This report is written by PAXsims research associate Juliette Le Ménahèze. All pictures are courtesy of the Serious Games Network.
The first edition of the Serious Games Forum was held on 3 December 2018 in Paris. The event was hosted at the War College (École Militaire) by the Serious Games Network (SGN) – France, and supported by a number of associations. The event was attended by 200 people, and counted no less than 30 speakers and workshop facilitators.
The morning was dedicated to conference panels, organized around two themes: a first general panel on wargaming, and a second focusing on the benefits of wargaming for business.
First, Patrick Ruetschmann (SGN President and the Forum’s main organizer) welcomed everyone and explained how the day was to unfold.
General reflections on wargaming
Historian and wargame designer Pierre Razoux spoke on the use of wargaming at the War College strategic research institute (Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire – IRSEM), where he leads the “regional questions – North” research cluster. IRSEM distinguishes itself from other French think-tanks by resorting extensively to wargaming, which still lacks recognition and is seldom used in France.
Professor Philip Sabin then explained the reasons why King’s College London, where he teaches wargaming, is establishing a Wargaming Network (WN). The aim of the WN, which he co-directs with Ms Ivanka Barzashka and for which the inaugural lecture was held the day following the conference, endeavours to advance wargaming as a tool for innovation and education to address current security challenges. King’s has a rich history of wargaming, and through the WN they seek to further still their position as a hub for the growing community of students and staff studying and applying wargames. He discussed the importance of wargaming as an active learning tool for King’s students, who through playing and designing wargames further their understanding of conflict dynamics. Moreover, there is a growing understanding in the defence community that wargaming is a powerful tool, by providing a ‘safe fail’ environment.
Colonel Christophe de Lajudie offered his perspective on whether or not we should refuse digital wargaming. Unfortunately I was not able to attend this talk.
Wargaming for business
Dr Sara Ulrich spoke of business wargaming, especially in the context of Deloitte crisis management. She is a Director of Deloitte’s UK Crisis Management & Resilience practice leading Contingency Planning for Strategic Risks (Brexit currently) and also Scenario Planning, Simulations and Wargaming.
According to her, business wargaming has capability in four areas:
- Future preparedness wargames: they allow the company to explore its potential future and get a better understanding of the unknown
- Issues & crisis preparedness simulations and wargames: they are designed to support a company’s high impact events, issues or crisis plans preparedness.
- Learning & training wargames: they are designed to help practice and rehearse skills and understand others’ (clients, competitors, regulators, etc.) perspectives
- Key decisions business wargames: they are designed to support a company’s planning, testing or stress testing of key decisions or important challenges.
Then she explained that Deloitte organizes its wargames in the following way: the client team is faced with the red teams, comprising competitors, as well as the market and regulators, and the control team.
She offered a few examples of wargames organized at Deloitte: three for clients, and an internal wargame for Deloitte’s senior managers.
- “Global pharma companies wargame workshop” organized for a drug launch
- Two global pharma companies formed a partnership to co-launch a new drug in two regions. The drug was undergoing phase 3 clinical trials with the results expected to be published soon. The drug was set to launch in two regions. The biggest concern was that the outcome of the clinical trial could demonstrate that the new treatment is no better than current drugs already on the market. The client engaged Deloitte to help assess the potential impacts of various trial results (phase 1, the wargame itself), and to develop a detailed mitigation plan (phase 2). The two “maximum change” scenarios were explored.
- “Broadband company full market business wargame” to predict competitors’ moves
- This client was facing an increasingly competitive environment as the ecosystem, regulatory and market landscape continues to evolve. They thus engaged Deloitte to run a 2-day wargame to bring to life the competitive market.
- Day 1 focused on 2017-2018: Increased fixed line competition and threats of substitution to 4G wireless products and Wi-Fi offerings. During the debriefing session they identified the possibility of a market shock: two competitors may merge due to pressure on growth.
- Day 2 focused on the future period 2019-2023. It started in the following way: Increased demand for higher broadband speeds due to advancements in technology and looming 5G release poses a substitution threat. Relying on the precedent day’s debriefing findings, they also introduced a market shock, with a new player entry. The debriefing session identified the key threats for this client, what the response strategies should be, relying on the consultant’s’ expertise and on participant reflections. Finally, they were able to detail an action plan.
- “Negotiation skills business wargame for Deloitte University”
- The 1-day game was organized for Deloitte Senior Manager level participants with aim to enhance their negotiations skills. The war game used a negotiation model which is based on the Harvard model of negotiation, and involved role-played negotiation meetings. War game materials were pushed to participant teams through an online platform, which drove the wargame and replicated real life decision making. Teams were scored on tasks through the platform, and on face-to-face meetings. These scores were aligned to the negotiation framework for in-day feedback.
- “Major oil company business wargame” for a future joint venture
- A major oil company engaged Deloitte to develop a Joint-Venture wargame event in order to bring typical JV risks and challenges to life. The event was themed around “Back to the Future”, taking participants from 2030 to 2016, with a focus on a different JV challenge at each move. Dynamic injects such as newspaper articles, voiceovers and holograms were delivered over the course of the day using Greenhouse technology.
- The six client participants were divided in two: three focused on the downstream and the three others focused on the upstream. They had to prepare strategic JV responses to scenarios sent by the control team, who would constantly introduce updates and material. Additionally, a team of experts was present to input advice when requested, and role play different stakeholders. They were instrumental in providing key insights during the debriefing session.
I tremendously enjoyed this talk, because it was very practical and detail-oriented. It provided a fresh and dynamic outlook on wargaming and I believe it provided participants with a clear idea of how they could use wargames for their own business needs.
Major Tom Mouat then spoke of what business can learn from wargaming. He started with a reminder for all the participants of what wargaming is about. First wargaming is a great training, and training is about making us better at what we already know, but also about understanding ourselves and making ourselves better. Moreover wargaming is about shared understanding and imagination, competition and adversarial thinking, and understanding victory and learning from defeat. He particularly emphasized that last point.
Tom Mouat then quoted Thomas C Shelling: “The one thing you cannot do… is to make a list of things you never thought of”. That is counterable through wargames. He also reminded us that after the treaty of Versailles was signed, the German army was deprived of a proper army and their actual military exercises were limited. They thus resorted to wargames for training, with a terrible efficacy.
A major danger in the military and the business world alike, is the phenomena of groupthink, in part induced by a rigid hierarchy that makes it hard for lower level officials/ employees to questions their superior’s decisions. It leads to imitation based on previous decisions and limits the possibilities for innovation, reinterpretation, and so on.
To groupthink he opposed the wisdom of crowds. Groups can be better at estimation than individuals. Groups indeed bring a diversity of opinion, decentralized expertise and independence of thought. This advantage is nullified if formal hierarchy is maintained among group members. Another point to consider is that best predictions come from conflict or contest.
He also discussed the usefulness of roleplay in predicting outcomes: one study found that rolepays had a 62% chance of accurately predicting outcomes, far better than a single expert (31% correct) or a game theory (32% correct).
Moving on to business, he identified business benefits from wargaming: analysis of competitor, customer and supplier behavior; new product introductions, market entry scenarios, or development of new businesses; impact of changes in market environment; and simulation of negotiations.
Finally, Tom Mouat reminded us that wargaming isn’t about the “game” (which business people who are not familiar with the practice fail to understand)” Wargaming is about practice, an attitude of mind, getting input from everyone, in an organisation that values innovation, with the goal of exploring ways to make the “other guy” fail, and above all gaining a clear understanding of “what do we want to achieve?”.
Walter Vejdovsky, head of group M&As at Capgemini, discussed the benefits of wargaming for one’s organization. He opened his talk with a quote illustrating the benefits of wargaming: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” (Confucius).
He identified the major common traits of the military and business:
- a pyramidal command structure (whether explicit or implicit in the case of businesses)
- Limited intelligence on the enemy or the competitors, and internal intelligence/ reporting bias
- Friction and uncertainty
- The human factor: the morale is key, and stress, emotions and commitment of any decisions (although businesses face lesser risks)
- Multidimensional goals: in the military, victory is determined with a mix of losses, geographical control and political factors; in business, the “value” of a corporation involves numerous factors.
Lunch followed, and the major part of the afternoon was dedicated to the game fair, divided in 6 workshops: (1) contemporary games (2) conceive games (3) cybersecurity (4) humanitarian and civil security (5) use for formation (6) history of wargaming.
Each workshop was run twice in the afternoon and comprised of one or two introductory talks, followed by a couple simultaneous games. Running Rex Brynen’s AFTERSHOCK humanitarian crisis game, I unfortunately did not get the occasion to explore the other workshops and games.
In the humanitarian and civil security workshop, Russell King spoke (in French!) of his experience in emergency planning at the British National Health Service (NHS), its crucial importance, and how simulations can lead to positive planning improvements.
Dr Sophie Cros (Panthéon-Sorbonne) then spoke of an experiment she ran with policemen and firemen after three days of formation to crisis management. She ran one realistic and one unrealistic crisis simulation. She noted that the unrealistic simulation had generated a lot of stress among participants, whereas the other did not. When put under stress, individuals showed that they did not completely assimilate what they had learned during the 3-day workshop. The unrealistic, stress-inducing simulation was thus best fitted to spot potential shortcomings of individuals’ trainings.
After the talks the games could take place. I was supposed to run two sessions of AFTERSHOCK but could only run the first one for I was short on participants during the second session. Participants seemed to enjoy the first session, and during the second session I instead explained the game and its uses to a few people who approached me and seemed very interested, be they students, humanitarian personnel, or military personnel. They expressed the wish to see a French version of the game published. (A French translation of the rules and player aids is, however, available on BoardGameGeek.)
The last part of the afternoon was dedicated to the results of a hackathon ran jointly by Sciences Po and the French Red Cross. Three teams of Sciences Po students thus presented the game they had designed in just a few weeks for the Red Cross, on the theme of International Humanitarian Law.
The first team had designed an app-supported cyber security wargame, loosely modelled on battleship. The red team tries to find the position of the blue team’s security system and attack it. Both players have to answer cyber security-related questions on the app in order to advance or block the adversary.
The second team had designed an app-supported game as well, which was semi-collaborative as each player had its own agenda while working towards a common goal for the Red Cross, and one player could even be a secret enemy. The scenarios, agendas of the protagonists, but also the number of turns were randomly generated by the app, making it highly replayable.
The third team had designed a boardgame modeling an emergency issue in a fictive city plagued by civil war between two groups. The game thus comprised three players, The Red Cross and the two fighting groups. Each fighting group had the objective of taking control of the city (seizing the city hall being the main objective), while the Red Cross’ objective was essentially to save as much of the city’s population as possible.
All these games seemed very well designed and enjoyable, and I was truly impressed with what they had managed to achieve in just a few weeks.
Following that, Tom Mouat, Pierre Razoux, Patrick Ruestchmann, Eric Jacopin and a Red Cross representative took questions from the audience. Finally, it fell to General Carmona, vice-director of the Institute for Higher National Defence Studies (Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale, IHEDN), to make a few concluding comments on the conference.
Overall, it was a very productive and stimulating day. As a French national, I must say I was particularly happy to witness the first French edition of a Connections-like conference, and proud of what had been achieved. I want to salute Patrick Ruetschmann’s hard work in putting together such an event practically on his own. The participants too were very dynamic and passionate about their subject.
Moreover, I was impressed and extremely satisfied with the greater gender-parity and proportion of young people compared with other wargaming events I had had the chance to attend in the past. The collaboration between Sciences Po and the Red Cross, and the partnership with a master’s program partly taught at the War College itself were decisive in increasing the number of young participants. I particularly appreciated that Sciences Po students were able to present their games. It sent a strong signal that the young were able to produce smart, fun and instructive wargames.
I hope to see more of this in the 2019 edition, that promises to be more ambitious with at least two days of conference.
Juliette Le Ménahèze