Videogames: a useful tool for Accounting Learning?

Posted by Soledad Moya - Dec 22, 2017

Although the use of games has long been present in higher education classrooms, there remain many unresolved questions in relation to its effectiveness. At the EAA 2017 PhD Forum, we focused on the effectiveness of Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL) and, in particular, on videogames, as a relatively new instrument for educational use in higher education environments. If we examine the history of game use in higher education, we realize that simulations have been the most popular instructional tools used thus far. However, videogames have entered the classroom as a complementary tool for learning that may bring additional outcomes, although these outcomes are still in need of validation

The digital games selected for this activity were specifically designed to facilitate participants to learn accounting and financial management principles, in particular working capital management, while running a virtual company. Both games place the participants in the situation of understanding the implications on liquidity and profitability of many operating business decisions and grasping the relevance of a sound management of the working capital needs. They also highlight long term and strategic implications. In order to contrast the hypotheses of this research, two games were selected: a simulation and a videogame.

The simulation used in this research was ‘Working Capital Simulation: Managing growth V.2’, developed by Harvard Business School[1]. In this single-player simulation, students act as the CEO of a small company, and decide whether to invest in growth and cash-flow improvement opportunities in three phases over nine simulated years. Each opportunity has a unique financial profile and students must analyse the effects on working capital. Students must understand how the income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows are interconnected and consider the possible effects of each opportunity on the firm’s financial position. The company operates on thin margins with a constrained cash position and limited available credit. Students must optimize the use of ‘internal’ and external funds as they balance the desire for growth with the need to maintain liquidity. The simulation aims to develop intuition regarding a firm’s cash conversion cycle and to learn about the trade-offs between revenue and EBIT growth while also managing net operating working capital.

The videogame used was ‘Marty Raygun’s Fistful of dollars’[2], developed by ViaVivo, where the participants are challenged to make choices about customers, suppliers, and different types of inventory while running a manufacturing business. During the game, participants are exposed, to decision such as selecting among customers (suppliers) who pay (offer) high (low) prices, selecting from the customers (suppliers) who offer to pay on a cash basis (on a credit basis) or the customers that place the biggest orders. ‘Fistful of Dollars’ uses a trial and error approach to problem solving that aims to create pattern recognition skills and financial management intuition. The videogame aims to develop an understanding of how to increase revenues (and profits) as quickly as possible without running out of cash.

We have assessed the effectiveness of videogames in comparison to simulations with regard to their attributes, motivation, and learning outcomes, as three of the main dimensions that play a role in the effectiveness of DGBL. We observed that there are significant differences between the attributes and motivation dimensions of the videogame compared to the simulation, while no significant differences arise for the learning outcomes. This would imply that although both instructional tools lead students to the desired level of knowledge acquisition, the motivation generated, together with the set of features provided by the games as perceived by students, complement each other, leading to a superior learning experience. These results support then the inclusion of videogames as a complement to simulations in higher education accounting business environments. The rationale for such a statement is that, while in some attributes or motivational dimensions, simulations perform better than videogames, in others, videogames are perceived as superior. Thus, a blended approach could provide the learner with the ‘best of both worlds’.

[1] The simulation is available for educators, previous registration at:

[2] The videogame is freely available at


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