Lab technicians

French serious games company Manzalab, has an impressive roster of clients past and present and is applying its Replica dialogue system to a number of different training scenarios from HR to social care. Ronnie Dungan spoke to president Clement Merville to find out more…

Paris-based serious games developer Manzalab, is on a mission to “spread knowledge through games and pleasure” according to its president, Clement Merville.

Indeed the name (linguistic fact: Manzana is Spanish for apple) is an allusion to the biblical tree of knowledge. And since its creation in 2010 the firm has been spreading its knowledge/fun ethos to a growing roster of some thirty-plus clients, including eight from France’s CAC 40 stock market index, such as Sanofi, SFR, EGA, AXA and Renault.

The list also includes well-known names such as Credit Agricole and insurance companies MAIF and MGEN, among others.

Adult education is also a mainstay for the company, which has a partnership with AFPA – the French association for adult training, which is one of the biggest such organisations in Europe, training 850,000 adults every year. Manzalab is playing important role in the association’s move towards a more digital future and has a number of current serious gaming projects with it covering topics as various as sales training, electrics and social care.

Much of Manzalab’s training centres around its Replica dialogue engine, which is based on Unity 3D. It can add enhancements and bespoke features to it according to the project.

“We have a deep R&D approach,” explains Clement Merville. “We spend around 30 per cent of our revenues of R&D. We have two R&D projects started last year and one finished for the DGA [French M.O.D].

“In France it is the first time the DGA has worked with a serious games company and they chose us. It’s a minimum three year programme and we are working with one of the public laboratories.

Manzalab logo“The idea is that we create a helicopter simulator using Occulus and we’re also putting an EEG headset in it so that we can look at the brainwaves of the person while they’re training and do a real time loop between the brain and the simulator to optimise the training.

“We can detect brainwaves so that we can see if the student is still learning or whether they have become an expert. It’s a bit like when you drive your car without having to think. We’re looking for when they have reached that stage.”

Another programme is sponsored by the Ministry of Education and teaches kids to read with games on a tablet.

“Another previous project was neuroscience and we have been working with the most famous neuroscientist in France, Stanislas Dahaene

“He studies how the brain learns and transforms as it does. He put a theory of learning and games using these four pillars – Attention, Engagement, Feedback (positive reinforcement) and Consolidation (after a few weeks you need to consolidate what you have learned or you will forget it).

“Yesterday everyone was talking about learning, but learning is very passive. It’s just one way and not very efficient. Today we talk about training and what we are doing is experiencing. Training with emotional aspects.”

One of its first projects – funded by the SFR Foundation –  was in recruitment training which saw it use its Replica dialogue engine to help train people struggling to find their first job and guide them through the interview process.

“It was about how to learn the basics – be on time; dress smart; be polite; turn off your phone and so on. All this was done using the dialogue engine, Replica.

“One important aspect is that we believe that every single person has at least one special ability that makes them different. So we added that as a trump card in the game. The key is to know when to play it.

“You play the whole interview but the score will be different depending on how you conduct yourself and at the end you will get a full report on what you did well.”

Future plans for the firm involve new technologies and new territories. Much of its R&D work is directed at virtual reality now, with mobile VR using Google Cardboard currently being worked on. A interview sim for mobile phones, using voice recognition is also in the pipeline.

But it was on a recent trip to the US that Merville found surprising new opportunities. It seems as if the use of serious gaming in HR has not yet reached the same level of usage in the US as it has in Europe and, with this in mind, Manzalab has representation in the US for the first time now.

“It hasn’t got into companies yet. They haven’t seen it. Which I was really surprised about.  We’ve had some exciting conversations with people who have money but lack the know-how. So it’s an opportunity for us definitely.”

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