The game's the business

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Jerome Monahan gets a taste of some stiff competition

Monahan Inc, purveyor of diamond rings, is in trouble. The second year of trading is over and losses are more than pound;2 million. The bank manager has video-phoned to say he's withdrawing the loan and repossessing the managing director's swanky car. What went wrong? Was it the decision to go for a mid-range product or was selling exclusively through agents a poor option?

Happily, my bankruptcy need only last as long as it takes to reload The Business, a game fromPixelearning. Perhaps second time around the company will be more like that created by one Year 10 pupil at St Thomas Moore's Catholic Secondary in Nuneaton, where it is getting some road-testing. "She made some staggering profits selling the ring," reports assistant head Dr Carrington-Howell. "Her success was probably due to matching her product precisely to the market research findings with which the simulation begins."

After the detailed start-up period, in which the companies are expected to opt for one of five products and set its price, quality and sales and marketing budget, there is a continuous flow of information about competitors' responses, and regular sales and cash flow data requiring action. On hand to help are a set of avatar colleagues including our mentor Jennifer and Ricky, the marketing manager.

"There is still some controversy about the use of games technology in the classroom," says Kevin Corti, managing director of Pixelearning. "However, we have done all we can to avoid the kind of 'broccoli-covered-in-chocolate' approach that can make some edutainment products of limited interest to young people. The Business has been developed in co-ordination with the charity businessdynamics and offers a very realistic, potentially demanding and variable environment in which students can explore the complex nature of running a company."

The game has been produced, says businessdynamics chief executive David Miller, for schools needing to give their students some experience of entrepreneurship as part of new compulsory enterprise elements of the national curriculum. "It can be difficult persuading young people that business is interesting," he adds, "especially those who are not taking related courses. The indications are that the game is a great way of embedding detailed financial learning and vocabulary that could otherwise be a switch-off."

Rav Gill, head of business at Lampton School, endorses this view: "It proved a great success. The fact that scenarios can be saved means there is lots of flexibility. A single scenario can take about 45 minutes to run through, but play could be spread across shorter periods over a number of weeks. It will certainly enable lots of enterprise-curriculum boxes to be ticked."

"Another great attribute," says Dr Carrington-Hall, "is the game's capacity to be tailor-made, with settings available to determine the speed with which information arises, and the fact that students can experiment with different numbers of variable elements."

* The Business is aimed at 14 to 16-year-olds and has an annual fee of Pounds 499 + VAT per school - payable using e-learning credits. To find out more, and to see a demo and explore the detailed education resource pack that accompanies the game visit

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