can take many forms…perhaps your business has new opportunities but you cannot pursue them in the game because you lack some kind of key resource you must obtain by training. It can take the form of crisis, where an existing asset is threatened, like the landlord demanding you give up your production facility in the game unless you can cope with a learning challenge.

More simple builds, like our learning explorer game engine, lets the player just learn by exploration. As they reveal their world through in-game progress, more content is released. We will cover this type of design more in future posts and we refer you back to our discussion of frame games. These games used puzzles and limited strategy, but permit the trainer to dispense with didactic materials. The game itself teaches you. It’s a powerful and very new approach to game-based learning.

Gameworld design is ideally suited for long term engagement where continuous content feeds are essential for learning. They are not that helpful for limited learning, here, we design custom engines like time trials. But for the long term development of your staff, gameworld immersion is the most powerful tool you have in your hands. Use it wisely and use it a lot!

Until we meet again, keep on looking up!