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Games make tech job training child's play

September 28, 1998
Web posted at 3:45 PM EDT

by Nancy Dillon

(IDG) -- Ever feel guilty about playing a game of Solitaire on a company computer? You wouldn't have to if you worked at Bankers Trust New York Corp. In fact, you'd be encouraged to pull out your joystick and even involve co-workers in competitions.

That's because the New York-based, international bank holding company has added gameware to its corporate training arsenal.

Employees who need to review internal company policies play intranet-based games such as Sexual Harassment Solitaire. And employees who need to learn the new rules governing derivatives trading play Straight Shooter -- a three- dimensional desktop game. Developed in-house, it resembles the popular consumer games Doom and Quake.

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"Bankers Trust has a population that is skewed young, so we had to consider the cognitive styles of a generation raised on Sesame Street, MTV, action movies, Nintendo and the Internet," said Marc Prensky, vice president of human resources and head of the bank's in-house game-design division.

"These are people on the cutting business edge, and handing them a 2- to 3-inch book of dry policies isn't effective. Games bring the level of engagement that's needed," he said.

Prensky's game group introduced Straight Shooter -- its first fantasy-style endeavor -- in January. The company started three years ago with simple quiz games; its 11th game is due in December.

All the games were designed as shells with customizable content templates. And each can connect with a centralized database that tracks scores and game completion. For users uncomfortable with the medium, each game also provides a straightforward, question-only mode.

Computer-based training is a definite trend, analysts said. Ann Graham, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group, Inc., has studied the Bankers Trust implementation in depth. She said it's "tremendous flexibility" is one factor fueling the trend.

"Online training is good for those who like to do things fast and on their own," Graham said. "And games are great because they can employ humor and fantasy to help you learn without even knowing that you're learning."

Flexibility was certainly a factor for Prensky. "Sometimes it's hard to get [the students] off the trading floor or away from stressful work," he said. "We give them a window for game completion, and then they can choose when to devote the time to do it."

Kathryn Komsa, a Bankers Trust principal, said she was a skeptic. But after trying Straight Shooter, she said she "changed 180 degrees." Komsa said she was most impressed with the game's reinforcement of material. "When you get something wrong, it comes up again and again until you get it right. Most traditional training tools don't have this ability," she said.

Komsa eventually helped design a program that administers Straight Shooter to incoming MBA graduates. The first class of 125 students "loved it," she said. "As an introduction to the stuff that Bankers Trust does, it communicated to them that we are an innovative and creative company. I think it wowed them."

Prensky's group has started to share its innovations with the world. One of its first clients was ABN Amro North America, Inc. Paul Hickey, a senior training consultant at the Chicago-based bank, licensed Battle of the Brains about a year ago. ABN uses the sports-themed game as a recap tool in new-employee orientations.

"We went for it because it lets us develop content on our own," Hickey said. "It doesn't take a programmer to figure out how to use it or build it." He said ABN uses a lot of multimedia training tools. "It's one of those things that there's definitely a need for," Hickey said. "People are so receptive to it. It's actually funny how competitive they get."

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