One of the topics I’ve been talking about as a sideline at work for several years since the early days of eightbar, and as one of the core topics on the weekly Dogear Nation podcast, is the idea of “serious games”: using gaming technology and immersive environments, combined with the web and emerging tools, to teach business skills and build awareness of social issues. We embraced environments like Second Life and middleware like Unity early on as we recognised their potential to add new dimensions to the learning experience. IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook gaming study was talking about Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders in 2007, and last year we published Lessons from Online Gaming. It has been something of a slow-burner, but it has continued to be an interesting field to watch.
I’m pretty excited to see that today, IBM’s CityOne game has been launched. This is strongly tied in with the Smarter Planet initiative and aims to provide an environment which can teach the player about the challenges faced by cities today, as well as what IBM does, and how technology solutions can be applied to improve energy, finance, retail and water in urban scenarios.
The game is accessible right on the IBM website and despite the “download” links and mentions in other news articles I’ve seen, it needs nothing more than a web browser to play (oh, and Flash – so I won’t be playing it on my iPhone, but then I’m happier seeing the graphics on a larger display!). Works just fine in Chrome on Ubuntu :-)
The aim is to balance a city’s resources and the happiness of the citizens, whilst attempting to triage problems and provide longer-term solutions through technology. I’ve had a brief play and found it really easy to get started, but within a few turns things start to get more tricky as funds may run lower. I liked the music, which was ambient enough not to be too annoying, and I also liked the way in which the image of the city gains colour as various tasks are completed – you’ll see the watercolour-ish appearance in the screenshot from my game, above. Another thing that the game has is an achievements system with badges that can be earned as aspects of the city’s environment are brought under control – this means it instantly feels familiar to gamers used to these kind of rewards systems, and constantly draws you in for another turn to see what you can unlock next time around.
This isn’t the first such serious game that IBM has produced, of course – INNOV8 and INNOV8 2.0 have been successful over the past couple of years in teaching the principles of Business Process Management. However, CityOne does a nice job of connecting technology with an environment (a city) that many of us will be more than familiar with, and making the ideas inherent in a Smarter Planet become apparent. Well done to my friend Phaedra Boinidiris and her great team for creating another compelling experience.