An Ideation Game from the Laboranova Project
Heiko Duin and Jannicke Baalsrud Hauge
BIBA, Hochschulring 20, D-28359 Bremen, Germany
Keywords: Innovation, serious games, innovation gaming.
Abstract: Innovation has become the main source for competitive advantage for European industry in the globalised
economy. Most innovation processes implemented in companies are based on a stage-gate model starting
with an ideation phase. This fuzzy front-end of the innovation process is mostly supported by traditional
methods like co-located brainstorming. This paper presents a new approach for idea generation based on a
multiplayer on-line computer game. The traditional application area of serious gaming – the field of educa-
tion and training – is extended by another application: innovation gaming.
Innovation is considered as the key for competitive
advantage of European industry. Companies are
aware of this issue and have implemented innovation
processes which are often based on the stage-gate
model. A common weakness of these models is the
black box of idea generation – sometimes also called
the “fuzzy front-end to innovation”. As the output of
an innovation process depends highly on the input
generated in the early stage of innovation, it is worth
to look at concepts and methods to generate high
quality ideas as input.
Idea generation is often considered as the result
of imagination or inspiration of a single person
(Weisberg, 1993), but, idea generation can also been
seen as an outcome of a work process not necessar-
ily related to an individual but to a group of persons
working together in a network. Very often these
teams are distributed so that there is a need to be
supported by ICT.
Brainstorming is the most commonly known tool
for idea generation, even when other methods like
nominal groups have shown a better performance
considering the number of generated ideas. But, the
number of generated ideas is not the only measure
for success. Other measures are currently under re-
search and might concern novelty, variety, feasibil-
ity, strategic fit to company, and the capability of
company to implement the idea.
Games – especially computer or video games –
have been identified as “serious games” when they
address beside entertainment another, serious objec-
tive. Most serious games address the education.
Known examples are from education in military,
medicine and business management (Stone, 2005).
The application field of serious games are not re-
stricted to these areas. This paper presents a serious
game which is designed to support the idea gene-
ration in the early stage of innovation projects. It is
based on the game concept presented by Baalsrud
Hauge et al (2007).
The ideation process, also called the “fuzzy front of
innovation” is described to be the process of discov-
ering what to make, for whom, understand why to
make it and define the success criteria including the
development of insights for answering these strate-
gic questions (Rhea, 2005).
Analysing most used methods supporting idea-
tion as well as the processes carried out and looking
at paradigms used for education, it seems to be ob-
vious that constructivism (learning through experi-
encing) has a lot of similarities with the ideation
process. One method used for education based upon
Duin H. and Baalsrud Hauge J. (2008).
Laboranova Project.
In Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies, pages 447-454
DOI: 10.5220/0001520504470454
this paradigm and showing a positive learning im-
pact is serious gaming.
In a computer game, players are confronted with
information that they have to interpret and interact
with. Games can easily contain multiple and contra-
dictory knowledge structures. They can be used to
promote discussion and re-framing of the knowledge
gathered in the ideation process. Games built around
a constructivist view of knowledge and learning can
for example have competing, parallel views of inci-
dents. Games focus players’ attention and good
games tend to strengthen concentration and agency.
Often games are hard work but offer engagement by
providing challenge and struggle. At the same time,
games provide incentives to change existing culture,
practices and routines. This is also what is needed
for supporting ideation.
There are only a few innovation games available on
the market. According to Hohmann (2006) inno-
vation games can be fun ways to collaborate with
customers and to better understand their needs.
However, the games presented so far are not com-
puterised games and they need to be played co-
Møller et al (2007) presented a framework for idea-
tion games which distinguishes between two levels:
Game Frames are an overall process with gen-
eral phases.
Game Modules are shorter routines utilising
specific methods or sub-games.
The general idea behind this approach is the compo-
sition of game modules into game frames. Modules
may be re-used in different frames. In total, four
different game frames are discussed:
The Takeover: The general objective of this
frame is a temporary change of perspective.
This can be achieved by assuming that the
company has been taken over by another one
which wants to innovate the products from a
different perspective.
Idea Swarm: In this frame many people are in-
volved in creating, assessing and further de-
velopment of ideas. Players are rewarded,
when their own ideas are carried forward by
Idea Evolution: An idea is running through sev-
eral steps of mutation following an evolution
process. The result is a refined idea.
Reframing the Question: The general objective
of this frame is to provide a structure for the
ideation process. This frame is the basis for
the refQuest game.
All frames together are concepts for disruptive
idea generation. The creativity of the players (idea
generators and transformers) should be stimulated
by disruptive elements.
These disruptive elements are used e.g. by the
Synectics method. Synectics (Gordon, 1961) pro-
vides an approach to creative thinking that depends
on looking at, what appears on the surface as, unre-
lated phenomenon. Its main tools are analogies or
metaphors. The approach, often used in groupwork,
can help innovation workers develop creative re-
sponses to problem solving. It helps users break ex-
isting minds sets and internalize abstract concepts.
One of the identified game frames is the explorative
frame called “reframing the question” (Møller et al.,
2007, p. 208). The central objective behind this
frame is to use games to structure the otherwise un-
clear open-ended early exploration and idea genera-
tion phase of an innovation project. In this game
frame, a number of ideation groups, representing
different innovation perspectives, work together to
develop and reformulate the central innovation topic.
The outcome can be a product idea, a value proposi-
tion, a user need or an area of strategic interest.
Summarising, the refQuest game is designed to
support the following requirements:
Structuring of the ideation process. refQuest
should provide a structured process for idea
generation, documentation and selection.
Iteration: Several iterations of the idea genera-
tion process should be possible.
Interruptiveness: The idea generation of the in-
novation works might be interrupted by a fa-
cilitator, who brings in new information such
as facts or observed trends. This should be in
line with a synectics like style.
The refQuest game is an extended version of the
game share (e.g. Schwesig et al., 2005). It is com-
posed as a gaming engine executing a game model
consisting of objects of different gaming classes.
The content of the game can be considered as a set
of objects instantiated from the gaming classes. This
approach ensures the separation of algorithmic proc-
WEBIST 2008 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
essing and game content which allows the change of
the content without changing the game itself.
The architecture of the simulation game consists
of three layers: the underlying game model, a simu-
lation engine and a user interface, which allows to
examine the model elements and to apply game spe-
cific actions. These parts are described below:
Game Model: The underlying game model pro-
vides all modelled entities as a formal basis
for the implementation of the simulation
Simulation Engine: The engine works on the
underlying model and simulates time and
costs, which are the main variables influenced
by the players in taking specific actions. The
simulation engine can be seen as the central
control unit of the game.
User Interface: The user interface allows to
browse the overall and personal information in
the game and to apply game specific actions.
The business model enables the definition of the
simulation engine. The user interface allows data
input from players as well as displaying game rele-
vant information as illustrated in Figure 1.
5.1 The refQuest Gameplay Concept
The objective of the game is the generation of ideas
embedded in the very beginning of an innovation
process. As an example a fictive telecommunications
products manufacturer is considered. The innovation
topic of this example is to develop a new kind of
mobile phone for a specific target group: disabled
and elderly persons.
User Interface
Game Engine
Game Model (Objects)
Data Display Data Input
Data StorageExecution
Figure 1: Relation between User Interface, Game Engine
and underlying Game Model.
Six persons from the manufacturer are divided
into two groups to generate ideas on the innovation
topic. The process each of the groups has to follow
is shown in Figure 2.
In the first step each group decides the perspec-
tive on the topic. Examples for different perspectives
are: production centric, end-user driven or technol-
ogy oriented. In the second step, each player gener-
ates individual ideas and stores them in an idea
documentation template. During the third step the
players exchange on their individual ideas and de-
fine some in the group commonly agreed ideas. In
the fourth step the three groups present their ideas to
each other in order to be ready to assess the gener-
ated ideas in step five. The sixth step is finally to
complete the idea generation process and to save the
results for further processing. While the players are
running through the process steps, some perform-
ance indicators concerning time costs and quality are
updated accordingly.
Step 1
Choose a Perspective
Step 2
Individual Idea Generation
Step 3
Common Idea Generation
Step 4
Idea Presentation
Step 5
Idea Assessment
Step 6
Complete Idea Generation
Figure 2: The Idea Generation Process in refQuest.
A facilitator is watching and supervising the
groups of players. The facilitator can observe the
results of the players (the content of documents and
actions applied by players) and intervene by setting
some disruptive events, which should influence the
direction of thinking of some of the group members.
The following sub-chapters describe the formal-
ised gaming objects and classes of the game model
to implement the refQuest game. All classes and
their inter-relations are shown in Figure 3.
5.2 The refQuest Gaming Engine
Game and Scenarios
A refQuest game is spread over one or more scenar-
ios, which are played in a sequential order. These
scenarios represent the levels of the game. Associ-
- An Ideation Game from the Laboranova Project
ated to each scenario is a topic, which is essentially a
description of the subject under consideration.
In the example, there is only one scenario with
the topic given above.
Players, Groups, Sub-Groups and Roles
In each scenario the players are grouped into groups
and sub-groups, which might represent companies
and departments in real life. Groups and sub-groups
have their own descriptions.
Each player can have a different role in each sub
group, e.g. innovation worker or group leader. Be-
side name, user identifier, password, etc. a character-
istic role description is stored with the player. Such a
description could be: Mrs Kandar is much cost and
result oriented; she knows exactly what she wants
for the company, but do understand the user focus
and partly the interest of the engineers.
In the example there are three groups each hav-
ing one sub-group. The groups represent three dif-
ferent locations (offices) of the company. One loca-
tion is located in Budapest, one in Brussels and one
in Bratislava.
Process Steps
A business process is associated to each group
which is followed by the players to play the game.
The process is further divided into process steps
which need to be completed in a sequential order.
Each of these steps needs to be completed in order to
complete the whole process.
A process step can be either completed by per-
forming some action or by completing a set of
An exemplary process divided into six steps is
shown in Figure 2. During the first step, one of the
players has to set an action: the decision which view
the whole group wants to follow. During the second
step each player of the group fills out their own idea
generation form (see Figure 4 which shows the
document editing view).
Some process steps may be completed by applying
an action of a set of actions. Actions are always un-
der control of a specific player. The setting of an
action reveals further information for the player.
Actions can only be set by players – not by the fa-
Role User
ActionPS DocumentPS
CostsTime Quality
Figure 3: Conceptual Class Diagram of refQuest Game Classes.
WEBIST 2008 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
The actions defined for the first step of the proc-
ess of Figure 2 are:
Choose User Centric View
Choose Production Centric View
Choose View of Public Authorities
Choose Economic View
Choose View of In-house Competencies
Choose After Sales View
Events can only be set by the facilitator. The facilita-
tor may choose an event from a predefined list of
events and applies it to a specific group of players.
The players are informed about the occurrence of the
event and get further information about it. Events
can be set in any of the process steps.
Some examples for events in the refQuest game
New Technology Occurred
EU or National Directives have Changed
Production Processes are Updated
Documents are associated to process steps and play-
ers. A document is a collection of document entries.
Each document entry can be edited by the player
who owns the document. Each document entry has a
type and may have a preset value and a target value.
If there is a target value defined, the objective for the
player is to get as near to the target as possible be-
cause this is affecting the quality performance indi-
Documents might be visible from the beginning
or they are created when specific process steps are
completed. Players can work on documents when
they are visible until they are freezed (completed).
The associated process step is completed when all
documents associated to this process step are com-
pleted. The owner of a document can manage the
access rights of the document by providing view and
edit rights to other players. The facilitator can view
all documents, but cannot change them.
Figure 4: Player Screen of refQuest.
- An Ideation Game from the Laboranova Project
Performance Indicators
There are three different indicators updated while
the players are progressing through their process
Time is measured in weeks. The time of an ap-
plication of an action is directly stored with
the respective action. It is up to the game de-
signer to decide, how much time is spent by
applying a specific action. The completion of
documents is measured directly by storing
timestamps from starting and ending a process
step. The duration is calculated from the dif-
ference where each 10 minutes represent a
week in the game time.
Costs are measured in Kilo-€. The costs for ap-
plying a specific action are stored with the re-
spective action. The costs for completing a
document are calculated based on the duration
for document completion.
Quality is measured in per cent. At the begin-
ning, quality is at 100%. It may reduces dur-
ing the game down to 0%. Again, the actions
store a value which is subtracted from the cur-
rent quality, when the action is applied. The
reduction of the quality by completing a
document is calculated depending on the goal
values of the document entries.
The completion of a process step, i.e. the appli-
cation of an action or the completion of all docu-
ments belonging to a process step, will update the
indicators as described above. Also the occurrence
of events can influence the values of the perform-
ance indicators.
The performance indicators might be used to
play against a give goal of the game, e.g. fastest
time, least cost or highest quality.
Message Board
The refQuest game also supports the exchange of
short messages between players via a message
board. Also the facilitator can observe the message
board and place messages into it.
Figure 5: Facilitator Screen of refQuest.
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5.3 The refQuest Implementation
The refQuest game is implemented as a browser
game. Players and the facilitator just need an up-to-
date web browser to play the game.
The server software is implemented using JSP
(Java Server Pages) and JSTL (Java Server Pages
Standard Tag Library). The servlets are running un-
der TomCat. The game objects are stored in a rela-
tional database, i.e. MySQL.
Scalability and performance considerations have
currently not been taken into account. It is expected,
that only a few users (less than 100) are active at the
same time. Under these circumstances performance
is not really an issue when the deployment uses suf-
ficient hardware. Currently the web application is
running on a two processor system under Windows
2000 Server.
As the current version of refQuest is based on an
engine developed in another project (see Baalsrud
Hauge et al., 2007), we have not considered chang-
ing the technology when adding new features. But
using JSP results in loading always a whole page
which sometimes results in some flickering of the
screen. A more adequate solution would be the ap-
plication of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and
XML) which is taken into account for upcoming
Figure 4 shows a players screen of the current
refQuest game. One of the players is entering ideas
in the step of individual idea generation. Figure 5
shows the facilitator’s screen to the game.
A main difference of using games in the support of
ideation instead of more traditional methods like
brainstorming etc. is that games should be motivat-
ing and to some extent make fun. Another difference
is that games always have a competing element,
which mostly makes it interesting to play.
Up to now, the refQuest game has only been
played by students at the University of Bremen as
well as by research scientists from the Bremer Insti-
tut für Produktion und Logisitk (BIBA). This early
stage validation of the game has shown that the
game seems to support the idea generation, but that
the competing elements needs to be taken more into
account (to make it more a game).
The use of events, momentarily set by the facili-
tator had a positive and motivating aspect at the
game, since it could be applied if the motivation
seemed to decrease as well as in order to help find-
ing a solution. Furthermore, this first step in valida-
tion showed that more work is needed to be carried
out in order to improve the game. Also further
evaluation is necessary.
The refQuest game aims at supporting ideation (idea
generation) at an early stage in the innovation phase.
The current version of the game include an user sce-
nario which is understandable for almost everyone
and is therefore suitable for using the game for pro-
totype discussions as well as for a pre-evaluation of
the game. An implementation in different business
environment requires an adaptable game framework
– as presented in this paper – so that the game re-
flects the running processes in each company. This
will improve the “productivity” of the game as well
as improve the efficiency because the players will
know the environment. At the moment the game
may only be changed by first carrying out a business
process analysis and then change the scripts. This is
very time consuming both for the potential company
as well as for the game designer and the program-
mers. For the future it is intended to build an author-
ing tool which allows an author to manage the game
objects without assistance from the programmer. It
will still require a deep analysis of running proc-
The game is designed to be used in a workshop
setting, i.e. the players are available at the same
time. This works in quite many companies quite
well, but analysing the process of idea generation
shows that the processes itself is discrete. Future
versions provide the option to play the game either
in a workshop setting in a given timeframe, and then
with time limitation in each step or as a more inte-
grated version which allows each player to carry out
the steps when he has time and he only organises
small discussions when he needs to carry out a task
with someone else. The limitation will then be that
the facilitator is available. The first step in order to
integrate the game into the working environment
will be to connect the DB of the game with the ones
of the companies.
Further more, the experience in using the dem-
onstration game and other games based upon the
same game engine has shown a need for non-linear
processes, as well as to have more generalised,
tasked design process steps. But this is a quite essen-
tial change of the concepts behind the gaming en-
gine. Therefore, when this is realised, it will result in
a major new release and other issues – e.g. the appli-
- An Ideation Game from the Laboranova Project
cation of AJAX technology – will also be taken into
The refQuest game allows the implementation dif-
ferent ideation processes due to the separation of
gaming engine and game contents.
The requirements for the game mentioned in
Chapter 4 of this paper are fulfilled. The definition
of a process with its single process steps allows the
structuring of the ideation process. The possibility of
defining several sub-sequent scenarios allows the
iteration of ideation processes. Finally, the imple-
mentation of events realises the required interruptive
element of the game.
The current set-up of refQuest is available as a
prototype implementation. A proof of concept is still
to be done. It is planned to test the prototype within
innovation management courses at the University of
Further applications of refQuest will be per-
formed in the context of the Laboranova project. The
industrial end-users of Laboranova, who are inter-
ested in using this game within their own innovation
projects are the German software company SAP and
the Danish heating manufacturer Danfoss. For these
end-users, the content needs to be adapted to their
specific innovation topics.
The performance indicators time, costs and qual-
ity might not be adequate for the ideation process.
Other indicators need to be investigated and in-
cluded into the game.
The authors thank the respective project partners, as
well as the European Commission for all scientific,
organisational and financial support. The Labo-
ranova project is partially funded under contract
number IST-FP6-035262 within the Sixth Frame-
work Programme, Priority IST.
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