The global gaming market is expected to bring in about US$159.3 billion in revenue in 2020 alone, according to games market insight company, Newzoo. People can spend hours on games if they find them compelling enough.
Think Codex Sdn Bhd designs games to bring about behavioural change with a view to improving a company’s bottom line. The company had been growing and doing well, but the education industry, like most others, took a hit this year.
With the restricted movement dictated by the Movement Control Order (MCO), it saw industry-wide cancellations of its training sessions, as these were not categorised under essential services.
Andrew Lau, founder and CEO of Think Codex, recalls the absurdly high cancellation rate (about 90%) when the MCO was announced in March this year. Most companies, he says, went into full cash conservation mode to brace themselves for what was to come.
At the time, Think Codex had been about to increase its global reach and work with clients in Europe, the US and beyond. But then one by one, the countries shut their borders.
The company responded quickly, pivoting to digital versions of its methodology-based products as well as providing a new product which focused on employee mental health (which was expected to deteriorate during this time).
Lau says much has changed for the company since then. “Digital used to be just part of what we do; now, it’s at the forefront of our business.”
And despite the difficult conditions, he says Think Codex managed to secure new clients. It converted a number of its programmes to a digital format and offered clients flexibility in planning the sessions.
“A lot of clients still place a lot of value on physical sessions so we give them the flexibility to go digital, keeping in mind the possibility of another CMCO (Conditional MCO) nearing the session date.” If it is all right to proceed, the session will go as planned. If movement is restricted, they have the option to go digital.
But digital learning still has a long way to go. Lau points out that it has a very high dropout rate, especially when it is not tied to an employee’s key performance indicators (KPIs). According to a study published by Sage, the world’s leading independent academic publisher, key reasons for dropping out include a lack of motivation, self-regulation and interaction.
Think Codex found a way to get around this. In fact, Lau says its programmes boast a completion rate of 82% and engagement rates of almost 97%. He adds that these were results from a programme Think Codex did with a client, a leading financial institution in Malaysia.
He says the company was able to ramp up completion and engagement rates because it focuses on the psychology behind the simulations. It places importance on the rewards process, the hook to garner and keep interest, which results in behavioural changes that are routinely reinforced in a fun and entertaining manner.
Improving Wellness through Games
With the onset of the pandemic, a myriad of problems have arisen for the workforce. For starters, productivity is more difficult to gauge and the mental health of the employees has been affected. Lau says that not only can game elements help with skills training, they can also be used to tackle mental and physical wellness.
This is especially refreshing because other than the physical threat presented by the virus, there was also a general increase in anxiety among employees, who were, nonetheless, expected to function as normal.
Consequently, Lau says, there was an increase in demand for courses tackling the thorny issue of mental wellness. “We thought that maybe because it’s been a while (about half a year) since the first MCO, people would have settled down as things would have gradually normalised. But no. Productivity is still an issue.”
So the Think Codex team put their heads together and came up with QuestProductivity, a programme that promotes healthy habits and behaviour in a fun and interactive way. On completing the programme, Lau says, participants demonstrate an improvement in eating habits and their ability to cope with stress, among other facets of wellness.
This is made possible by introducing the competitive element in the programme (including points and badges) which everyone can see, but stressing cause-driven motivation and positive peer pressure.
The goal of the wellness course is clearly defined as it concerns the participant’s own well-being on top of the social aspect of the game. “Participants log what they eat and can even post a video of themselves exercising; this is peer pressure, but in a way that promotes healthy habits.”
Participants assume the role of the protagonist in their stories and go through “chapters” (essentially levels) that unlock more content and challenges along the way. Challenges focus on different areas of wellness. For example, the first week could focus on healthy sleeping habits and the next week could focus on exercise.
This starts with a learning backdrop that focuses on the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle on the body and a challenge to log their sleeping hours. The results show improvement, such as participants switching to sleeping more hours after noticing their sleep may not have been optimal. Another example is getting participants to move and exercise more, which resulted in an increase in their physical activity.
Think Codex consults with subject matter experts to create suitable content which it then prototypes and validates through clients.
Levelling Up in 2021
Lau and his team plan to launch a mobile game to teach leadership and soft skills to children and teens. “Through our clients, such as Fortune 500 companies, we are familiar with what skills are highly sought after. This game will allow for a smoother transition when they enter working life.
“What’s available in the market right now is mostly skewed towards subject-specific learning such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Besides this, the majority of available apps are entertainment-centric.”
Think Codex is applying what it has learnt about instilling desirable qualities in employees in its games for younger people who have yet to enter the job market.
“We see this as a critical need and we think it is perfectly scalable.”
This product was supposed to have been launched earlier this year but with all the disruption brought about by the pandemic, its implementation has been pushed back by nine months.
While it is difficult to engage adults with e-learning and online training, it is even more difficult to engage children and teens. “You need to make it fun, literally like a game. This is where we have all the skill sets in terms of the learning methodology, instructional design and our understanding of human psychology.”