Serious games for a serious outcome

Case

Serious games for a serious outcome

Serious games for the logistics sector

Games are increasingly used to present scientific knowledge to people who can use it. In the programme Accelerator, NWO funded the development of such serious games for the logistics sector. These games proved to effectively engage target groups in scientific insights.

Imagine: logistics service providers, rail transporters, terminal operators and shipping companies playing a board game together. That recently happened at the Port of Rotterdam. The aim of Rail Cargo Challenge (link only Dutch) is to load trains going to the hinterland: how do you get freight as efficiently and cheaply as possible to its destination and also to the client's satisfaction? 'In the first round, everybody went for personal gain and many containers disappeared to other ports', says Jaco van Meijeren (TNO). 'In the second round, players were encouraged to think of solutions together. That proved to yield far more for everybody.'

A positive aspect is that you can make mistakes because you play in a safe setting.
- Jaco van Meijeren (TNO)

The serious game from TNO, TU Delft, game builder The Barn, the Port of Rotterdam and ProRail reveals that the fragmentation of freight is a problem. Unless containers are concentrated at certain locations, the train will depart later and half empty, and the price will increase. Consequence: unprofitable transport and dissatisfied clients. Therefore, how do you make it clear that everybody suffers damage and that all parties can contribute to the solution? With cards, pawns and dice!

'During a game, it doesn't matter if you fail'

Players of Rail Cargo Challenge can try things out: for example by consolidating the containers or by experimenting with prizes. If they make a mess of it, then they see the container departing by lorry to the competing port of Hamburg. The game element makes it fun, and while playing, participants learn something about a current issue in the transport sector. And that is the idea behind the board game which was developed in the context of

the Top Sector Logistics research project Synchro-gaming (link only Dutch). 'In the game, you trigger participants to jointly think about solutions', says Van Meijeren, who coordinates the project. 'A positive aspect is that you can make mistakes because you play in a safe setting.'

'How do you get drivers and depot workers to embrace innovations?'

Synchro-gaming is one of the many serious game projects for the logistics sector. Universities and research institutions do a lot of research into this crucial sector for the Netherlands. Games provide an opportunity to introduce research results to companies, employees and students of logistics courses.

Board game innoveren kun je lerenInnoveren kun je leren (Credits: Peter Oeij, TNO)

Research institutions often focus on smart innovations. Robots that help in distribution centres, Google glass for faster order picking, truck platooning –with automated lorries bumper-to-bumper in a convoy– to save fuel, reduce CO2 emissions and realise a better flow. 'That's fantastic, but how do you get the drivers and distribution centre employees to embrace these ideas?', says researcher Peter Oeij (TNO). He believes too many innovations remain on the shelf because employees are not involved. A serious game can change this. He is therefore pleased that NWO is paying attention to this in the Accelerator programme. Oeij: 'A technical innovation will only be successful if you manage to realise a social innovation too.'

For transport companies that want to innovate, but are not sure how, TNO devised the board game Innoveren kun je leren (You can learn to innovate too, link only Dutch). Oeij describes it as 'a sort of Game of the Goose without dice'. Employees who sit around the board take it in turns to draw a card and they read the text on it. "Do we need to spend money on an innovation approach?" or "Should we implement truck platooning? " This initiates the necessary discussion among the employees of forwarders, hauliers and stevedoring companies who play the game.' An innovation catches on if you manage to develop a positive attitude as well', says Oeij. 'That is easier to realise if you use a game to challenge people to give arguments for or against.'

Collaboration is in everybody's interest

Implementing smart technical innovations more effectively is also the aim of the Het Virtuele Keten Spel [The Virtual Chain Game, link only Dutch]. Wageningen University developed this game for the ornamental flowers chain as part of the research project Davinc3i Community.

Whoever buys a bunch of flowers wants to enjoy it for as long as possible. The flowers therefore need to be kept in perfect condition from the grower to the living room. 'The flower and plant chain can continuously follow the product using Internet of Things technologies', says project leader Cor Verdouw from Wageningen University. 'With our board game, you simulate the entire chain.'

The game is about raising awareness of the possibilities remote monitoring provides. For example, if you receive an "Event card" which states that your flowers are standing in the burning sun, then you are a fool not to invest in monitoring sensors. ‘As otherwise, you can throw the flowers away.’

The game developers also hope to encourage the chain partners to collaborate more intensively. As after all, providing better quality is in everybody's interest.

Playing the Virgual Chain GamePlaying 'Het Virtuele Keten Spel' [the Virtual Chain Game] (Credits: Davinc3i)

'Rather a game than a syllabus'

Education is another field where serious games can be deployed. 'Rather a game than a syllabus', laughs Eric Hopstaken. On behalf of the Breda University of Applied Sciences, he is project leader of the research programme Innovations for Future Skills (InFuS@). Older employees who must attend a continuing education course learn far more from a game than from sitting in a classroom. The same applies to young people too. 'They are used to gaming at home, and so serious gaming more closely matches their experience.'

With a host of companies and institutions, including Eindhoven University Technology, Hopstaken developed a game for distribution centre employees. The online game focuses on the supply management of spare parts. It aims to give order pickers for machines and devices insight into how many parts you can best store. A jam-packed distribution centre results in relatively high storage costs, whereas insufficient supplies mean you cannot deliver to the client fast enough. In both cases, the player receives penalty points. The art is to find exactly the right balance. 'Many SMEs struggle with this', says Hopstaken. ‘Our game offers the opportunity to practise this in an inspiring environment.' Twenty to fifty people can play at the same time. They receive direct online feedback about the decisions they take.

Companies are very interested in games like this. The research project InFuS@ therefore built an overarching game platform too. Companies can choose the game that suits them, and employees can then use the platform to play together online. InFuS@ also built the game Power Business Intelligence. It uses big data to help players discover where innovation or improvement is desirable within a company.

Did you know? A measurement after the Davinc3i project revealed that the willingness to collaborate after the game had increased by more than half.

’Scientific articles are not intended to make people enthusiastic’

Serious games are now a tried and tested method in the logistics sector. Developing a playable game usually costs six months and a lot of consultation with the target group. Then you have something worthwhile. Online games contain various practice scenarios and professional game builders ensure an attractive graphic design.

However, that does not mean that the relatively expensive online games are more successful. 'In my experience, it is mainly board games that work really well', says Van Meijeren. 'That is because these get people talking with each other.' A board game costs time because you need to organise a separate meeting for it. 'However, bringing people together in a single room stimulates them far more', adds Verdouw. 'The interaction from behind a computer is completely different.' A measurement after the Davinc3i project revealed that the willingness to collaborate after the game had increased by more than half.

Can a game replace a scientific report? No, everyone agrees, games are clearly complementary to the scientific research they are based on. Research in the humanities and social sciences can therefore complement a prominently technical research very well by developing a game. This is because a game adds a behavioural component. 'Our game about supply management is based on research from Eindhoven University of Technology. However, the scientific articles that this research yielded are not intended to make people enthusiastic', explains Hopstaken. 'That’s a job for the game builders.'