This is a guest post from Larry Dignan. You can read the original article on Larry’s blog Between the Lines on TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet.

Will video games be coming to an enterprise near you? Forrester Research seems to think so as companies cook up new ways to train employees–especially those so-called millennials.

I can hear the laughter now. Video games? We’re about serious business, you’ll say. What’s the ROI you’ll ask? Video games aren’t serious–they are a productivity killer. I can’t even get my CFO to upgrade Windows 98 desktops!

But maybe we should hear Forrester out. As a confessed skeptic of this ‘millennials will change the world’ argument I couldn’t help but check out Forrester’s report. Whether you buy it is another matter entirely, but Forrester’s take isn’t that nuts. Like most predictions, however, Forrester is probably a few years early on the market acceptance front. Here’s the gist of the report, which was penned by TJ Keitt and Paul Jackson:

  • A new category called ‘serious gaming’ is emerging. Serious gaming uses games for business purposes. And (buzzword alert) “technology populism,” the greening of IT and the “emergence of millennials” will make serious gaming a reality. The technology populism term refers to employees bringing their personal technology to work (also known as consumerization a few weeks ago).
  • Vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and traditional video game developers will be pitching your company the concept of games as business.
  • It’s very early in the serious gaming movement. What to call serious games, the presentation, ROI and technology limits all need to be sorted out.
  • However, some organizations–Cisco, the U.S. military, universities and health care outfits–are using serious games today so the concept isn’t total science fiction. Serious games are engaging and primarily used for learning simulations for workers–especially sales types.

Forrester notes:

Serious gaming is a specific activity — the presentation of a task that must be accomplished within a set of parameters — and has a defined time frame. It does not persistently exist for the sake of existing; the game boots, you solve the problem, and the game is over. There may be elements of collaboration and persistence, as seen in virtual worlds, and serious games may even reside inside large, virtual environments, but the task orientation of the activity is what sets it apart from its cousin technology.

A few examples from Forrester:

  • Emergency responders are using games to work through scenarios in the event of a terrorist attack. The government is developing these business games and funding projects.
  • Universities are playing around with them too. Thirty eight universities participated in an IBM pilot for its business process management game. I wonder if that one comes on the Wii?
  • Cisco, Hilton Garden Inn and Johnson & Johnson are using these games to teach things like binary math, customer service and drug development, respectively.

Forrester aggregated a few examples in a handy graphic.

Will these games make it to your company? It’s possible as the enterprise gets on the collaboration bandwagon. Admittedly, I’m skeptical about some of the vendors and their chances selling into corporations. For instance, no CIO is going to buy a serious game from a traditional video game company. It’s just too hard to pitch to the CEO and CFO. However, Forrester notes that IBM and Microsoft are offering serious games bundled with collaboration tools. Big Blue and Microsoft are quite used to selling applications to you and even if you buy a game or two no CIO will get fired for doing so.

Next challenge: Figure out the ROI case. Good luck with that one. Forrester notes:

How do you prove their business worth and ROI? This is the hardest of the five questions facing serious games. For some games, such as advergames, it’s easy to see the link to ROI: For example, Burger King’s three Xbox 360 titles developed by Blitz Games Studios ranked among the top-selling Xbox games over the winter holidays in 2006 and were credited with the company’s 41% profit increase in its second quarter. However, such a 1 to 1 relationship between a game and a desired outcome is often hard to tease out in something as nebulous as diversity training. And for those deploying games, divining whether their target audience internalized the lesson instead of just becoming good at playing the game is paramount.

Simply put, these games are used for so-called soft skills that are hard to tie to measurable goals. An ROI isn’t impossible, but you’ll have to get creative.