Case Study 2 : MarketPlace

Niki Hynes, Strathclyde University
Nicola Whitton, Manchester Metropolitan University

The MarketPlace business game was used as a core part of a collaborative, final-year undergraduate marketing course, Marketing Management in Practice, at Napier University in Edinburgh. Marketplace provides an online virtual business environment, in which groups of students work as companies to compete against one another for market share and position. Activities involve undertaking market analysis, designing marketing strategies, and designing appropriate product mixes for development. The game aims to teach the application of marketing skills within a real world context. The game-based course was piloted during the academic session 2004/5 and 42 students elected to study on the module.

The Marketplace online game (image reproduced with permission of Innovative Learning Solutions, Inc.)

The game was played for the whole semester in which the course ran and was at the heart of all activities. At the start of the course, students were split into teams, or virtual companies, of four or five members and were expected to work within those teams for the duration. The course was fifteen-weeks in total and within that time the game was broken down into eight decision periods. During each decision period groups had to make decisions about the company, its marketing strategies, and the products it wanted to develop. Although Marketplace is an online game and decisions are input online, students were expected to meet face-to-face to discuss decisions, and one person would update the company profile at the end of each decision period. At the end of the period, the simulation game provided immediate feedback and showed the performance of companies relative to one another within the virtual environment.

Classes for the course consisted of lectures and tutorials, with five lectures in total and a three-hour tutorial slot each week in which students were expected to make their group decisions (although they were also able to meet outside the allocated tutorial slot). Attendance at the tutorial was compulsory, and a tutorial worksheet had to be completed and signed by all group members and handed in at the end of each tutorial.

Although the performance of each team was measured against that of other teams to provide a competitive environment, students were not assessed on the performance of their team. There were three forms of assessment, split in emphasis between group and individual performance. Students were asked to prepare a presentation to the ‘Board of Directors’ on their performance to date and future plans, which took place after the fifth decision period of the game (worth 40% of the final mark). They also had to complete individual assignments at the end of the simulation (worth 40%), and the team work sheets detailing decisions made in each tutorial period (worth 20%). As part of the final individual assessment for the module, as well as their analysis of the marketing aspects, students were asked to reflect on their experiences playing the game and working collaboratively with others.

As this was the first time that a game of this type had been used in this context, a comprehensive evaluation was undertaken. Before the start of the module, the students were asked to complete an attitudinal questionnaire, covering their attitudes to computer game playing and educational games. For the formative and summative evaluations, both qualitative and quantitative measures were used to find out about the student experience of learning in groups with the Marketplace game. The module was evaluated in three ways: six focus groups took place half way through the course; students were asked to complete an attitudinal questionnaire at the end of the module; and the reflective statements on the student learning experiences within the game (a mandatory as part of the final assessment) were analyzed.

The focus groups took place between weeks six and eight of the course and in total 20 students took part. Although these focus groups were optional students who took part were paid a small fee in order to encourage a range of students to take part. Each focus group had three or four students in it and took approximately one hour. Each followed a similar structure but questions were open-ended and were used as an opportunity to explore in any direction that seemed appropriate. Focus groups were used rather than over individual interviews because of time constraints and because it was hoped that a group interview would help to stimulate ideas and debate. The group make-up avoided students who were in the same work groups together as it was felt that this might hinder honest discussion of experiences.

The focus groups examined the students’ expectations and motivations, work patterns and communication, the course and game design. Data from these groups were used to highlight themes and to design the end-of-course attitudinal questionnaire. This questionnaire was presented to students in the final week of the course and in total 26 students completed and returned it.

The students who took part in the module were final year students from a range of marketing and business disciplines. They were predominantly aged in their early twenties and approximately two-thirds of the class were female. Most of the class had previous experience of playing computer games but only 12% had used an educational game of any sort before. The vast majority of students (85%) said that using a game to learn would not motivate them either way, positive or negative. The questionnaire feedback provided a positive indication of the overall success of the module, with 80% of students saying that they had enjoyed this module more than others (these data can only be indicative as only 60% of the class responded to the final questionnaire).

The students who elected to study this course did not do so primarily because it was a game, but the primary motivations were because it was novel and because it sounded fun and interesting. Other common motivations for undertaking the course were because it was continually assessed with no final examination and because it offered the opportunity to apply theory to a real-life situation. When asked if they were motivated to do well in the module, 96% of the students said that they were. In contrast, 77% said that they were motivated to do well in the game. It seemed that motivation to win the game changed throughout the playing period depending on the performance of the team, with winning teams becoming more motivated while groups who were performing less well quickly losing their motivation. There was a large amount of competition between groups, but not among individual members of groups and this appeared to be a positive motivation, but again more so for teams that were performing better.

The evaluation also highlighted positive and negative aspects of a game-based approach. Students liked that feedback from each decision was provided immediately, however they also felt that the feedback was limited and that it did not explain exactly why actions had led to certain consequences. The game was also criticized in that it did not always seem to reflect the correct application of theory and that it would be possible to win by chance. It was also felt that the game was based on a very limited model with limited options and that there was no potential within the game for creativity or expression of individual talent.


  • You do not have to stick to the structure provided by the game, but can add in additional creative elements.
  • Encourage intra-group competition to motivate students while still supporting collaboration.
  • Do not assess game performance directly.