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Fortnite Meets Training: Walmart’s “Spark City” Mobile Management Game

Wednesday, May 1, 2019
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How does the world’s largest employer attract and develop a new generation of managers who have spent more time playing games than they have in the classroom? With a game, of course—complete with confetti rain and Fortnite-style happy-dance moves every time the player’s avatar successfully completes a task.

Walmart is tapping into the exploding popularity of console-quality 3D games for the mobile handset. Modeled on popular mobile resource management games like Sims and Clash of Clans, Spark City challenges Walmart associates to run their departments like small businesses. Players make inventory, staffing, and customer service decisions, packing months of business processes into hours of game playing. By unlocking new levels, tools, and useful information, they learn to consistently execute Walmart's "One Best Way" department management routine.

Spark City provides spaced repetition of practicing department management skills. Walmart has taken the bold step of making the game public for anyone considering a career in retail whether they already work for Walmart or not. The game is now available on the App Store and Google Play. Try it for yourself! It was recently featured in Yahoo Finance.

The game includes:

  • a familiar mission and storyline, hint-system and feedback, level progression, and freedom-to-fail elements, which keep learners engaged
  • a “learning while having fun” model, maximizing “reps and sets” at critical job tasks
  • a clear career path and advancement opportunities as players level-up from department to department (and eventually to store and district manager)
  • real-time feedback in the form of customer service, inventory, and sales scores, which keeps learners focused on business results.

Associates engage with Spark City in the Walmart Academy, one of the largest employer training programs in the country. Frontline hourly supervisors, department managers, and assistant managers play the game on iPad Minis during weeklong training programs, and it’s already proven to be viral and effective.

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On the net promoter question, “How likely are you to recommend playing the SIM to a Walmart colleague?" pilot session participants rated it an average of 9.625 on a 10-point-scale. Classes that played the game improved 22 percent from pre-assessment to post-assessment.

Excitement about the launch of the game has been building for several months. Walmart received more than 2,800 entries in a competition to name the game, and the two associates who suggested Spark City (a reference to the spark symbol in the company logo) were rewarded by having their names and likenesses appear as managers in the game. Now that it’s available to all 1.4 million associates (and beyond), the app promises to simultaneously upend conventional understanding about what’s possible in training, selection, and recruitment.

Attend our presentation at the ATD 2019 International Conference & Expo in Washington, D.C. to get the inside story of how the game was developed, deployed, and received and what you can learn from it. I’ll be joined by our Walmart partner Heather Durtschi, senior director of learning at Walmart, and Daniel Shepherd, Walmart’s senior manager II.

The truth is that advanced, innovative learning technologies and practices are generating unheard-of successes for forward-thinking organizations around the world. Projects like Spark City are the future; and as Walmart demonstrates, the future is already here.

Check out the video below for a preview:

Walmart "Spark City" game trailer from Anders Gronstedt on Vimeo.

About the Author

Anders Gronstedt, PhD, is president of Gronstedt Group, which helps global companies such as GE, United Healthcare, Deloitte, Microsoft, Kimberly-Clark, and Jamba Juice, and government clients such as the city of New York, improve performance with innovative learning approaches. These include next-generation digital simulations, gaming, and immersive 3D virtual worlds. His articles have appeared in the Harvard Business Review and he hosts a weekly speaking series.

3 Comments
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The game freezes up or the blue icons for when working in entertainment while in the back room the icon for the key an the high ticket audit doesn't show up 😡
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This is a great review of what a game can do for learning. However, I'd be interested in understanding why you think this means the end for the LMS?
The article didn't say anything about LMS, not sure what you're referring to?
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