AUSTIN, Texas—Educators and corporations have a new tool to teach business ethics: the Executive Challenge, a multiplayer, online game that forces participants to make ethically challenging management decisions in a simulated business environment.
Described by The Wall Street Journal as “Sim City for the business world” (May 10, 2004), the Executive Challenge was originally developed as a board game for MBA students at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business.
Steven Tomlinson, a playwright and senior finance lecturer at McCombs, conceived of the game as a complement to the school’s required ethics curriculum. Tomlinson worked with screenwriters, corporate executives and professional game developers to create a simulation that made ethical decision-making real.
In the inaugural version, played by 150 MBA students last year, teams competed for cash prizes by navigating virtual corporations through scenarios that condensed the management decisions of a year into one rapidly unfolding day. The scenarios forced teams to balance ethical demands with the drive for increased revenues.
The success of the experience led the school to partner with Enspire Learning, an Austin-based company specializing in e-learning content, to license an online version for general release.
MBA students at the McCombs School will play the next Executive Challenge on campus at The University of Texas at Austin Oct. 11, the same day Enspire begins selling the online version. The university will receive a portion of the revenues from all sales of the game.
“Teaching ethics can be incredibly difficult,” said Bjorn Billhardt, CEO of Enspire, “because theory learned in the classroom is often forgotten when leaders are faced with the enormous pressures of the real world.”
Business-world relevance is one of the game’s strengths. This year at McCombs, the student players will have to weigh the ethical pressures of issues facing corporate America such as outsourcing, campaign contributions, “no-bid” contracts in Iraq and intellectual property theft. The flexible game design can adapt to include current events and issues of particular relevance to individual organizations.