Alternate Reality Game Benefits For Your Organization

How An Alternate Reality Game Benefits Your Organization

Andy Petroski, Emerging Technologies Leader and Author, is allowing our readers to read portions of his work. This article comes from his book Alternate Reality Games: Gamification For Performance.

In a previous article we discussed how to use Alternate Reality Games to increase employee engagement and performance, optimize training time, and fuel innovation. In this one, we will evaluate a variety of actual ARGs and consider how your organization might benefit from a similar type of ARG. Let’s begin!

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4 Case Studies Showing How You Can Use Alternate Reality Games For Corporate Training

1. Immersion Into New Programs

Designed to give a solid foundation in business concepts to those without a business degree [1], the Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Management at Warwick Business School (UK) provides an entry-level business management qualification. Participants are often from middle to senior management with at least a few years of management experience who may not be quite ready for an MBA. The undergraduate level diploma requires 23 days of on-site activity over 15 months. Participants engage in an induction week at the beginning of the diploma program. The induction week is focused on immersion and getting students excited about learning the models and theories they’ll be exploring. While the induction week and the diploma had been successful the Director of Executive Education wanted to update the traditional approach. The vision included collaborative learning while simulating the management of a business in a live game environment. An Alternate Reality Game called Spring Fling! The game was played over four days and was based around a failing water cooler company. The players accessed [2] a company website, corresponded with virtual employee characters that had working emails, called live telephone lines, and interacted with live actors in the role of employees and leadership.

The Rabbit Hole was a “future view” video that showed the bankrupt future of the company if changes weren’t made. Teams were created and given a USB drive with an executive briefing, company information, and information about services they could purchase to support their work to save the failing company. Players worked together in their teams to create a rescue plan for the company and present the plan to the board. Critical thinking, analysis, exploration, and collaboration were all part of the experience; a fun, busy, fast-moving format that allowed participants to discover concepts and their passion for them.

Does this sound like a learning solution that can be applied to new employee orientation, new salesperson training, or new manager training to create energy and motivation for learning new skills?

[The Rabbit Hole is the means by which players become part of the game. It is the “hook” into the game.]

2. Teamwork And Collaborative Narrative

Five hundred (500) participants [3], selected from 5,000 applicants, assembled at the New York Public Library (NYPL) to create essays about 100 library artifacts, culminating in a printed book focused on “ways to make history and change the future.” The focus of the 12-hour Alternate Reality Game (Find the Future) was to find inspiration in creating the future from the pioneers and innovators that now live within the archives at the NYPL. Players self-selected into two teams. Those teams broke into sub-squads to find library artifacts that had been tagged with a QR code. When a tagged artifact was found, the squad leader scanned the QR code with the game’s mobile app. Found artifacts were logged on a game website where players could view presentations of found artifacts and reveal a related essay assignment, focused on how the past and future are intertwined. Charts on easels, library tours, and hand-delivered messages were part of the game as were the website, Facebook posts, texts, emails, Google docs, Tweets, and Flickr tags. Five hundred (500) essays were written about 100 artifacts and combined into a single printed book that all the participants signed. The book is housed at the library in perpetuity.

[A QR or Quick Response Code is a two dimensional barcode. When scanned by a QR Code Reader, an application on a mobile device with a camera, information is displayed including text, a website URL, a phone number, audio, or video.]

Does this sound like an approach that can be applied to knowledge management, creating taxonomies, or writing Standard Operating Procedures?

3. Optimized Training Time

An Alternate Reality Game can be part of a blended learning approach. Compared to common approaches like pre-reading or watching videos, an ARG provides a highly immersive and engaging way for learners to prepare for a face-to-face training event. Increased motivation and context for the training event, as well as, optimizing the time for the live event are a few benefits. Learners arriving prepared to participate can optimize training time; coming with common prior knowledge and having a stake in the outcomes an build momentum for interaction and collaboration at the event.

[Blended learning originated as online learning components in support of face-to-face training. It has evolved to signify any blend of training modes including online learning as a primary component of the training experience, supported by face-to-face training for group discussion and live role-playing.]

Constellation Academy of Wine [4] used an Alternate Reality Game as part of a three-week long training solution culminating with their national sales meeting. The inside and outside salespeople were presented with a fictional hotel customer including a narrative that described the characteristics of the hotel, specific target customers, room designs, menus, wine lists, and sales data. The learners interacted with customer characters as part of the storyline, including impromptu interaction with the non-player character Facebook pages. Not only did players receive clues from the non-player characters’ Facebook posts as part of gameplay, but players also began online conversations with the non-player characters for deeper exploration and learning. The data analysis, relationship building and sales skills practiced in the ARG extended into the sales meeting and created momentum that would not have been possible with just the sales meeting alone.

Could your face-to-face sales and leadership meetings be optimized by preparing participants prior to the event, establishing common prior knowledge, and building momentum for interaction and collaboration at the event?

4. Increased Skills

How do you learn to build and maintain better relationships? You play an Alternate Reality Game! [5] At least that’s what students at the University of North Carolina did in a game designed by the School of Information and Library Science and the Student Affairs Department. The goals of the experience were for students to recognize the benefits and drawbacks of involving parents and best friends in relationships, balance privacy and social media use, consider compromise and negotiation as a couple, and reflect on adult decision-making compared to young adulthood decision processes.

ShBANGE (Should Brandon and Nicole Get Engaged?) focused on a stressed romantic relationship between two hypothetical students. The game took place over two weeks and included puzzles, online content, videos, Facebook posts, a staged marriage proposal, supporting characters, flyers, balloons, fortune cookies, and a Google Voice number. Players followed the storyline by uncovering clues and information online and throughout campus. As they advanced in the game, players offered relationship suggestions, contributed to wedding plans, and provided general support. The game ended with a party and reflection session where players shared thoughts on and resolutions for the relationship issues witnessed in the game.

In addition to analysis and critical thinking about relationships, privacy and compromise, information literacy and research skills were also developed through gameplay. Players learned how to locate information using a variety of media and how to share information using similar techniques.

Could observation, practice, and reflection increase your employees’ communication, negotiation, conflict-resolution, or project management skills?

Fueling Innovation And Other Organizational Benefits

Revolutionary breakthroughs are few and far between. More often innovation happens every day and results in refinement instead of revolution. Regardless, innovation is about new ideas and methods. How does your company generate new approaches to everyday challenges?

Experiencing new ideas and methods often generates new ideas and methods. With that perspective, Alternate Reality Games can be a way to fuel innovation in an organization. Whether a new training method, new opportunities for collaboration, or new perspectives through the lens of gameplay, ARGs can be a fertile space for leaders, designers, and players to innovate. The table below indicates the organizational innovation that occurred for each of the ARGs profiled earlier in this article.

ARG  Innovation 
Warwick Business School: Spring Fling Problem-based learning and collaboration was an introduction to learning, versus a conclusion.
New York Public Library: Find the Future A summative and predictive narrative was crowd sourced by 500 players.
Constellation Wine Academy: Que Syrah Syrah Online dialogue with fictional characters led to deeper knowledge and practice.
University of North Carolina: ShBANGE Topics difficult to discuss were explored in an open and collaborative manner.

[Crowdsourcing is where small contributions from each member of a large group result in a service, idea, content, or innovation that could not have otherwise been created by only one member of the group.]

Other overarching benefits of ARGs include increased learning context, increased learning exposure, and physical activity. Like many immersive learning solutions, ARGs create context for learning. [6] A survey of Learning and Development professionals indicated that only 34% of trainees apply what they’ve learned to the workplace one year after a training intervention. Without context content is passive, disconnected, and not likely to have an impact on workplace performance. When learners see the connection between content and their work through immersive learning like ARGs, they are more likely to transfer the skills they develop to the workplace.

Learning doesn’t happen at a moment in time. New knowledge, skills, and attitudes are built over extended periods of exploration, practice, feedback, and reflection. Most classroom and online training is designed as a one hour, one day, or one week experience that takes the learner away from the workplace. ARGs can be integrated into work and life activities throughout the day and take place over an extended period of time. Assimilating learning into work can create an atmosphere where there is no difference between the two; where employees are always working and always learning (a learning organization).

From stress reduction and smoking cessation programs to stand-up desks and digital health monitors, organizations are looking to improve the health of their workforce. Lower insurance costs, increased productivity, and improved morale can result. Getting up out of a chair and moving has health and physiological cognitive benefits that can impact learning and performance. ARGs can be a great way to increase movement as participants walk around spaces to find clues, ask questions, and collaborate on problem-solving.

Stay tuned for our next article, where we will explore some of the strategies you can apply to maximize the benefits of using Alternate Reality Games for your corporate training programs.



  1. Ben Betts, Spring Revival: Alternate Reality Game Breathes New Life into Old Course, Learning Solutions Magazine, January 17, 2011
  2. Campden Springs
  3. Stan Friedman, Finding the Future: Inside the New York Public Library’s all-night scavenger hunt, Library Journal, July 2011
  4. Immersive Learning
  5. SILS students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends teamed up for award-winning ShBANGE project
  6. How Your Workplace Can Support Learning Transfer