A conference on Serious Games would be incomplete without an example of a real-life Serious Game that has been done properly.

From the presentation I’ve just seen by Sea Monster’s Jade Mathieson, Houzz-it is that game: it’s a gamified simulation of what it’s like to buy and sell houses with the aim of becoming a property mogul.

It was commissioned by Property Junction with the specific aim of exposing people to some of the realities of buying and selling houses in such a way that it would encourage more people to get involved. But it also needed to give them a taste of the sort of processes and challenges they will encounter in the real world should they decide to go for it.

Challenges

As you might imagine, the challenge  was to make the game fun and entertaining while also making getting into the property market less scary. Their goal was to encourage players to find out more about the property market by showing them that essentially, the more they know about it the more money they stand to make in the long-term.

It uses very cute graphics and turn-based gameplay to take players through buying homes, decorating them, dealing with problems that arise and managing their finances in order to make more money to buy more properties. Along the way players learn about bonds, interest payments, tenants, how improved amenities translate to more rental and other concepts central to successfully managing a property portfolio.

More than just $$$

Interestingly, Sea Monster found during its testing that testers didn’t respond very well to the idea that the apparent aim of the game was to simply make a ton of cash. So they added in story elements – challenges – that provided a bit of non-monetary context to players’ motivations.

Vuyo the teacher, for instance, is an in-game character players will encounter who dreams of using the profits from his property portfolio to build a school in an underprivileged area, giving players an intangible yet emotionally-satisfying reward for being successful, something testers responded positively to. As Mathieson said, “Never underestimate the power of making someone feel like a hero for doing their job”.

Because Houzz-it is a South African game, it presented Sea Monster with the opportunity to get a number of companies involved in the property market on board in such a way that their branding appeared in the game (a fantastic way to secure funding for the project), but not in a way that detracted from the mechanics. Nedbank, for instance, is the in-game bank people apply to for home loans.

If you’d like to check it out for sheer interest sake, or you’ve been tempted to enter the property market but were unsure of what to expect, it’s ready and playable on the web right now on its official website.

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.