November 06, 2011

Serious Games for Future Entrepreneurs

Is there a better moment to start my new blog if not when I’m stuck in an airplane for two hours? I’m currently flying above France, from Stuttgart to Birmingham, after a very interesting project meeting debating the future of dynamic manufacturing networks…

The Context

The previous week I attended an interesting workshop on entrepreneurship at Birmingham Business School. The purpose was to give research students a better insight into how businesses operate. While everyone was expecting some relatively boring bullet-point based presentation, we actually spent the whole time just playing a serious game. As funny as it may seem, at the end of the session I felt that there was no other better way to transfer so much information to the given audience.

How It Works

The game used is Sim Venture and has the main purpose of giving a holistic view on the common processes of running a small business. You start as a full time employee, dedicating 40 hours a week to your main job, while in your spare time assembling computers in your flat. There are plenty of variables that can be altered, grouped into four categories: Operations, Sales and Marketing, Finance, and Organization. A common scenario for the first months is to do a market research, define your target segment, do a competitor research and then readjust you product to meet the desires of potential clients. From this point it’s all up to you to decide how to proceed and organize your activity for the next 3 years. One of the drawbacks identified was that there’s only one scenario, assembling computers, with no possibility of trying something more service oriented. Moreover, it’s not currently possible to play against other human players, which makes it a bit less attractive for a group of students. Hopefully these features will be available soon!

Lessons Learnt

During the 4 hours spent on the workshop we had the opportunity of playing two complete games (36 months each), with a coffee break in between. It was quite funny to see a whole bunch of PhD students repeatedly asked to take a break, but actively refusing to do. Instead, they preferred to keep optimizing their virtual company’s financial flow. I have to admit it was quite addictive!

In the first game I followed my intuition and tried selling premium products while loyalizing my current customers. I spent very fast all the initial 15k into very aggressive marketing, exhibitions, a great website and networking events. As the orders started to flow I managed to quit my main job, outsourced all the production to a 3rd party and spent all my time just doing personal sales. In the first year I also got myself severely into debts from all possible sources: friends, family, loans and operating overdrafts. Even though I ignored cash flow issues a bit and almost got bankrupt, after 3 years I ended up with a turnover of over 200k and a very financially healthy business.

During the second game I tried to fight my intuition and went into the value for money market, selling cheap computers to end customers. As I wasn’t really good at doing that, I managed to get bankrupt twice in the allocated time for one game…


I think it’s good to be aware of your managerial tendencies for not sliding too much into that direction. However, don’t fight your intuition either as you’ll probably end up bad if you’re trying to accomplish something that you don’t believe in. And if we’re discussing about managerial tendencies, it could be interesting, if you have the chance, to take a Human Synergistics test. It’s more or less a personality test oriented on business capabilities, so that you are aware of your natural tendencies upfront. I did take one some years ago and I’ll be very interested take it again so I can see how I changed during the previous year. The results are ploted on a circumplex that looks like this.

In the end I think it was a great exercise and maybe the best way to get a holistic view on the implications of running a small business in the given time. Would be nice if Sim Venture or similar software would be used more in business related courses for captivating the students during their first modules. There’s probably no better way to keep a crowd focused than competing in (serious) game!

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