Getting Serious (Games) about Soft Skills Training

DevLearn presentation on 10/24/20, the ELB stage by Richard Lowenthal, Managing Partner, The Game Agency. Watch the presentation here.

Serious games- it’s a bit of an oxymoron. Serious games help provide effective soft skills training that ultimately helps your employees do their jobs better. We know there is a battle you have to fight within your company to enable the decision-makers to bring this highly effective tool to your learners (employees). We firmly believe educating employees is a very meaningful vocation.

The Game Agency combines game development with education to empower trainers to activate their audience. Emotionally touching your employees as well as their minds is a holistic experience for learners. Games are an emotional connection. We educate them with the use of game-based learning. We empower you with data and you’ll be able to analyze it to get an in-depth look into their knowledge. 


How Games Can Improve Soft Skills Training?

Here are 4 points, I will discuss in this presentation:

  1. Why game-based training?
  2. Where serious games are being used?
  3. How to design branching path games
  4. Two examples of branching paths

Games need to align with your business learning objectives. An in-depth study of Google looked at 7 out of 8 of the traits they deem most important in hiring skills for applicants. They include the ability to be coached, communication and listening skills, intuition, making connections, empathy, thinking critically, and their ability to problem-solve. Those seven traits are soft skills. The eighth trait was STEM skills.

Games can be used to teach soft skills across the workforce from healthcare, construction, retail, finance, transportation, telecommunications, etc. Do games work? Why? Yes, they do because they require an active form of communication. Games transform learning from passive to active with branching paths scenarios (eg. adventure games) that are story-driven, have multiple decision points, competition, and provide emotional experiences.

How Do You Make Effective Branching Paths Games?

Here are 10 best practices: 

  1. Present a meaningful story that lives in the grey zone. Life is not black and white. You want to provide relatable scenarios, settings, characters, and challenges. Make it easy for learners to immerse themselves in a game. 
  2. You want to build stories that include good, better, best choices, and create those points in your story. 
  3. Use root cause analysis when building a branching dialogue game. Basically, what is the issue you are building the game around? 
  4. Choices should be realistic and nuanced by not giving the learner obvious choices and limit the number of choices because you don’t want to confuse the learner. Keep the text short. Have the story unfold slowly.
  5. Provide feedback but “Don’t break the 4th wall”, meaning don’t make your feedback obvious. Do it by being subtle.
  6. Save more detailed feedback for the end of the game after learners go through the journey. 
  7. Don’t let the design of your game distract learners. Use videos and photography that is more realistic.
  8. Keep it organized by mapping out the experience with using a flow chart or spreadsheet.
  9. Avoid the pine tree pattern-where suboptimal choices lead to the ending too soon. Let learners explore and turn poor choices into good ones. Avoid too many branches which leads to too much content.
  10. Reduce content needed into small bite-sized conflicts that are resolved. The Game Agency’s 3 recommended choices are good, better, and best that lead to feedback and immediate points of resolutions before the next conflict. Keep it simple. Conflict leads to resolution.

Examples of Branching Path Games for Soft Skills Training 

Two examples of branching path games engage by creating an emotional connection and provide a fun and safe space to learn, practice, fail, and master critical skills. They require active engagement, simulate real-world situations, require real-time decisions, and provide instant feedback. Most importantly,  you can track knowledge and behaviors.

One of our clients, CHEST (The American College of Chest Physicians) was looking for a soft skills training solution to help train their pulmonologists on understanding and applying the current guidelines in diagnosing and treating COPD. Doctors of course work long hours have stressful jobs, they are high performers and highly competitive. They also have short attention spans. We had an interesting challenge: how are we going to help these doctors and create an emotional connection with the learning. We created a branching path game with custom animated designs. They didn’t want a video of actors in the scenarios, they wanted a little bit of emotional distance so this animation approach was perfect. We created a very straight forward branching path. Notice on each slide, how we offered minimal text in the speech bubbles, the players have to hit continue. We have one meter on the top, it’s the patient’s satisfactory level. This is currently being used by CHEST physicians with great success. 


The second example is one we are very proud of. This is an Instructor-Led Training branching path game. We worked with Wanda T Wallace, Ph.D., Managing Partner of Leadership Forum to create this game, called The World of Sabrina. Designed to help coach and empower women in the workforce, it is played by teams of 5 together. During this session, they communicate about some of the decisions that they’ve made and the outcomes that they saw. The goal was to start off as a team, and you would pick your top 4 career goals, and then as you play through 13 of the scenarios (every team plays through the same scenarios), the meters up top shows you how you are scoring. Your points vary based on the decisions that you made. It’s an intricate branching dialogue that uses initial goals as you play through all of these scenarios. We launched this game with 4 Fortune 500 companies. We had 100 young female executives play and then we asked them at the end what were the big takeaways. Based on using this game in Instructor-Led Training, the felt deeply engaged, it kept them focused, it made them feel more confident and open their eyes to the future. It forced them to think, if they want to ultimately become CEO of their company, what do they have to do in the next 10-15 years to get there. It showed an interesting intersection of aspirations with action.

Email us at to discuss how we can help you create a gamified training solution.

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