This Video Game Could Change Business School Forever -- And It's Actually Fun

We got to test out a new game that's supposed to be better at teaching strategy than a professor is. Here's what we found.

Imagine you are a new employee at a large airline. You walk into an airport one day and receive an email from your boss. He says the company needs a new strategy, and he wants you to come up with some options. You panic and scramble to find as much information as possible among passengers and employees at the airport before you board your flight.

This is the premise for a new video game called "One Day," developed for Hult International Business School to teach strategy to MBA students. The game is still in development and probably won't be ready for the classroom until next year, but early tests show promise. Not to mention, it's actually fun to play.

While it is now fairly common for video games to teach elementary concepts -- spelling, basic math, typing -- higher education has more or less resisted encroaching technology up to this point. Until recently, higher-level concepts have been harder to program because there may be more than one right answer. "One Day," which its creators say is the first game of its kind, poses some fairly new questions about learning in the digital age and the role of the professor in a modern classroom.

"I’ve been a business school professor for 30 years," said John Beck, whose educational consulting company, North Star Leadership Group, developed "One Day." He lamented that most MBA programs rely on teaching methods honed decades before the personal computing revolution. "For 30 years I’ve been thinking the system is so broken. The case studies model dates from the 1920s, and the lecture model from the 1850s."

In the new model Hult is evaluating -- teaching by video game simulation -- students actually interact with the material, rather than sitting in long lecture sessions or working through historical cases in class.

In the airport terminal featured in "One Day," the business strategy game, players can interact with any of the highlighted passengers or employees, read the magazines in the corner or go into the airline’s lounge.
In the airport terminal featured in "One Day," the business strategy game, players can interact with any of the highlighted passengers or employees, read the magazines in the corner or go into the airline’s lounge.
North Star Leadership Group

Hult recently conducted an experiment in London to see just how well the prototype game teaches. Students were given a test of their knowledge of strategy, then half were taught by a professor and the other half played the game, then they were tested again. The results showed "One Day" taught the students just as well, if not slightly better than the lecture professor did.

When North Star let me play the game for myself recently, I enjoyed it. The production quality and entertainment factor don't compare to, say, "Halo," but it's certainly more engaging than your average lecture. The graphics are fairly flat and almost look like they were drawn in MS Paint, but in a kind of pleasing way. It wouldn't be my go-to game on the weekend, but it was fun to spend a day exploring it.

The current version of "One Day," which, again, is just a prototype and only a fraction of what the full course-replacing game will look like, takes a couple of hours to complete. The player gets a task: figure out a new strategy for the fictional airline company by talking to customers and employees, who change every time the game is restarted. Players must also read through available information about the airline industry and company's performance. The player takes notes, and at the end makes a decision about the future of the company.

That said, it's hard. The game requires you to absorb new concepts while also sorting through which information is important and which is not. You don't really get any answers until you play it all the way through, so it's difficult to get right on the first try.

According to Adam Carstens, another of the game's developers, my experience was fairly typical. He told me people often don't do very well their first time playing, but do much better the second time through.

The obvious question here is whether games are coming to automate professors' jobs. For now, it seems unlikely.

This is an exciting new frontier in higher education, but Beck says he doesn't think this is the kind of automation that is going to put people out of work. On the contrary, it will free up professors from teaching low-level introductory classes to do more of the kind of work they enjoy, like research and teaching more specialized classed.

"It's a much more human role for teachers," noted Beck. "The rote learning, the basics, it’s pretty straightforward. Teaching to the test can be done by computers."

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