Alternate Reality Games For Corporate Training: What About Participation?
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Participation In Alternate Reality Games For Corporate Training

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 our previous article we evaluated a variety of actual ARGs to consider how an organization might benefit from a similar type of ARG. The table below indicates the organizational innovation that occurred for each of the ARGs:

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Organization / ARG Organization Innovation  Occurred
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.

In the Spring Fling ARG at Warwick Business School participants were gathered specifically for the purpose of induction into the certificate program. The Rabbit Hole was a video that was presented to everyone. Story materials were directly given to participants and teams were coordinated to launch the game. The beginning gameplay was still subtle, but the story and directions were overt at the beginning so that full participation would result.

The Find the Future ARG for the New York Public Library gained full participation by requiring players apply to participate. From over 5,000 applicants, 500 players were selected. The intrinsic motivation to participate was generated by the exclusivity of the event. While this doesn’t demonstrate 100% participation of the target audience of 5,000, it does demonstrate a way to select a segment of the target audience from which full participation will result. This approach may be a good option for leadership training or other company-wide initiatives that don’t require 100% of the employee population participate, but do require full participation from those selected.

Que Syrah Syrah for Constellation Wine Academy did not include 100% participation by the target audience. While a high participation rate was achieved (84%), it was not required that everyone take part in the ARG. Those that didn’t participate in the ARG simply participated in the sales conference as they normally would. ShBANGE at the University of North Carolina also did not have 100% target audience participation.

Forced participation in gameplay is counterintuitive. People play games because they want to. They are intrinsically motivated to play because they want to have fun, love the storyline, or connect with the characters. Forcing participation in an ARG from the top-down—“You will play this game! You will have fun! You will learn something!”—is a sure recipe for failure. Not to mention, it’s counterproductive to morale, employee engagement, and learner-centered experiences.

3 Strategies To Help You Achieve 100% Target Audience Participation In Your ARG

If you need 100% target audience participation in your ARG for business or education, there are any numbers of ways that you can do so. You can use strategies like those used in Spring Fling or Find the Future. You can also apply strategies like multiple Rabbit Holes, the buddy system, or bait-and-switch to achieve 100% participation.

1. Multiple Rabbit Holes

Remember that an ARG is built around a story that often initially engages the player through an anomaly in their regular schedule. Like when Alice stumbles into the world of Wonderland through the literal rabbit hole, the hook into the story and the game is the “Rabbit Hole”. An ARG Rabbit Hole can be almost anything; an email from an unknown source, a post it note on a desk, or a video.

The subtle entry into gameplay can be a challenge when targeting 100% participation. Not all of the target audience will recognize the Rabbit Hole or, if they recognize it, respond to it. Traditionally ARGs have one Rabbit Hole into the game. A way of increasing participation in a business or education ARG is to create multiple points of entry into gameplay – multiple Rabbit Holes.

What if Alice hadn’t tumbled down the one rabbit hole along the path? We wouldn’t know about the Queen of Hearts or the Madd Hatter. But, if there are a field of rabbit holes, Alice’s chances of meeting the Queen are infinitely increased. Multiple Rabbit Holes could take the form of the same message in multiple locations and/or formats. Or, you can get creative and enhance the story by creating multiple, but unique Rabbit Holes for the player to get engaged with the game.

2. The Buddy System

Bring a friend! Another way of increasing participation to 100% is to ask players who are engaged in the game to bring someone else along for the ride. As part of the Rabbit Hole or during early gameplay encourage players to find someone who’s not currently playing and bring him or her into the experience. Farmville on Facebook saw tremendous growth from 2009-2012 as a result of “the buddy system”. [15] A mechanic of the Farmville game is to give points and bonus access to items you need to grow your farm for inviting new players into the game.

If you are designing an ARG on improving trust in the organization, you might ask players to “find someone who’s currently not on the Trust Train and invite them on board at the next stop”. Or, if you are designing an ARG for Principles of Auditing you might require each player begin the game with a person to audit their performance. There are a variety of scenarios that can make the buddy system work for increasing participation in an ARG.

3. Bait-And-Switch

Imagine sitting down at your computer to complete the yearly safety compliance training. Halfway through the training your computer screen is “hijacked” by a video message from someone in research and development who wants you to help her make a new product safe before the company’s reputation is irrevocably damaged. Or, imagine you’re sitting in a training room for a session on sustainability and the President of the company barges in to announce a challenge at a plant in Wichita that needs to be addressed right away.

If 100% participation is expected for the traditional training experience, use that as an advantage and a gateway for gaining 100% participation in the ARG. By hijacking the traditional training approach with entry into the ARG you create a Rabbit Hole that is difficult to ignore. In the end, the participants will most likely thank you for saving them from traditional training with the bait and-switch.

Accommodating Non-Players

Ultimately, there will always be someone who doesn’t want to play the game no matter how many Rabbit Holes you place in front of them. There are also employees and students who may not be able to play because of an injury, a medical condition, or a disability. An option should exist for those people. You might be able to turn your ARG script into a document that they can read. You can package the ARG media and activities into a traditional format. That may take the form of a “walkthrough” where a guide explains and presents the ARG step-by-step as learners observe the story. The guide also serves as a resource and support as “walkthrough learners” complete ARG activities and challenges outside of the main gameplay. Or, you can offer a traditional format as you would have offered it originally. Over time, and with some of the strategies outlined here, the non-participants will be a small group. But, they are still a part of your audience that you need to consider if 100% participation and completion is needed.

You can see the variety of ways in which ARGs can meet organizational, knowledge, and performance challenges. As you consider an ARG for your next training initiative, remember to capture the innovative practices that come from the format and don’t forget to create accommodations to achieve 100% target audience participation, if it’s required.