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Team Building with Mario and Luigi

January 10, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Choosing a Game

The only problem -- for in-person training, at least -- with Guild Wars 2 is that you don't have the benefit of personal interaction with your teammates (and that at the time of the focus group, the game had not yet been released). As such, I landed on New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

NSMB has competition -- you can easily steal power-ups from and double-jump your teammates to their demise -- but, like Worms, fun trumps competition. Players are working toward a shared outcome, as well -- if you cause your teammate to die, you may be less likely to complete the level. So we have a collaborative goal (work together to complete the level), a collaborative result (beat the level), and the benefit of personal interaction: It meets each criterion for a useful team-building experience.

With the collaborative game selected, I set up some parameters to ensure the learning experience was authentic. First and foremost, I decided to not interact with the focus group gamers during play. I didn't want to taint the study with my own bias -- I wanted to see if the learning would happen naturally.

Next, I made sure that I selected a group of people with diverse levels of gaming experience and different professional backgrounds. Finally, I set up a post-game reflection time to discuss what happened -- this proved to be a crucial piece of the experience.

So, let's get to it: how did Mario and Luigi help my ragtag group of professionals become a functioning team?


During the course of play, I observed the following group traits that we hope to see in well-functioning professional groups:

Gamers naturally established group roles based on skills and experience. The two well-seasoned gamers helped out the two players with no experience when figuring out the control scheme -- showing them button functions, explaining how to run or walk, etc.

They also helped the inexperienced gamers figure out the functions of the game itself: the ins and outs of each power-up, how to overcome obstacles such as floating platforms or ice levels, and the best ways to complete the level, such as shortcuts through pipes. None of these occurrences are unfamiliar to the avid gamer -- we help each other out all the time. The inexperienced gamers took on a natural role as a follower -- and the pros took a natural role as leaders.

The learning curve for new players became substantially smaller with input from experienced players. The mentorship of experienced players made it easier to learn the ropes than if the inexperienced players had done so on their own. This is an instance of value added for group play -- and the same goes for work in a well-functioning group.

The group developed a common identity as a team. Since both the goal and result in New Super Mario Bros. is collaborative, each individual player wanted to help the other (or be helped, as the case may be) to beat the obstacles and complete each level. Coupled with the personal interaction of local gaming, each member felt -- regardless of skill and experience -- an important part of the team.

Players were able to identify strengths and weaknesses without feeling threatened or challenged. Since the group was having fun, no one felt threatened when a teammate made a suggestion for improvement. Conversely, players were also eager to give praise -- for instance, when all but one member of the team had already died, the last man standing narrowly escaped defeat to move the whole team on -- high fives and cheers abounded.

Each player had a shared investment in the outcome of the game. Everyone wanted to win, because everyone was having fun -- and to win, they needed to work together.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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Curtiss Murphy
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Fantastic experiment and excellent article. Thank you.

Jason Drysdale
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Thanks, Curtiss--much appreciated!

Sean Monica
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This is really cool and well done!

Jason Drysdale
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Thanks, Sean--glad you enjoyed it!

Axel Cholewa
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I can only agree with Curtiss, fantastic experiment and article!

It would be interesting to do the same study with

a) Rayman :Origins. It shares a lot of features with NSMBW, but players can't collide, except if one lands on top of the other (which, as in NSMBW, can be used for higher jumps). Therefore you can't really inhibit your team mates. Using this game could help clarify the importance of verbal coordination in such teams.

b) NSMBW in Boost Mode. It would be interesting to see who plays with the GamePad. Is it always the same person? Does everyone want to play with the GamePad? Maybe they develop their own rules who has to play with the GamePad, and when? Is there a role like leader or follower attached?

Jason Drysdale
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Hey, Axel--

The Rayman idea sounds awesome--that's also the benefit in using games for building teams, I think--if you evaluate one game that doesn't quite fit your needs, there is likely another that will do the job.

Also, right on about boost mode--the asynchronous gameplay thing has a lot of possibilities for collaborative learning and team your idea about developing unique rules for using the GamePad. Now I may need to go pick up a Wii U! For research, of course. ;-)

Thanks for the great discourse!

Axel Cholewa
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Hey Jason,

interesting effect: I was assuming you used NSMB Wii U, although you explicitely wrote Wii. Might be because I just got one before christmas :D

Have fun with your Wii U research ;)

BTW: it's asymmetric gameplay, not asynchronous. :)

Jason Drysdale
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Oops! Must've been thinking one and wrote the other, haha. The perils of posting on Friday!

John Flush
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In my own experiences at home I found the NSMB experience frustrating on all levels when playing multiplayer. Everything bad about video games was present with little to no way of mitigating it. Every castle was the water fall level from contra - which to this day still scars my childhood and is the comparison for game design failure when analyzing a game.

It is interesting though to see as the pain materialized what roles people took. The people that know what they are doing have to slow down and help those that don't, to their own frustration. Those that lacked the skills improve faster but don't really become experts themselves. They have to put in place plans to prevent each other from getting in the way... It really is the workplace.

They key in the workplace is to cut loose those that get in the way and hire more people that know what they are doing or are at least talented enough to become experts in a quick fashion.

Axel Cholewa
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That's a bit shortsighted. "Those that get in the way" are always the slowest, or least efficient, or least experienced and so on. If you cut them loose other people will take there place. There will always be people with less experience or qualification, simply because there is no such things as a completely uniform team.

Train those that seem to slow you down, while not using focus of those that stride ahead. Difficult but possible.

Jason Drysdale
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Hey John--

I think many people echo your sentiment about the frustration with NSMB's multiplayer--and some groups would find it more of a reason to quit than to problem solve. I'll reiterate my statement to Axel, above: this is exactly the reason why games are such a great framework for team building--if one game wouldn't work well, evaluate another until you come to the right one.

I think it's also important to keep in mind that fun is at the center of all this; we are always more invested in the outcome if we are having fun. If the game isn't fun for you or your team, definitely try a different game with collaborative goals and results!

Thanks for the comment, John!

Filipe Salles
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This article is amazing and gave me a new perspective on how to use games as a way of not only delivering fun, but also making people's lives better.

I really appreciated this article, thank you very much!

Jason Drysdale
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Hey, thanks Filipe! Very glad you found it useful. Best wishes!