Implementing Business Simulations 101: Range of Difficulty

Be sure to check out other articles in this blog series here!

Business Simulation 101 Series: Range of Difficulty

Business simulation games come in a variety of forms, with some focused on specific functional challenges (like marketing), while others are broad in scope, simulating the challenge of making and coordinating company-wide decisions. Yet despite the plethora of options out there, the best games have an in-built flexibility that allows them to adapt to different levels of learner experience and skill.

Any potential purchaser of business simulation games should look for a game that offers this kind of difficulty progression, both within each application of the game and also across different learning levels (such as BA to MBA level).

Why it’s important

Simply put, games that are either too complex or too simple are a nightmare for both student and teacher. We speak to so many business educators who have been scarred by an experience with a business simulation game so complex that neither they nor their students ever really engaged with it.

Ultimately, learning effectiveness is optimized when learners:

(1) Begin training at their appropriate knowledge and skill level

(2) Are progressed through increasing difficulty levels

Following these two guideposts ensures that learners avoid overwhelm or boredom, and develop and assimilate new competencies. 

Determining appropriate difficulty level

The learners’ starting skill, knowledge level and expected learning outcomes are all factors to consider in setting the difficulty and complexity levels of your business simulation game. Also, instructors should be aware of the cognitive load demanded by each skill or topic that the simulation covers. For example, for players without a quantitative background, cash flow forecasting can be really challenging.

You should also consider the learning context, answering such questions as:

-Is this academic or corporate training? In an academic context, there might be more time and scope for supplementary teaching and assessments.

-If academic, are the students high schoolers (simplest), undergraduates or graduates (most complex)? 

-At what stage of their course are they – just starting (simpler), or  is this the final ‘capstone’ module (harder)?

If corporate, what type of experience or training do the participants have? How much time do they have to complete the game?

Setting difficulty level

The range of difficulty can be adjusted to fit the learners’ needs in 3 key ways.

(1) Modifying game components.

Some games for example have components that can be added or not depending on the desired complexity of the game. In the HFX Business Simulation Game, there are a number of ‘crises’ that can be added to the game at the instructors discretion.

These crises include:

  • Wage dispute
  • Labour strike
  • Input price increase
  • Government imposed energy rationing
  • Factory auction
  • Economic recession

(2) Modifying supplementary teaching materials and assessments

For the type of broad business simulation that we offer, there are a wide range of topics that can be or should be taught in parallel to the running of the game. Such topics include:

  • Strategy planning
  • Team work
  • Financial management
  • Marketing management
  • Operations and production management
  • Human resource management

Another way therefore to adjust the difficulty of the ‘game’ is to modify the supplementary teaching materials and assessments that are used to teach and assess the above topic areas.

(3) Auto-adjusting complexity

The final way that especially multiplayer simulations (such as ours) can be adapted, is a little bit more abstract, but very important: The difficulty of the game is set by the quality of your competitors.

For example, if you took a simulation being run in a class of high school business students and then inserted a team of players with decades of corporate management experience, the experienced team would likely wipe the floor! This is because their decision making methods would be more sophisticated, rigorous and aligned than that of their competitors.

Conversely, if you took a team of high school business students and inserted them into a game run at a corporate workshop with senior management from a multinational, they would likely fare very badly!


Providing learners’ the opportunity to progress through ranges of difficulty, and benefit from this kind of important skill-building, is just one of the beneficial learning outcomes of business simulations. Next up, we’ll continue our this Blog Series with a new post on integrating deliberate practice into your simulation.

Be sure to check out our other posts in the series by following the links below. For more information on how HFX can help you with simulation-based business strategy training, please contact us at

Implementing Business Simulations 101: Introduction

Implementing Business Simulations 101: Curriculum Integration  

Implementing Business Simulations 101: Participant Feedback