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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

Ignoring an e-learning game (to learn!)


Ignoring an e-learning game (to learn!)

Matt Young

I’ve been making a concerted effort to dig into mobile games lately. I’m curious about how these addictive time-wasters compel people…and now I’m hooked. I haven’t turned on my Xbox lately (unless I’m watching Hulu). No, my phone is where I do most of my gaming these days. So I try things, tend to get bored, and move on. Some cool, beautiful, and intriguing stuff, but one game…ONE GAME…has really gotten under my skin. I can’t stop playing it even though (I’m embarrassed to admit) the game mostly plays itself when I walk away. It’s Hyper Hippo’s AdVenture Capitalist.


AdVenture Capitalist is an example of an idle, or incremental, game. If you didn’t click that link, essentially all that means is you usually tend to do very simple actions to gain currency that can then be used to collect items or power ups. In AdVenture Capitalist specifically, you are buying up businesses and then pressing a button to start a meter for that business that generates profits, which you can use to continue buying more businesses and power ups. Eventually, you can hire managers that run the meters for you (no need to get carpal tunnel pressing that button). Fun, very easy to learn and play, and addictive.

What sets AdCap apart is its various power ups, bonuses, and its Angel Investors. You can buy multipliers with all your “hard-earned” cash that increase the output of your businesses and make it even easier to buy more types and larger amounts of businesses. Reaching certain (and frequent) thresholds also gives multipliers and speed bonuses to the rate of your businesses’ meters (Buy your 1,000th Lemonade Stand and get a x5 increase to your profits for those businesses; buy 500 of all types of businesses and get a x2 speed upgrade across the board).

But as you allow money to accumulate you also attract Angel Investors. You can only collect and use these Angel Investors by selling all of your businesses and starting over from the ground up. The Investors can then be spent to buy even more bonuses that remain permanent and increase your profits. There are also in-app purchases that allow you to buy Gold, which can be spent on various items or immediate payouts of cash to then dump back into your businesses.

The real fun of this game is the Angel Investors. Perhaps you have topped out and are having trouble getting enough money to buy the next Upgrade or enough businesses to unlock a multiplier. Meanwhile, your Investors are growing in number. Do you choose to dump everything and start over? Often the answer is yes, and it’s not terribly difficult to get back up to where you were, but it can be hard to surpass where you were. You may have opted out too quickly and don’t have enough Investors to properly supplement your new advance. However, if you continue to wait while your profits are slowing, you will not bring in enough Investors to make a difference.


Of course, every time I play a new board or video game, I can’t help but break it down and see how mechanics and ideas from that game can inspire the e-learning that I get to help create. This game is pretty far removed from the gamification elements that we normally use, so I started to brainstorm about how these types of idle/incremental mechanics could translate to learning.

Now, we don’t advocate re-skinning an existing consumer game and passing it off as e-learning. That is a trend that we abhor and find quite ineffective. Instead, we play games to inspire how we consider solutions to the challenges we face in e-learning. The greatest of which may always be engagement. Gamification can go a long way to keep your learners onboard and excited about learning. So let’s explore how we could use the concepts that drive an incremental game like AdVenture Capitalist, add our own mechanics, and create something entirely new.


So, what if you wanted to teach a sales coach to work with a team of sales representatives? While I wouldn’t recommend an incremental game as a stand-alone solution for this, I think it could make a really interesting activity. Instead of spending money to buy businesses (and thus make more money), perhaps the learner spends the currencies of time and/or effort to coach sales staff (instead of buying Oil Companies). Thus, your staff becomes more effective as you “invest” in them, and makes more money in the field. You could even adjust the hiring managers concept from AdCap instead of being something you purchase into a threshold (i.e., after you invest enough time into one of your staff members, their meter begins to run independently (since they are now sufficiently trained) and you can still spend time and effort to coach and improve them).

Of course, in reality sales staff won’t constantly increase and increase in value. So, I would pitch adding a concept of interruptions to this activity. These could manifest as simple text prompts that let you know that a sales member lost a significant portion of his or her clientele (less output for that individual), that a sales member quit (now you have to coach the replacement), or that sales have just slowed across the board due to factors out of your control (everyone makes less money). This way you could randomly adjust the rates of growth and add an element of reality to the game. You could even un-automate a sales member meter if they require additional or current training as trends changes in the industry.

Plus the learner could play for a just a few minutes a day and walk away. If the interruptions were tied to a clock, the game could be smart enough to know when the learner has logged back in and throw a curve ball. If the learner ignores the team for too long, things continually get worse. Checking in every day becomes a part of the game just as much as actually coaching the various sales reps. You could shut off, walk away from, and ignore your e-learning, and your e-learning is adjusting to teach you based on when you log back in.

Now the sales coach activity is an idea that uses a lot of the same mechanics as AdCap, but perhaps some of the mechanics could be isolated for other games and activities. What if managing the various meters equated to certain tasks on a factory floor or in a restaurant? Perhaps, as you gain skills in a course about public speaking, you could gather the equivalent of Angel Investors (we could just call it clout or make little bird icons and call it Phony Robins [get it?]). You could use this currency to access new tools or resources in the course.


I admit these are relatively radical for many projects and desired outcomes for our clients. Perhaps we’ll never build a course or game that uses these kinds of mechanics. But I still think it’s important for us to analyze the possibilities and look for differentiators in offbeat places. Often when our teams get together to brainstorm, whether it’s just the Instructional Designers or employees representing all four of the pillars, the ideas that we bring together from our various influences begin to merge and morph into something new and unexpected. Exposing ourselves to concepts like incremental games, no matter how strange or foreign to our normal paradigm, can open the door to pure creativity that leads to one-of-a-kind solutions.