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CBJ: Darden duo's game training future business heroes

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Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2013 6:00 pm | Updated: 6:12 pm, Sun Sep 15, 2013.

BizHero, a digitally based game designed at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, puts chief executive officer power at students’ fingertips.

The web-based game runs on PCs or tablets. It’s structured around several in-game modules — operations, community, human resources, marketing and finance.

“We wanted to create a complex enough world to try to [strategize],” said Darden professor Bobby Parmar, who created BizHero along with Fred Telegdy, a Darden digital curriculum manager.

In BizHero, a decision to direct more funding toward production means the company’s marketing message might not get told. Not directing enough funding to HR might lead to corporate corruption.

Pushing production facilities too hard can result in equipment breakdowns or air pollution, and all the while, the game’s fantasy customers are watching the price of your widgets.

On top of all that, players are also competing against each other. And to up the ante, they can even launch frivolous lawsuits against their competitors.

“Many simulations are done for small functional areas,” Parmar said. “What we wanted to do was to create a game where people could manage across all those areas.”

But most importantly, Parmar said, the game has genuine educational functionality in that students independently discover the ramifications of their decisions on their own, which is a much more effective lesson than any guidance a professor might offer.

Because they’re having fun doing it and there’s a competitive element, the message sticks, Parmar added.

The digital architecture that drives BizHero is web based and “not any different than what you would use to program a normal webpage,” Telegdy said.

That simplicity, Telegdy said, means BizHero will be easily accessible and potentially adaptable to students everywhere once it’s ready for a public launch sometime in the next few months after a few more tweaks.

“BizHero is one of many examples of innovative projects with real commercial potential created by our faculty — in this case to develop critical skills by hands-on training,” Mark Crowell, executive director of UVa Innovation, said in a statement.

Crowell said UVa Innovation selected BizHero as one of 10 proof-of-concept projects to participate in a six-month-long crowd-funding initiative.

A small group of Darden faculty and students spent the past few months testing a pilot version of the game.

Although BizHero isn’t publicly available yet, Parmar said he’s excited that the game has the potential to refocus the dialogue about business ethics.

“Business has the potential to do good in our society, and that’s what this game is really about — getting [people] to think differently,” he said.

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