Where’s the Serious ROI In Serious Games?

Forrester Research recently sent us a copy of “It’s Time To Take Games Seriously,” an overview of the burgeoning “serious games” industry. As the term suggests, these are video and computer games created to achieve practical, real-world outcomes, such as education or job training; consequently, it’s a space with an eclectic spectrum of players, from universities and NGOs to the military and for-profit corporations. (Recent examples in the latter category: Ultimate Team Play for training Hilton staff workers and The Philips Simplicity Showdown, aimed at improving communication among Philips Electronics employees and management.)

The Forrester report argues that serious games are “poised to take off” in the next seven years. Why?

Forrester cites the “green revolution,” which is pushing major corporations like IBM and SAP to experiment with virtual world technology as a way of saving on energy and operational costs, as well as the pervasive popularity of technology, especially among the Net-savvy Generation Y: “This comfort with virtualized workspaces has opened the door for the use of video games to help reduce long-term expenses in other cost centers, like training, learning, and team building,” the report reads. (Forrester’s authors distinguish persistent virtual worlds like Second Life from serious games, which are developed for specific goals in a limited time frame.)

Because of this, Forrester argues, companies, government agencies and others will increasingly turn to serious games, with traditional game developers, software giants like Microsoft, and other players vying for their dollars.

No doubt there’s going to be a lot of money and interest moving into serious games. The report, however, is light on result metrics — do these games actually lead to, you know, serious results? Proving ROI is the hardest challenge, Forrester’s authors acknowledge. “[I]t isn’t as easy to tie games to measurable goals if organizations use them for developing softer skills, like problem solving or analytical thinking,” they write. I think that’s why you’re more likely to see measurable results with immersive training simulations that can be directly applied to real-world scenarios.

Image credit: Hilton Garden Inn’s Ultimate Team Play from www.virtualheroes.com.