Games and Gamification in Teaching Marketing

Gamification in education is an approach that has become more commonplace in recent years. I was first involved in a marketing simulation game when I was a student many years ago and found it a far more engaging form of teaching and learning – and I still remember key concepts from that learning experience.

Since moving into university teaching over 20 years ago, I always strived to bring innovation and new ideas into the classroom. And because of my prior experience with teaching games as a student, I have always tried to incorporate aspects of both gaming and gamification into the curriculum.

Overall, I found that the use of games and competition fits naturally in the teaching of marketing. This is because an underpinning concept of marketing is competing in the marketplace – so constructing teaching around competition is a logical approach for marketing units.

What’s the Difference between Games and Gamification

Essentially both games and gamification attempt to teach students through some form of competition, where points and rewards are provided.

Teaching games are typically one-off events that are not linked to other activities. For example, you could use the Restaurant Pricing Game which is typically completed within a one-hour session and usually a clear leader (winner) is announced.

You can also use marketing simulation games which can be completed over several sessions or indeed an entire semester. Again, we will have a winner (usually based on profits generated in the simulation game) and rankings of all the teams.

This is opposed to the concept of gamification, where the entire learning experience is linked to various points, and potentially badges or rewards, and an ongoing leader board.

Needless to say, one-off teaching games are relatively simple to introduce, run, and debrief – whereas term/semester-based gamification take considerable time, effort and coordination.

An Example Approach to Gamification

As an example, here is an approach to gamification across the semester I used a few years ago, with the student cohort of over 300 students who were split into around 70 teams.

Firstly, the central platform was an ongoing marketing simulation game, which was played in teams. Each team was assigned to a pool to compete against other teams. This simulation game was played over the course of the semester with one decision made per week.

Points, in-game profits, were awarded for each team. Each team represented one of four ‘houses’ (similar to houses in Harry Potter) and total team points also allocated to the house.

In addition, Kahoot quizzes (see below) were played in most classes – at the end of the class for revision. The top three students in each quiz were identified and then points were manually added to the team and house points score.

I also utilized Quitch (also see below), which is a mobile phone app for multiple-choice question revision outside of the classroom that students can complete at any time. It should be noted that Quitch itself is structured using gamification principles, also awarding badges and having its own leader board.

Again, the points awarded by Quitch were added to each team’s and house’s points tally. As you are starting to see, this is somewhat of a manual process at times.

Further points were awarded for in-class participation and for questions and comments posted on the online discussion board.

Obviously, one of the challenges is the weighting of points appropriately, which needs to be considered and tested before implementing in the semester – because it is too late to change afterwards.

Therefore, here is a quick summary of the components that contributed to the overall points and leader board:

  • semester-long simulation game
  • in-class Kahoot quiz top three students for the week
  • outside class Quitch app top 10 students for the week
  • points per team per week for in class discussion participation
  • points allocated to the team from online discussion board participation

The key part of success of gamification is the promotion and excitement of the teaching staff. I would post announcements of the various results and changes in the leader board each week, as well as encouraging “less active” students to become more involved and engaged.

Without the instructor’s promotion of the gamification approach for the unit/class and attempts to build overall excitement around the leader board and its changes, it is likely that it will have limited success and impact.

Prizes and Rewards

Obviously, providing prizes or gifts depends on the size of the student cohort as well as the budget. Fortunately, for that semester we had the support of an educational grant which allowed us to purchase some gifts. These gifts included simple bags of chocolates for weekly winners/leaders to gift cards of various values for winning teams and house participants over the semester.

Evaluation of My Gamification Experience

The Downsides

As can be guessed from the above information, gamification takes work and requires a significant level of time commitment.

This time commitment is necessary in:

  • pre-planning,
  • consideration of points and their weighting,
  • establishing quizzes,
  • running the simulation game, and
  • manually constructing points and leader boards
  • plus the ongoing promotion to students and training of support teaching staff

In addition to the time commitment, you also need a budget of sorts. This budget is to provide some form of rewards and bonuses. However, it should be noted that some students are motivated through their performance on the leader board – so prizes are not always required.

The Upsides

As we know as marketing educators, it is difficult to engage all students at the same time regardless of what approach to teaching or teaching activity is utilized. Students have different learning styles and are at different stages of their understanding of the concepts. Plus, they generally undertaking other classes/units which also placed demands upon them.

However, I found that by using a variety of activities and games to generate points, then generally there was “something for everybody” during the teaching time.

There were around 75% of students quite engaged with the central marketing simulation game. The other 25% appeared to dislike either their team or their team was not performing well in the game itself. And depending upon the complexity of the simulation game, there can be considerable mental effort in making decisions each round – which some students enjoy, but others find somewhat confronting.

Typically, I find that the Kahoot quizzes are well received by over 90% of students, provided they are structured appropriately – see further comments below. And a similar percentage of students are also engaged with Quitch.

Therefore, an overall upside is the integration of the isolated gaming elements used across the semester. I would generally always use both Kahoot and Quitch anyway, so combining them into a points-based system makes it for more interesting semester for many students and often drives their sense of competition and get some more engaged in the unit.

My Experience with Marketing Teaching Games

Over the years I have developed many variations of teaching games, plus borrowed many from training books and other teaching academics, as well as the growing collection of EdTech tools now available online.

Overall, I am a relatively heavy user of educational games in the classroom. As outlined above, these are generally one-off events/sessions where there is usually a winning team. The reasons I use games so extensively are:

  • it engages less engaged students
  • creates a sense of teamwork
  • it makes learning fun
  • it is very memorable to students, and they can recall concepts easier
  • it brings marketing “alive” with real issues
  • to students it doesn’t seem like learning
  • many students are naturally competitive and will be more invested in the activity

Let’s review marketing education games a few of mine and others…

Kahoot

Kahoot is a great way to finish/recap a class or lecture. Generally, I would use Kahoot at the end of EVERY session. Students tend to be highly engaged, and it is a great way for me to assess which topics have been well understood (or not) by the students.

However, it is necessary to structure Kahoot appropriately for its greatest impact. Here are some of my principles for a good Kahoot design:

  • limit it to around 10 to 15 questions
  • make the questions short and easy to read
  • have a mix of content revision questions (around 80%) with the balance being more “fun” questions
  • try to build in a fun response to some of the questions
  • pause between the questions and make comments on the leader board
  • highlight an expected responses – particularly poor results of the concept that we just covered late in the class
  • make it fun and lively
  • where possible, have a small price for the winner/s
  • and avoid making it too serious or too stressful – it is designed to be fun revision

Currently, Kahoot offers both free and paid plans.

Quitch

Quitch is a phone app that students use outside of class and contains its own leader board and badges. It is somewhat similar to Kahoot except students can play at any time by themselves (that is, not in the classroom).

It is ideal for more complex revision. Kahoot generally has light/fun questions, whereas with Quitch you can add more detailed questions. Again, it is helpful for you as the instructor to know what concepts are not well understood.

I would generally use Quitch most semesters for revision purposes. And I found there is a correlation between student leader board scores and exam performance. There is probably a crossover effect here. With better students more likely to engage with extra learning opportunities, such as Quitch, but also other students learning performance appears to be improved with the revision provided by this app.

Like with Kahoot you also need to structure your own questions. However, it is possible to “rollover” your question bank each term/semester, which reduces your time commitment as you go forward.

Please note that Quitch is usually a licensed product to the institution.

Digital Escape Rooms

There are two digital escape rooms on the Great Ideas for Teaching Marketing website. One covers marketing mix elements and the other covers aspects of consumer behavior.

These are more fun based activities and are designed for team building and peer learning. Basically, this student teams need to work through marketing puzzles and questions and then identify a code that gets into the next question. There are no real winners or losers, other than the team that finishes fastest.

These games are free to use. Find out more about the digital escape rooms here.

One-off Marketing Games

There are numerous free marketing teaching games available on the website as well. They generally played in 30 minute to two hour time period, depending upon the game and typically focus on a few aspects of marketing concepts.

They are generally all team-based and often involve student interaction and even moving around the classroom. These games are more likely to engage students, motivate competition, and make classes find and interesting.

It should be noted that prior preparation is generally required – which is typically getting students to understand the rules of the game beforehand. The biggest risk to any teaching game is to have some teams not understanding what they need to do.

For example, you can get round 2 and the team has not interacted or performed well, and when you go to speak to them they often say “we’re not sure what was supposed to do”. Therefore, even a practice round beforehand can be helpful.

Please check out some of the free game to teaching marketing as per the below list:

Marketing Simulation Games

Simulation games are slightly longer to implement. I have several versions available on the website. The basic version is a free game to all and can generally be played within 1-2 hours – depending upon the student cohort.

All games are built around an Excel spreadsheet that does all the calculations for the instructor and they have been tested and will operate without error, once you have an understanding of the inputs required.

There are two simulation games available for paid members of Great Ideas of Teaching Marketing, namely:

The Advanced Marketing Sim Game is an extension of the basic free version, except that the market demand in the various positioning cells is dynamic – making the understanding of how the market is moving and evolving a critical decision factor.

This game is typically played over 2-3 hours, which lends itself to multiple sessions

The Expert Marketing Sim Game is a far more complex game and is suitable for advanced/senior students only. And it is necessary to play this game over several weeks or even an entire semester.

Important note: while this game provides a rich learning experience for marketing concepts, it does require a significant learning curve – I would suggest providing students with the Excel software and then having 1-2 practice rounds before commencing the game for real.

Interested in the Sim Games, start here… Our Choice of Sim Games and Advantages of Our Sim Games.

Learning Tools

Although not technically a teaching game, this website also contains numerous free teaching tools for key marketing concepts, including:

The Wrap-Up

If you have ever experimented with teaching games in the classroom, then you would be aware that power and effect on students. Obviously, there is a little bit more time and effort running games (and the associated introduction/explanation and wrap up and debrief) than a more traditional teaching approach.

As you can tell, I am a strong supporter of marketing teaching games and gamification approaches in the classroom and I encourage you to trial and utilize some of games and activities available on this website.


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