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The MMO-LMS: The close association of Games and Learning

In EVE Online — a Massively Multiplayer OnlineGame (MMOG) about an interstellar empire — 500,000 players participate in a stunning variety of in-game activities. They not only engage in run–of-the-mill jobs of resource mining, trading and blowing up other players for profit but also the more exotic tasks like running corporations, public relations and even conning people through convoluted Ponzi schemes.


          View of the Market terminal of EVE Online where the player can perform

complex trades in commodities and finished goods.

This simulated world is diverse, complex and has a steep learning curve where even basic player vs player combat requires a rudimentary understanding of ballistics and projectile mechanics.


Formula to calculate the chance that a fired projectile will hit the target in EVE Online.

Still EVE Online manages to engage and retain  its players. The average play time recorded is 18 hours per week. Another fact worth noting is that 75% of the subscriber base has been around for more than one year.

Player usage statistics for EVE Online (2013-14)

Player usage statistics for EVE Online (2013-14)

League of Legends, a free-to-play MMOG, has on an average 67 million players each month.Another MMOG, World of Warcraft has close to 9 million paid subscribers@ 15$/Month. In contrast, Candy Crush a wildly popular and relatively casual mobile game has on an average 46 million players each month.  As numbers go, these are pretty impressive, taking into account that none of these games are easy to master and require considerable commitment to progress. A traditional LMS game based learning program would kill for such numbers.

So, what makes these games addictive? What elements of MMOGs can we apply to e-learning? In my opinion, traditional gamification elements like coins, badges, leveling and trophies alone are not going be enough. We need to adopt the “most effective” aspects of MMOGs and apply them to the core learning environment. Some of the most interesting concepts of MMOGs use curiosity, invention and social connect as hooks for the players. Let us explore a few, and see how these concepts can be adapted to e-learning.

Open World

The open world model uses a vast exploreable play area, which can be navigated by the player whichever way he or she chooses. There are no closed alleys, pre-ordained pathways or even a standard progression mechanism. The player explores the world and picks up skills and experiences as he or she goes along. Ultimately the exploration takes a path, defined by specific goals that the player wants to achieve – become rich, become a badass fighter, conquer the dragon etc. This is achieved by picking and choosing those experiences which help the player reach his or her end goals. If the goal is to defeat the dragon, then skills in sorcery and sword fighting are essential, and having the shield of platinum wouldn’t hurt. The player starts along the path to gather resources to train for the skills, and explore areas where the item he requires is available. A similar model of exploration, goal definition and discovery can be used in eLearning.

Entire Skill map for Path of Exile

Entire Skill map for Path of Exile, the line in white denotes a specific user path.

When a learner starts the learning initiative, he or she is not given a specific course path, but an open world of learning content. A visual depiction of such a world –integrated in LMS — will certainly provide a more immersive environment. The learner will see the various starting points and the branching out of the material. Some courses need to be basic but crucial for progress. Others are optional and specialized. The learner starts his or her journey with the basic courses, explores a few specialized ones and evaluates their potential. The learner then sets his or her goals, charts a path that will best equip him or her for achieving the said goals and embarks on the learning journey. Achieving goals has its rewards, which are proportionate to the time, effort and skills that a learner would require to get there.

Some of the MMOG concepts used in open worlds can be used to generate the desired learner behavior. Here are some examples.

Grinding’ is the act of performing the same task (mostly the simpler ones) again and again to accruepoints / credits needed to progress further in the game. In learning, hygiene courses can be used to grind for access to the more expert courses available. We would also need an adaptive or dynamic assessment system, which poses a new set of questions at the end of the course, each time the course is taken.Taking a course multiple times helps the re-enforce the material, especially for courses which teach skills.

Want the learner to explore more? Take courses which may not be in her path to the goal? Then, try the popular “Loot” game based learningmechanics. Loots are small treasure boxes hidden at random places in the open world. These treasures are sometimes essential to goal completion, sometimes just a big bonus of points/credits. Better treasures are found in more difficult, higher level courses as opposed to the simpler ones. Loot is also not found in the same place twice, well not immediately. If the learner grinds enough on the same course,there is a chance he or she will be rewarded with loot at a certain point. Each learner will find loot in different places, so locations cannot be shared between learners.

An open world based gamified LMS will thus promote the desired learner behaviour like exploration, commitment, revisiting content and goal orientation. Further on we will explore how we can use the ‘Sandbox’ concept to create an adaptive LMS, which changes through learner input, and how collaboration can become addictive in e-learning through ‘Quests’. Stay tuned.

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