Virtual Reality

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 31–58 | Cite as

Success factors for serious games to enhance learning: a systematic review

  • Werner Siegfried RavyseEmail author
  • A. Seugnet Blignaut
  • Verona Leendertz
  • Alex Woolner
Original Article


There is no doubt that an abundance of factors exists that makes learning with serious games successful. Research articles reporting on these factors, however, tend to focus on select serious game elements and do not combine all salient factors for successful learning with serious games. Addressing this gap is a necessity for the success of serious games and may even alleviate long-standing debates about pedagogy over enjoyment, how much realism is enough or whether artificial intelligence is worth the cost. This article examines existing academic literature from 2000 to 2015, extracting shared serious game success factors that have had an encouraging impact on gameful learning experiences. As such, we subsequently aim to withdraw the field from a perpetual spiral of does-my-game-work research toward more worthwhile why-does-my-game-not-work research. Qualitative content analysis through the constant comparison method (CCM) analyzed a total of 63 articles from a variety of recognized electronic libraries and databases. Through this analysis, we reveal five central serious game themes: backstory and production; realism; artificial intelligence and adaptivity; interaction; and feedback and debriefing, all of which require deliberate intertwining with pedagogical content to ensure successful learning. This review unravels each of the five themes into their constituent factors and consequently presents the factors as practical guidelines that serious games producers should strive to include in their game productions. Applying these recommendations whenever serious games are considered will provide a foundation for effective gameful learning experiences.


Artificial intelligence (AI) Feedback Interaction Narrative Realism Serious games 



This work is based on research support, in part, by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. Any opinion, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors, and therefore, the NRF does accept any liability in regard thereto. We also wish to acknowledge the effort of the librarians of the North-West University.

Author contributions

All authors contributed to this article, in content and in form. WSR and ASB wrote the manuscript. VL assisted the mechanics of the systematic literature review. AW assisted with inter-reliability and quality assurance. All authors contributed equally to the editing of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Werner Siegfried Ravyse
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. Seugnet Blignaut
    • 1
  • Verona Leendertz
    • 1
  • Alex Woolner
    • 2
  1. 1.TELIT-SA, Faculty of Economic Sciences and ITNorth-West UniversityVanderbijlparkSouth Africa
  2. 2.Serious Games InstituteCoventry UniversityCoventryUK

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