Alberto Motta and Isabella Dobrescu

Economics Academics, UNSW Business School

Founders, LionsHeart Studios
Creators of Playconomics

Discover the Playconomics Story

WHY NOT Be a game changer?

Alberto Motta and Isabella Dobrescu are unconventional academics, which makes them the perfect fit for UNSW Business School. They have thrown aside their old economics textbooks and transformed their course into a video game which makes learning economic fundamentals fun and engaging for students. Their approach to teaching Economics is turning education on its head by putting students in control of their study.

Alberto and Isabella are taking an unexpected approach to education - putting students in control of their study. While digital solutions are part of the new wave in education, it is rare for universities to get the balance right, as Isabella explains.

'Universities are turning to digital solutions because employers are demanding practical skills from graduates,' Isabella says. 'Online courses can provide those skills and are cost effective and scalable, but they are not perfect - some students do not engage and others resort to last minute cramming. Our solution? Turn the course into a video game.'

In the simulated world of their interactive game - Playconomics, students make decisions that have economic and social consequences. It may sound like child’s play, but Playconomics is serious stuff.

Before launching Playconomics, Alberto and Isabella conducted rigorous research and testing, with startling results.

'We first tested a prototype version of Playconomics in the field and we found something very interesting,' Alberto explains. 'When we gamified 10% of the course, the final exam marks increased by roughly 10% - all types of students benefitted. These results encouraged us to gamify the entire course. The educational impact has been simply outstanding. We have never seen anything like it,' he says.

Although the research findings have been overwhelming, Isabella stresses the importance of continued investigation into the reasons for the success of Playconomics.

'Why is the game working so well as an educational tool? We believe it has to do with its ability to unlock experiential learning. You cannot get that kind of immersion unless you use a video game. But the jury is still out on this. Much more research is needed to find a definite answer,' Isabella says.

Since its launch, Playconomics has won awards for learning outcomes, has been adopted by other Australian universities, and Isabella and Alberto are now extending the use of Playconomics to outreach programs. Most importantly, students love it. As soon as they receive their course content via Playconomics, students jump ahead of their class material, signalling an end to last minute cramming.

Alberto believes that a large part of the game’s appeal is that it empowers students by making economics more accessible without compromising on the rigorous economic models that are the basis of the game.

'Playconomics is the great equaliser, it makes the economic models super-approachable,' Alberto says.

'Some economists are a bit resistant to this concept because when you see the game in action, it's actually much simpler than looking at a lot of formulas. Now students and lecturers are looking at the same thing - a virtual world that mirrors the realities that lie beyond all the maths we teach in Economics,' he says.

Playconomics is empowering students to be game changers in every sense. Alberto and Isabella are reinventing the way Economics is taught in Australia and beyond.