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How To Design Learning Games That Drive Workforce Development

  • 15 December, 2023
  • Reading Time: 9 mins

Playing games has been an essential part of mankind. From chasing treasures through tricky tunnels or scoring the winning goal in a virtual soccer match, games aren’t just about pixels and shapes; they’re about making memorable experiences. Whether it’s teaming up with friends for Mario Kart or that sense of achievement upon finally cracking a tough puzzle, games beyond recreation hold significant social value, serving as a common ground for people to converge, interact, and connect in the real world.

In the beginning, learning and development games were based on simple designs, often based on simple skill and drill exercises or questions wrapped in primitive graphics with loose storylines. However, learning game designers now have a broad range of technological tools to choose from when creating new designs.

Despite these technological developments, learning games have repeatedly been criticized for a lack of solid integration between game mechanics and learning goals, which may lead to poor learning outcomes. But, before we get into what those common mistakes are, it’s important to remember the six fundamental elements of a game that lays the groundwork for crafting impactful learning experiences:

  • Rules
  • Competition
  • Goals
  • Outcome
  • Decisions
  • Emotional Attachment


It is important that you integrate these into your blueprint when crafting your next learning game. However, when it comes to designing games for corporates, that’s where it gets trickier.

Creating learning games for workforce learning isn’t just about fun and engagement; it’s about aligning these elements with the specific learning objectives and the professional environment. You’re building a bridge between playfulness and productivity, ensuring that every game mechanic, challenge, or reward serves a dual purpose—enhancing skills and boosting workplace efficiency.

A woman working on a desktop computer.


Missing the Mark – Common Pitfalls in Learning Game Design

When creating these learning games, you need to figure out the fine line between game enjoyment and meaningful learning outcomes. It’s about balancing engaging gameplay with real-world applications, where employees enjoy the game and gain tangible skills applicable to their roles. Let’s take a look at some pitfalls that often hinder the creation of effective gaming experiences. These pitfalls, although they may seem like pesky roadblocks, are more like puzzles waiting to be solved. Get your game face on as we pinpoint the pitfalls and ways to avoid these:

1. Vague or Unclear Learning Objectives

This is one of the most critical mistakes if you are developing a learning game without well-defined objectives. It can lead to a lack of focus and effectiveness – like setting sail without a destination. Corporations might invest substantially in game development without a clear vision, resulting in a lack of tangible outcomes or learning experiences. If the game’s purpose isn’t clearly outlined such as you fail to specify the purpose is reducing onboarding time or enhancing product knowledge, employees may enjoy the game but won’t achieve the intended learning outcomes

You can avoid a major chunk of these pitfalls if you begin identifying and defining clear, measurable learning objectives before initiating game development. These objectives should directly tie into the skills or knowledge employees are expected to acquire or improve upon. For instance, if the goal is to enhance customer service skills, the game should focus on scenarios where employees can practice and improve these specific skills.

2. Overly Complex Storylines

Some learning games tend to overwhelm learners with convoluted narratives, diverting attention from the learning objectives. These games can become overly complex, causing disengagement among players who struggle to navigate through the storyline. For instance, imagine a training game where the storyline is so complex that employees lose interest and avoid completing the game. This will lead to the employee missing out on crucial learning content and essential skill development opportunities. Complex narratives can hinder the learning process, making it challenging for employees to grasp key concepts or apply them effectively in real-world scenarios.

Addressing overly complex storylines in learning games requires a strategic approach centered on simplicity and relevance. Simplifying the story while aligning it more closely with the learning objectives could help. Trim unnecessary plot twists or intricate details that detract from the primary educational content. Opt for a narrative structure that aligns with the learning goals, presenting information in a clear and digestible manner. Integrating the narrative in a way that directly reinforces the key learning points without overpowering the gameplay is crucial.

3. Non-Inclusive Game Design

Certain games might not suit older generations within the workforce due to accessibility issues or preferences. These games may be designed assuming a certain level of familiarity with technology or gaming, excluding older employees who might not be accustomed to such interfaces, making them feel disconnected or less engaged and affecting their learning experience and overall participation. For instance, gamified training that relies solely on rapid reflexes or lightning-fast responses, assuming familiarity with fast-paced gameplay mechanics, might pose challenges for employees who might not feel comfortable with such high-speed interactions.

Avoid such an issue by adopting inclusive design strategies that cater to diverse age groups and technological proficiencies within your workforce. Consider providing multiple options for interaction, such as touch, mouse-click, or keyboard inputs, ensuring accessibility for all employees, irrespective of their comfort with technology. Additionally, you can offer clear instructions and tutorials within the game interface to assist those less familiar with gaming mechanics or technology, creating a more inclusive and supportive learning environment.

4. Lack of Challenge in Game Mechanics

Some corporate learning games fall short of challenging the learners, resulting in a lack of interest due to the simplicity of gameplay. Poorly designed challenges fail to engage employees, causing them to lose interest quickly. When game mechanics lack complexity or fail to escalate in difficulty, learners might find the experience mundane and lose motivation to continue. For instance, if a leadership training game’s challenges remain static without increasing in complexity or variety, learners might feel disengaged, hindering their learning journey.

Counter this pitfall by focusing on designing game mechanics that gradually increase in complexity and difficulty. A rapid development framework for game development allows for agility and efficiency in creating robust learning solutions, ensuring that the game development process aligns closely with the ever-evolving needs of the workforce. Introduce diverse challenges that align with different skill levels, ensuring that as learners progress, they encounter increasingly stimulating scenarios. For example, in a project management training game, start with simple tasks like task assignments and gradually escalate to complex scenarios involving resource allocation and risk management, challenging learners at each step.

5. Poor User Interfaces and Authenticity

Games with inadequate UI can lead to a disconnected and inauthentic experience for the players. A poor quality or unintuitive interface diminishes the overall learning experience and engagement. A game with buttons and controls that are confusing or don’t align with the actual work environment not only frustrates the players but also fails to immerse them in the learning process. This lack of authenticity hampers the game’s ability to effectively simulate real-life scenarios, which is crucial for skill transfer to the workplace.

The key to this issue lies in creating a UI that mirrors the actual work environment, making navigation easy and intuitive for learners. Implementing user-friendly controls and designs that replicate real workplace tools or scenarios enhances interest and fosters relevance for learners. For instance, in a customer service training game, using a simulated interface similar to the actual software or customer support platform provides learners with a realistic experience, facilitating smoother skill transfer to their jobs. Authentically designed scenarios in learning games ensure that the skills learned directly align with the tasks employees encounter in their professional roles, maximizing the game’s impact on performance improvement.

6. Meeting Tight Development Deadlines

Developing games from scratch often poses challenges in meeting deadlines, potentially compromising the quality of the game. Rushed development timelines may result in incomplete or subpar game experiences. Imagine building a skyscraper on a tight deadline—it might get finished, but there’s a high chance of missing crucial structural elements. Similarly, in game development, rushing the process might leave gaps in learning content, undermine the gaming experience, or even jeopardize the alignment with learning objectives.

You can adopt an iterative development process that involves cycles of prototyping, testing, and refining, allowing continuous assessment and improvement. Breaking the process into manageable iterations enables adjustments, ensuring alignment with learning goals and enhancing gameplay. This agile approach facilitates adaptation, fostering timely completion without compromising quality. This will help you navigate tight deadlines while ensuring impactful and engaging learning games.

7. Inappropriate Genre or Platform Choice

Selecting an unsuitable game genre or platform can throw a wrench into effective learning. Imagine you craft a highly technical training simulation on a platform incompatible with your company’s hardware or targeting a demographic unfamiliar with the selected game genre—this mismatch could lead to disconnection as employees might find it challenging to engage or grasp the training content.

You should conduct a thorough analysis of your target audience—understand their preferences, demographics, and technological accessibility. Align the chosen game genre and platform with the audience’s familiarity and comfort to ensure maximum engagement. Add user testing and feedback loops during development to ensure that the chosen genre and platform resonate well with the audience and facilitate effective learning.

8. Overdevelopment and Scope Creep

Continuously adding unnecessary features or content to a serious game can lead to scope creep, causing delays and inflated costs. Focusing on non-essential elements beyond the core learning objectives can hinder timely delivery and detract from the game’s effectiveness. It’s like trying to fit an entire universe into a single game—ambitious but often counterproductive.

When crafting a learning game, it’s easy to get lost in the world of creativity and innovation. However, if these imaginative additions don’t serve the core learning objectives, they’re just fluff. Focus on the essential learning goals to prevent overloading the game with excessive content or features that don’t align with the primary purpose—learning. For instance, in compliance training, resist the temptation to add irrelevant scenarios that distract from the core regulatory content.

9. Inadequate Data Collection for Improvement

Failing to collect and analyze relevant data from the game’s performance may hinder opportunities for improvement. Without tracking employee progress or evaluating learning effectiveness, it becomes challenging to refine the game or make informed decisions for future iterations. Creating a game without incorporating analytics or mechanisms to monitor employee performance might deprive the organization of valuable insights. Without this data, it’s challenging to identify areas for improvement or assess the game’s impact on learning outcomes. Additionally, ignoring player feedback and preferences during game development can result in a serious game that fails to address the needs or preferences of the target audience, leading to missed opportunities for improvement and decreased effectiveness.

To circumvent these pitfalls, incorporate robust data collection and analytics into the game design process. Implement mechanisms that track learner progress and performance, allowing for informed decision-making on game adjustments and improvements. Moreover, actively seek and integrate player feedback during development stages to ensure alignment with learners’ needs and preferences. Ensure the game provides immediate and constructive feedback on learner performance, fostering motivation and guidance for continuous improvement. By embracing these strategies, corporate learning games can evolve dynamically, optimizing learning outcomes and engagement while meeting the unique needs of the audience.

Crafting effective learning games for workforce learning is a delicate fusion of engagement and education. By integrating the fundamental elements of gaming and steering clear of common pitfalls, we pave the way for immersive learning experiences. Remember, clear objectives, simplicity in design, and inclusivity are the cornerstones of impactful games. Don’t forget the importance of authenticity, progression in challenges, and iterative development to create games that resonate and empower learners. Embrace data-driven improvements and stay focused on the essentials to create learning games that truly make a difference.

Are you ready to revolutionize corporate learning through innovative game design? Let’s collaborate and bring your learning game ideas to life! Reach out to us today to start crafting engaging and effective learning experiences.

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