Special Note: Read our white paper that this post was adapted from. 

Gaming and simulation as a training method offers myriad benefits. The fixed costs of designing and developing gaming and simulation, however, usually scare off training professionals. The good news: there
are methods that can be used to help reduce the
overall cost of integrating gaming and simulation into
an organization’s training programs to promote greater overall performance. Through our experience, incorporating gaming and simulation into a training program can be affordable over the life cycle of the training.

Before we present potential solutions to lowering the costs of gaming and simulation, though, it’s important to provide some context about these training methods.

1. Defining gaming and simulation
Let’s start by making sure we are all on the same page when we define gaming and simulation. Gaming,
or serious games, includes specific types of simulations that feature competitive engagement, rules, and a scoring system. Simulation involves artificial environments created to manage an individual’s
experience of reality.

2. Why gaming and simulation have historically been expensive

The greatest asset of gaming and simulation, fidelity—the degree to which a simulation matches reality— is one primary cost driver. The more realism that is required to meet performance objectives, the greater the increase in the level of effort for every phase of development.

The industry-standard process for training development is the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) model. For gaming and simulation development, each phase of the ADDIE process is more costly than for traditional training, as explained below:

  • ANALYSIS—Instructional designers must conduct more extensive research and analysis into the requirements for performance outcomes and the contextual elements necessary to create realistic, meaningful scenarios and environments.
  • DESIGN—Designers spend a good deal of time producing design plans and storyboards that provide the details of the specifications, tell the story, and present the options and results of various correct and incorrect decisions.
  • DEVELOPMENT—Gaming and simulation typically involve richer media elements and complex programming in order to present learners with realistic decision-making scenarios and more engaging interactivity.
  • IMPLEMENTATION—Integrating gaming and simulation with Learning Management Systems is more complex and time consuming.
  • EVALUATION—Additional time and resources are required for formative evaluation, testing, and bug fixes.

3. Why gaming and simulation work particularly well for certain types of training

Gaming and simulation offer significant benefits over other traditional training methods for specific situations. Gaming and simulation:

a) Are helpful when you can’t replicate the job environment (e.g., a flying environment for pilots or test patients for surgeons) for practice because it is too dangerous or too expensive, or it occurs too infrequently.

b) Enable training anytime and just about anywhere using distance learning technology (e.g., Internet, personal computer, mobile device). The organization can reduce or eliminate some of the costs associated with providing traditional training, such as instructor and classroom costs, travel and lodging expenses for trainees, and trainees’ downtime from their regular jobs. Learners have the benefit of being able to take the training they want, when they want, in a comfortable environment, and at their own pace.

c) Can decrease the number of hours it takes for learners to reach proficiency in task performance.

d) Are as effective as, or even more effective than, traditional training in the transfer and retention of knowledge and skills, and most importantly, improvements in on-the-job performance.

4. Instructional benefits of gaming and simulation

In today’s global environment, business, government, and military organizations want to develop critical thinkers who can quickly react and adapt what they know to dynamic changes in situations. Producing this adaptive capability requires learners to be active participants in the learning process and that the learning take place in a meaningful, relevant context. Gaming and simulation are powerful tools for creating more realistic, experiential learning environments that enable application and practice of knowledge and skills. Gaming and simulation work well for the delivery of instruction because they:

  • Simulate a safe environment in which to make mistakes, receive immediate feedback, and correct errors.
  • Provide “hands-on” practice that leads to mastery.
  • Offer a sense of self-assessment as learners understand when they “get it” and when they don’t.
  • Provide meaningful feedback that improves performance.
  • Deliver active engagement for the learner—realistic environments and situations, problem-solving challenges, and competition and collaboration with other learners.
  • Support self-directed learning, allowing learners to explore information, processes, and procedures at their own pace.
  • Encourage exploration, action, and reflection, and provide the ability to explore, solve problems, experience consequences, and reflect on results.
  • Enable effective assessments that test what has been taught at the application level.
  • Enhance technical and functional expertise, problem solving, decision making, interpersonal, and communications skills.

Lastly, in the current workforce there is now a “digital generation” of learners who have grown up using computers. As a result of their early and frequent exposure to computers and video games, their brains function differently than their parents’ brains.

Making Gaming and Simulation More Affordable   
Several potential solutions are available that can reduce, or eliminate, some of the expenses associated with the development of gaming and simulation over the life cycle of the training.

  1. Advances in development and delivery technology
  2. Reuse of proven instructional strategies, content, media, and code whenever possible
  3. Employing experienced staff to save dollars
  4. Targeting gaming and simulation to specific learning objectives in the training curriculum that require application or performance
  5. Targeting fidelity to what is essential to the training objectives

For more details about each of the five areas that can reduce your gaming and simulation expenses, download our white paper here




Mark Heimburger, Senior Immersive Instructional Systems Designer
Mark Heimburger is our award-winning Senior Immersive Learning Designer. Mark has over 15 years of experience developing web-based training. He has designed serious games and virtual world–based training for Civilian and Defense government agencies. Mark holds a Master of Science degree from Eastern Illinois University.