Those Who Do and Those That Don’t: A Study of Engaged and Disengaged Business Game Players


  • Joseph Wolfe
  • Robin Mccoy


"The “free rider” syndrome plagues many group efforts. This is an especially harmful phenomenon for those using business games as team-based learning experiences. Be-cause of this lack of engagement naturally associated with players in groups, this paper tested a set of predictors of a player’s engagement or unengagement in the simulation being played. Engagement varied widely when measured by the proportion of online screen visits made by each team’s members. Of the study’s 76 subjects, 18.4% were highly engaged with 38.2% of them being almost completely unengaged. Those who actively participated had significantly higher pre-college aptitude scores and cumulative college grade-point-averages. Despite the group’s bi-modal nature, there were weak but significant predictive relationships between player aptitudes and collegiate grade-point-averages and engagement levels. These weak correlations indicate there are other more important factors associated with a player’s level of game engagement. Educators, and especially those preparing students for business careers, have endorsed the use of active group learning environments (Becker and Dwyer, 1998). More importantly, there has been an increase in their use (Brooks and Ammons, 2003; Lejk and Wyvill, 2001) based on their sup-posed ability to deliver the benefits of high cognitive in-volvement and greater activation and motivational levels for the materials and tasks being presented (Peterson and Miller, 2004). For those being trained for the business world, whose practitioners must bring about instrumental effects, group-learning methods help the student to learn about group dynamics, develop their interpersonal skills, expose them to diverse perspectives and produces more well-rounded assignments and other task-related outputs (Mello, 1993). Despite these often-documented benefits, there are still factors that make many group-learning efforts frustrating to their participants and sub-optimal in the results they produce (Ashraf, 2004; Gatfield, 1999; Kerr, 1983). One of these factors is the presence of “free riders” or those who engage in social loafing (Williams and Karau, 1991). These individuals do not bear their fair share of the group’s work while obtaining all of its benefits (Albanese and Van Fleet, 1985; Jones, 1984). This imbalance frequently leads to dominance by a few and less learning for others, bitterness, claims of prejudice by those negatively evaluated and a lowering of the quantity and quality of the group’s output (Brooks and Ammons, 2003; McElhinney and Murk, 1994; Schoenecker, Martell and Michlitch, 1997). The problem of getting the free rider to put forth a requisite level of effort is exacerbated in student-related projects. In the workplace, employees are more-directly rewarded for their efforts with paychecks, promotions and other entitlements such as employee benefits (Piezon and Donaldson, 2004). Students, however, do not have these rewards and punishments at their disposal other than by awarding group-dispensed grades and peer evaluations. These may not be meaningful given the rewards of free-ridership (Murphy, Wane, Liden and Erdogan, 2003). Because of the presence of social loafing in all group projects, and possibly those associated with business games that depend on the joint efforts of their players, this paper attempts to quantitatively document its presence. It does so by not relying on anecdotal and post hoc player evaluations that may not capture the amount of free ridership manifested on their teams. In doing so, the paper will at-tempt to identify the degree a player’s pre-game scholastic aptitudes and academic achievement levels are associated with their degree of engagement in a business game learning environment. "