How Applied Games Can Change IT? Gaming is no longer the sole domain of tablet based farm games or massively multiplayer online role-playing games, as global corporates are focusing on applied gaming to help them into the next era of technology. For instance, ING shows that with the use of gaming they are able to solve the most complex challenges in the IT landscape. Ultimately, applied games will become a tool for IT organisations to consider as they approach new targets or strive to realise their ambitions for positive change.

ING asked us (together with QLVR) to develop an applied game which enhances IT chain-consciousness. As ING realised that more and more they are becoming an IT company that offers banking products. They decided that deep knowledge of their IT landscape gives a competitive advantage. It will stimulate the innovation of topics such as predictive banking and online transaction processing. The goal of ChaINGame is to increase knowledge transfer by a factor 4 compared to traditional learning methods.


Nowadays, all CIOs need to go to some lengths to perform in their traditional IT landscape and in the field of digitalisation. In the face of the intensifying need to drive growth and push IT, companies are compelled to build new technology-enabled business capabilities. Finding themselves struggling to cost-effectively develop and operate such capabilities. With their ageing and overly complex systems, enterprises are increasingly turning to information technology (IT) transformation to free up discretionary spending capacity and renovate the IT organisations.

The toolkit of CIOs to transform their IT organisations and IT landscape (to adapt them to this new era) contain many methodologies and approaches. Lean IT, Scrum and Agile have been adopted all over the world, but in some cases a different approach is required. This article introduces a lesser-known and new approach for CIOs to change IT organisation, namely Applied Gaming.

In this article we go deeply into the case of ING Bank. They explored and implemented the use of gaming to change their IT organisation and IT landscape.


By the age of 21, a typical young American has spent around 10,000 hours playing computer and video games (McGo11). Writer Malcolm Gladwell has famously suggested that people who have practiced a skill for 10,000 hours are likely to become experts at it by that age. Therefore it is easy to understand why airlines, armies and service providers are using gaming to engage with people (staff, customers, the general public) in new, more efficient and effective ways. Employees in the IT department are likely to relate to and appreciate games at an above-average level. This provides the CIO with an opportunity to add another tool to the (IT) Transformation Toolbox. Gamification is no fad. Within five years, it will play as crucial a role in transforming internal processes, transformation and innovation as social media has done in revitalising customer interaction. The applied gaming market (use of gaming for something other than pure entertainment) is estimated to be worth $15 billion globally. The expectation is that it is more lucrative than the traditional games market (currently worth $70 billion) within five years. Applied games will earn a central role in IT transformations during the same period. Gaming is already facilitating new kinds of collaboration and innovation. How organisations approach this opportunity will vary depending on their agenda and the readiness of their operations to realise its potential.

Applied Games

Serious or applied games are models or simulations of real-world events or processes. Games, designed for the purposes of problem-solving and learning. Although applied games entertain, we feel that their main purpose is to change the behaviour of organisations and human beings. In this article we use the term “applied gaming” instead of “serious gaming”. The reason being that in our view “serious gaming” is a contradiction in terms. “Serious” usually means “no fun at all”. Fun is a characteristic of all games, although some games have serious applications. “Serious gaming” also implies that some games are not serious. This is not the case.


Applied games are frequently used in the context of gamification. Applied games, similar to entertainment games, are (digital) products, designed by Game studios. Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game design in non-game scenarios. For example in the financial services industry. The use of Gamification is to change behaviours and increase the motivation to change. Typically, gamification includes the developing processes and applications that in the first place aim to entice users to participate and next to engage them. This, so they will share and interact in an activity or community. Gamification is a method for engaging people in desired behaviours, while their involvement and pursuit of these behaviours are in the process of solving their problems. Essentially, it takes advantage of the psychological predisposition of humans to engage in gaming. Within a game setting, players have a safe environment to experiment with complex concepts. The learning effect and transfer of knowledge is also much more effective when players experience the concepts themselves. Rather than when they are merely explained to them.

Using games or applying game elements is not a new concept. The military have been using war games in order to train strategic skills for a long time. In addition, many games focus on policy and management issues. More focused sub-groups have appeared, including Games for Change that focus on social issues and social change. Or Games for Health that focus on addressing healthcare applications.

ING Bank and the IT transformation challenge

IT Organisations face the challenge of controlling an IT landscape which is growing more complex by the day. Applications owners and holders have, or at least should have, knowledge of the applications within their domains. However, present-day applications are never standalone. They often have numerous interfaces and process many transaction steps without human interference. Cross domain knowledge of a chain of applications is often lacking, but essential when incidents occur and when changes to applications need to be tested and deployed. Mathematical models provide the opportunity to digitalise complex chains and to improve the predictability of incidents.

The ING ChaINGame is one of the first games applied to IT Transformations. The goal of ChaINGame is to train DevOps employees on the IT chains that together form the IT landscape of an organisation. The ChaINGame aims at developing chain-awareness in IT employees through applied gaming. This can result in error detection before incidents occur, optimisation of the IT landscape and improved predictive capabilities to help prevent such incidents.


Gameplay of the IT transformation game: “ChaINGame”

ChaINGame is a simulation game in which the different parts of the IT landscape are mapped in a city landscape. By using a city landscape model that represents the IT landscape, the game enhances the visual representation of complex landscapes and connected complex challenges. This enables the IT specialists both to improve the architecture and stability of the landscape and to transform the IT landscape to a high extent.

For instance, applications are modelled as towers that can be configured in terms of CPU power and storage. The towers receive requests through connections and pass on the data to the next application in the chain. At the beginning of the chain, there is a Bankshop with customers who have questions. These form the initiation of the data passing through the IT chain.

The IT landscape as a city in the ING Chaingame. The ChaINGame provides scenarios for players to solve specific challenges.

Playing the game

The game has three modes. There is a one-minute challenge mode which draws the player’s attention to the game. Secondly, there is a knowledge transfer (team) competition. Lastly, there is a career mode in which the player faces scenarios that are becoming more complex as the player advances. The scenarios consist of IT Chains and data streams which have been gathered from real life situations. The algorithms which determine the behaviour of the game were developed by the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) and the Mathematics and Informatics Department of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, in close cooperation with ING. Playing the scenarios results in an increased insight into and consciousness of the IT chains of the organisation. The insights change the behaviour of employees in terms of improving their ability to solve capacity issues and optimising the performance of the IT chain. At the same time it enables a better focus on customer satisfaction. The main rewarding system in the game.

The three modes of the ING Chaingame.

When using the simulation, the employees share the IT problems they are struggling with. In addition to using the scenarios from the game, players have the option to create their own scenario and send these to others. The advantage of a simulation game in this mode lies in the fact that a common language is created. One language and a stimulating interactive environment encourages the sharing of communication knowledge and creates a shared understanding of the IT chains of the organisation.

Development and first results of ChaINGame

The basic concept of the gaming blend is based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour of Ayzen. They have used the insights from behavioural sciences to make informed design decisions. The development of a game such as this would be impossible without an Agile workflow. The overall approach was defined upfront. But the translation of complex IT concepts into a simplified (but still realistic metaphor) is a process of discovery and small experiments. This worked very well, because of the intense involvement of ING’s IT-experts, CWI’s scientists, the game designers and developers of QLVR & Little Chicken throughout the process. We involved user at all the time, not only in usability testing, but also in qualitative learning effect tests and interviews.

The initial reactions from developers varied from skeptical to enthusiastic. More interesting was the fact that after playing the game for a while, the skeptics usually became more interested. They were able to recreate incidents and found out that the game really emulates the way their systems interact. We scheduled a test for one hour with with about 20 people. The meeting extended to over 2 hours, because players became so involved.


The game blend is an excellent way to incorporate complex knowledge into the daily routine of development teams. Therefor the game expands using new features, like the interaction between software-layers on a server. Furthermore, the developers study on how the game engine applies to other queuing problems, such as planning personnel at service-points.

How to start gaming

Applied games are a cool and innovative tool which many people are keen to introduce to their organisations. However, determining the right starting point, approach and securing sufficient budget is often difficult. A game maturity model is helpful in supporting a successful introduction.

Game Maturity Model

To what extent IT organisations benefit from process, task and change gamification depends on their vision. On how they incorporate the medium into their organisations and how they build it into their strategy and governance. The most productive way to realise this, is by using a maturity model. KPMG has developed a model specifically intended for gamification (Boer13). This can help organisations determine exactly where they are and where they want to be in future. It helps them on a continuum where immaturity is the very start of the journey (experimentation) and maturity represents the most advanced user cases supported by a holistic vision and robust roadmaps (Lee07). The model allows for differences in purpose, approach and maturity at each stage. For example, an organisation may use a very advanced, multiplayer game in one specific area or a simple game that can be repurposed many times. Some games will have numerous benefits – better training of staff, lower costs and greater employee engagement – whereas others could satisfactorily serve one purpose. Ideally, a game would have a wide range of advantages and pave the way for extensive re-use right across the organisation and beyond.

The example of the IT Transformation ChaINGame gives a flavour of the kind of initiative that could work well for IT organisations as they start to explore gaming. Even if it feels too early to develop wider ambitions – due to budgetary pressure or the need to establish partnerships and engage stakeholders – it is worth keeping the big picture in mind from the start. It is vital that preliminary initiatives do not end up hampering future development. With KPMG’s game maturity model, you can highlight every option available to you and explore the wider implications of each decision.

ChaINGame - PMG’s game maturity model

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Even IT organisations that haven’t formulated long-term plans and strategies can experiment with gaming. Building a proof of concept will strengthen the business case and inspire potential stakeholders, by giving them something tangible to review. Ultimately, applied gaming is a tool for IT organisations to consider as they approach new targets or strive to realise their ambitions for positive change (Boer15). In this sense it is no different from other technologies. To be effective it needs to be part of an overarching strategy and seen in conjunction with other solutions rather than in isolation. There is no substitute for engaging users in developing a new game. Getting their input at an early stage will help ensure that they will use, enjoy and promote the game later. And the more engaged, rewarded and motivated people feel when they play, the more likely the investment is to pay off.

What you should do as a CIO?

Ensure the game maturity model aligns with your broader organisational or IT strategy (Boer15). Use it as a platform for implementing a game strategy that fits your operational plans as a CIO. Make sure all the necessary stakeholders commit to the use of the game maturity model. Ideally, the top management should endorse the model and the idea of applying gaming in a transformation context. Where possible, link plans and goals to specific aims of employees. Adapt the game maturity model to your organisation’s maturity when embracing innovative processes and tools. Assess the costs of introducing or developing applied games against the expected added value. Try to combine (and extend) game initiatives in use within the organisation.

Applied gaming can be very powerful for your organisation. People can achieve goals together which were too complicated to acquire at first. By modelling the challenge with the use of game techniques, a joyful environment actually helps create the next level of competitive advantage for your organisation.

Five mistakes to avoid

  1. Don’t aim for perfection from the start. You can’t measure every aspect of gamification quantitatively.
  2. Don’t strive to achieve maturity in too many ways at once. Start with key targets.
  3. Don’t get too immersed in technical detail. Use and apply games, while continually evaluating what works for your organisation.
  4. Don’t underestimate the effort and cost involved in harnessing games. By and large, applied gaming is new for many organisations. Where possible make use of existing games and knowledge.
  5. Don’t neglect the importance of a robust cost/benefit analysis before and after investing.
ChaINGame - Dos & donts ChaINGame - Project Gamification & informal learning ChaINGame - Literature