Bored with training videos? Try a videogame

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina (Reuters Life!) - Forget boring company training films. A leading hotel chain has teamed with a videogame developer to create a new game to improve their employees’ job performance.

Trainees interact with guests virtually in "Ultimate Team Play" on PSP, in this undated handout image. REUTERS/Handout

Many businesses use serious videogames designed for the PC but Hilton Garden Inn (HGI) has taken the virtual training concept portable for the first time with “Ultimate Team Play”.

Working with North Carolina-based game developer Virtual Heroes, HGI has created a videogame for Sony’s PSP (PlayStation Portable) that allows employees to practice their jobs before they have to interact with customers.

“Ultimate Team Play” offers timed scenarios focusing on departments like housekeeping, food and beverage, engineering, maintenance and front desk. The hotel chain has sent out 500 PSPs loaded with the game to all of its locations.

“By playing the game and not watching a video or reading a book we have the opportunity to repeat the same message a few times without ‘losing’ the participants,” said David Kervella, senior manager of brand education at Hilton Hotels Corporation.

“Players are learning by doing without making mistakes with real guests,” he added.

Kervella said that Virtual Heroes created the game to allow for easy customization to fit any of the 11 Hilton brands. If the HGI test is successful, PSPs will be added to additional hotel brands in the future.

“We’ve designed the game, which will take five hours to complete, to focus on interactions with guests and every action will impact the guest’s mood as well as the hotel’s Satisfaction and Loyalty (SALT) scores,” said Jerry Heneghan, CEO of Virtual Heroes.

The Apply Group, a leading videogames marketing consultancy, said that by 2012 up to 135 of the world’s leading companies will have adopted gaming for learning, with the United States, United Kingdom and Germany leading the way.

The games will range from flight simulators to virtual restaurant training guides.

“The challenge right now is getting companies to adopt games,” said Ian Bogost, a professor at Georgia Tech and a founding partner at Persuasive Games, which has created company training games.

“There’s still an element of fear, especially in a down economy. And human resources and training managers tend to avoid doing new things for fear that they’ll stick their necks out. Executives at forward-thinking companies need to endorse games as a part of the future of work.”

According to a 2008 study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which works to further understanding of entrepreneurship, the economic impact of a great lecture can improve learning outcomes by 17 percent, while switching to a different delivery mechanism such as serious gaming can improve learning outcomes by 108 percent.

“More than the technology capabilities like rapid processors and 3D graphics, demographics and the rapid pace of business change is driving the way many companies are training their personnel,” said Phaedra Boinodiris, project manager for IBM’s Serious Games.

“For business purposes, we are seeing companies use games to make hiring decisions and evaluate skills and performance.”

Heneghan said that on the heels of the HGI training game, many companies are interested in utilizing the PSP. It may be just the beginning because iPhones, Nintendo DSi and other portable devices also hold the potential to offer virtual training scenarios.