Game Design – The Bold New Frontier of Talent Development

As a long time video gamer and talent development professional I’ve always been perplexed by the differences between the games I play on my PC, Xbox, and iPhone and the “games” that are created to develop employees skills and knowledge in the workplace. Over the last five years this gap between the quality of games played at home, and the “games” for learning played at work has grown even wider.   This ever widening gap represents a significant challenge for Talent Development professionals now and in the future.  Consider the following statistics about video gamers in the US published by the ESA on April 14, 2015.

Headline Stats

  • 155 million Americans regularly play video games.
  • 42 percent of Americans play for at least three hours per week.
  • Four out of five American households contain a device used to play video games.


  • The average game player is 35 years old.
  • 26 percent of players are under 18 years old. 27 percent are over 50.
  • 56 percent of players are male. 44 percent are female.
  • The most frequent female game player is on average 43 years old and the average male game player is 35 years old.
  • Of the most frequent game purchasers, 41 percent are female and 59 percent are male.

Based on these statistics I would say it is safe to assume that about 50% of your employees play video games regularly, and as the demographics shift to a younger workforce that percentage of gamers will  increase.

Why You Should Care

The critical takeaway for Talent Development professionals is that our customers have extremely high expectations when it comes to gaming experiences. Whether it is Call of Duty, Angry Birds, or Luminosity, they know what is fun and what’s not. They are not going to waste their time playing bad games even if it will help them learn something important. If you are creating a learning experience that even remotely looks or feels like a game then you can bet it will be compared to the games that your learners play every day for fun.

Good instructional design is not enough to capture the attention of our learners any more. If we are looking to truly engage our learners we need to build our capabilities beyond instructional design and into game design. Consider the difference between the two definitions below that I pulled up from a Google search:

  • Instructional design  is the practice of creating instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.
  • Game design is the art of applying design and aesthetics to create a game to facilitate interaction between players for entertainment or for medical, educational, or experimental purposes.

The skill sets required for these activities are very different, and based on my decade of experience designing games and simulations for fortune 500 organizations there are very few talent development organizations that have anyemployees who have been trained in game design.

Fortunately it is something that can be learned, and should be learned if we want to engage our learning populations in the ways they are being engaged by games outside of work. For the last year I’ve been delivering Gaming Mechanics lectures across the country on this topic, and here are a few key questions that will get you started as a game designer.

  1. Who is the gamer? You need to understand your audience and how you want to impact them through the design of your game.
  2. Why do they play the game? You need to understand their motivation for playing and tap into it.  Do they play for recognition, to meet other people, for extrinsic rewards, to gain mastery of a skill?
  3. What are the rules of the game? Often called gaming mechanics the rules are a critical part of the design process because it is the mechanics that impact how we play and how much fun the game is.  One of the easiest ways to understand gaming mechanics is to think about how different a game would be if some of the mechanics were changed. For example:
  • Imagine an NFL game without the ability to substitute players!
  • Imagine a chess match where each piece was controlled by a separate player!
  • Imagine frequent flyer miles programs without a yearly time limit!

Fortunately for us, game design and gamification is a skill anyone can learn, and it is a lot of fun. I’ve been creating games and simulations to teach employees skills like finance, strategy and leadership for the last 12 years and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.  I hope you are inspired by the challenge we face as games become more prevalent in all aspects of our lives, and see it as an opportunity to transform the way we teach and develop our talent. If you would like to learn more or just talk shop reach out to me through LinkedIn or contact us at