Do serious games work?



This article will address the question usually asked stakeholders in the serious games industry, does serious gaming work?

Over the past decades, we have been involved in over 150 projects in industries such as education, healthcare, and sustainability. Based on experience, first-time clients are usually skeptical of serious games’ efficacy as a solution to their problem. Admittedly, these doubts are justifiable for some reasons, some of which are:

  1. The serious games industry is relatively new to most people. Even though this situation is rapidly changing, the industry needs to intensify awareness creation. These steps would get a lot more people informed and educated about serious games.
  2. Another problem is the perception most people have about games. Usually, games are linked to entertainment. This makes it difficult to appreciate how gaming methodologies can be used in skills acquisition and behavioral change as observed in serious gaming.

So there are existing concerns that sometimes lead to skepticism in serious games’ acceptance. Nonetheless, we can holistically answer/address the question of the current article by addressing some sub-questions;

  1. What are the desired effects of games and do players experience these effects?
  2. For serious games, how are the ‘serious’ elements fused in a game for skills acquisition and behavioural change?

Now let’s look at each question and why it contributes to determining whether serious games work or not.

What are the desired effects of games and do players experience these effects?

Generally, games are developed to engage and entertain players. For this, several techniques and mechanisms are employed. For example:

  1. Achievements and reward systems: Game developers understand the human desire for achievements. Goal-setting is part of our daily lives and we are always excited and fulfilled when our goals are accomplished. In games, this human instinct to achieve is used to sustain engagement.
  2. Storytelling: For centuries, stories have been used to engage and entertain. The concept of storytelling is also used in games. This time, the player is not just following a story but is made to feel they are actively involved and have a role to play in event outcomes.

These are just a few of the many gaming elements which can be combined for engaging and entertainment effects. Game players definitely experience these effects, hence the observed success in the traditional gaming industry.

For serious games, how are the ‘serious’ elements fused in a game for skills acquisition and behavioural change?

This question indirectly seeks information about how serious games are developed. At Grendel Games we have a systemized process that can be categorized under three headings:

  1. Identify problem and build prototype
  2. Develop prototype with clients
  3. Deliver end product and implement solution

Identify the problem and build a prototype


What problem has to be solved?

There is always a question, a problem, or an idea from a potential client under consideration. For example, a water company wants to help households reduce water consumption. So we assess the situation together with the water company; Why are the existing solutions not working? Could it be a behavioral problem? We end by exploring possibilities for serious gaming as a solution to the problem.

Determining the criteria and create a concept

After the question/problem has been articulated we can determine the criteria for the solution. For this, we ask questions such as; Which behavioral changes should the game stimulate? Who is the target audience? How many translations do you need? These questions are tackled together with all the stakeholders.

Once the goal, the target group, and the criteria are clear, our team comes up with a creative concept for the game. This consists of a short story about the game in which we describe the player’s world, the play elements in the game, and its unique selling points (USP).

Compose the team

We appoint a product owner at Grendel Games, who will be in touch with the client throughout the entire process. The product owner assembles a team consisting of specialists, specifically picked for this assignment.

Prototype construction

Now we build the prototype. The prototype is a technical execution of the game idea and does not yet display the colorful and stimulating world of the game. We incorporate all the criteria for the game in the prototype and see what works and what doesn’t. We want to find out if the idea we came up with is fun to play and whether the game is effective. The benefit of building a prototype is that we can try out the game quickly and we can make adjustments relatively easy and fast.

Develop prototype with client



After we have built the prototype, we enter the production stage of the project. During the production stage, we build iteratively towards the finished game.

Target group tests

We constantly have the game tested by the target group. The tests help us determine if whether the predetermined goals of the game are being achieved. The following questions about the target players are answered:

  • How do they experience the game?
  • What appeals to them and what doesn’t?
  • Do they experience the game the way we intended?
  • Are there ways we can make the game better and more fun for the players?

Implement feedback

We discuss the test results with the client. Together with our team, we decide which changes we should implement. This way we develop a product that best suits the client’s requirements and that appeals to the target group. However, the ultimate goal is for the game to accomplish its purpose to train or cause behavioural change.

Deliver end product and implement the solution


The finished game

At this stage, the game is now solid and fully functional. The game has been tested, fine-tuned, and retested. Once all parties are satisfied, we check all the details again. All the rough edges are smoothed out until what remains is a shiny finished product.

Delivery of the game, launch, and distribution

Now, we want the game to reach the target group. We assist the client in launching the game, for example in terms of producing packaging, websites, and advertising material.

This rigorous process ensures that the ‘serious’ elements of a serious game are included to solve a client’s problem (creating awareness, training, and changing behaviour).

The factsheet below is one of our serious games (Reducept) that went through the above-described process.

Reducept Factsheet

Background and Goal

  • The product name is  Reducept. The development of Reducept was started in 2018 and completed in 2020.
  • The pain system of some individuals malfunctions, causing them to feel pain when there is no real danger to the body. This situation negatively affects the lives of the victims.
  • Reducept aims to help individuals suffering from systemic pain malfunction manage their condition and also educate them on the origin of pain.
  • The game was developed together with health scientists, digital health care innovators, and medical psychologists.

Product Description

  • Reducept is currently available on Oculus Go, Android, and iPhone.
  • The product requires a virtual reality (VR) headset or VR-capable smartphone and head mount.
  • With a gaming and education combination, patients are immersed in a journey through the body with amazing graphics. The virtual reality experience grabs their attention in the process and takes their focus off the pain. As different games are played, patients are taught techniques on pain management.
  • This journey lasts 30 mins averagely, with 4 different levels.

Product validity

  • We have recorded close to 60, 000 sessions played.
  • So far, there are 2646 patients actively using the product.
  • 78% of patients report they experience less pain after using the product.
  • Reducept is currently used in 144 leading clinics in Europe and North America.

Some testimonials from users:

  • “After 3 weeks of daily use, I no longer needed medication” (Jolanda).
  • “I was skeptical about the use of a game as medication, but after a number of weeks, I felt the relief of my pain” (Wilco).
  • “It works to fight your pain in your own nervous system” (Brian).


Concluding remarks

The skepticism expressed about the efficacy of serious games is no longer acceptable. There are examples of working products in the education, healthcare, and sustainability sectors.

So far we have established two fundamental points that help determine whether serious games work;

  1. Games can engage and entertain
  2. These engaging and entertainment properties can be used in serious games to train, create awareness, and change behaviour.

The question then is, what are we waiting for? If you already have some ideas or questions, let’s continue the conversation, contact Tim Laning via email/tel: +31681565635 / Linkedin

Tim Laning

Business developer

Do you want to know more about the possibilities of serious games? Let’s discuss what serious games can do for you.


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