How Playing Video Games Can Make You a More Effective Employee

Axonify lets companies turn gaming breaks into teachable moments.

How Playing Video Games Can Make You a More Effective Employee

For most customer service reps, helping people choose the best health care plan isn’t a game. But it can be. Some companies have taken to using simple games with cleverly embedded training elements to prepare employees for their jobs. While workers enjoy a little gaming time, their employers get a little training time as well.


Here’s how it works. I recently found myself playing a simple video game on my laptop (basic premise: to cut sushi rolls into ever-smaller pieces), when a seemingly unrelated trivia question popped up on the screen and asked: “Prior to giving benefit information on an individual account contract to a provider, you should assure there are no delinquencies because there is no warning. True or False?”

The question was utterly random but I wanted to get it right. After all, there were points involved.

The answer to that question is “True”— at least for the folks working at Capital BlueCross, the national insurance provider that allowed me to demo their new and ridiculously successful gamified job-training platform. The concept itself, which eventually amounts to a lot more than matching time wasters with corporate trivia, was created by Axonify, an e-learning company that promises to combine video games with cutting edge brain science to teach employees at companies like Walmart, Bloomingdales, and Pep Boys internal rules and practices better than through boring on-the-job seminars.

With that old model, training costs a fortune and little gets retained. Instead, CBC green-lit Axonify’s virtual system for more than 400 employees earlier this year, after a pilot study showed they could reduce in-house mistakes that happen during application enrollments by 66%. Employees’ scores go up on an internal leader board, which lets the company shift the spirit around remembering workplace nuance entirely. “They want to know [their scores] versus us wanting them to know it,” says Mike Keeler, CBC’s vice president of operations. “That’s a huge change in the learning environment.”

Axonify’s results at other companies are equally encouraging. Pep Boys has used the system to decrease the company’s rate of accident incidents and injury claims by 45%. That company has also seen a 55% decrease in so-called shrink rate, a statistic for measuring losses from customer shoplifting, employee theft, or administrative errors. Most important, all of the gaming takes less than three minutes. Lessons are meant to act as short breaks that can be repeated daily.

Axonify itself is built to beat the forgetting curve, that measurable rate for which all knowledge that you are exposed to, especially the esoteric stuff, generally disappears. Their own studies show that job-related minutiae evaporates fast and exponentially. To battle that, CEO Carol Leaman, the former CEO of PostRank, a social analytics company that sold to Google in 2011, evokes basic brain science. It’s clinically shown that, once learned, knowledge can be more adequately retained if it’s revisited in the form of broad questions (think trivia) that are bite-size (ahem, that’s trivia) and consumed at intervals (as in between mini games). Keeping the playing time short means everyone is more likely to stay engaged. To incentivize that, some companies offer their own rewards like gift certificates for high scores.


Over the course of three days, I tested the effectiveness of this approach firsthand, enrolling in CBC’s platform to play several of the company’s offerings, from the sushi-chopping session to a memory game akin to Simon Says where lights flashed in a sequence that had to be repeated. Full disclosure: I was also given a cheat sheet to be able to answer more complex questions, like whether someone is eligible to have a Health Savings Account (HSA) plan if they are covered by Medicare. (The answer: No.) Getting that right or wrong didn’t much matter. Each question came with a quick follow-up to make sure I knew the facts behind that reasoning, in case of guessing.

For example: HSA plans are available to any individual who:

  • Is not covered by other health insurance
  • Is not covered by Medicare.
  • Cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

For employers, each session can be tracked, a good way to learn quickly which employees have gaps. But the software is smart too. If you start missing questions, the trivia also adapts to offer more questions around whatever topic you seem light on. In other words, if the game spots a weakness, its goal is to help you overcome it.

That’s not to say that every game is awesome. One, dubbed “Lights Out,” was so confusing that I scored a zero my first time playing. (There was a rock and some lighted question marks that I appeared to be able to chuck it at. And some obstacles in the way. And . . . whatever.) There were plenty of other games to choose from.

Leaman hopes to expand options further by letting game builders themselves create the next hit. This summer, the company hosted a public contest for developers to submit their own entries. Categories include arcade games, puzzles, sports, and quests, which will be playable on any web-enabled device.

And as long as users are having fun, Leaman believes they are teachable. “It doesn’t matter to us what the content is,” she says. “The bottom line is that we can train your employees for any environment where you need them to perform effectively.”


Go ahead and ask me what Preferred Provider Option (PPO) product includes a savings account that employees own and can take with them when they leave employment. It’s an HSA. Amazing what a little video game can teach you.

[Image: Flickr user Kerrin McLaughlin]


About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.