Headspring’s Leadership VR Game Wins Silver Medal in International Contest

Thiago Kiwi
Jun 10, 2019

London, 10 June 2019 – Leaders work in challenging circumstances — staying focused under pressure, dealing with complex and conflicting priorities, and pivoting when needs require. The serious game, Earth-to-Mars, uses Virtual Reality to simulate such pressures in a learning experience co-developed by eLearning Studios and Headspring. Headspring is the executive development joint venture of the Financial Times and IE Business School.

Serious Play, an international learning conference, awarded a Silver Medal to the leadership game, which will be announced at dual conferences in Orlando, USA and Montreal, Canada this July. Earth-to-Mars is the first of its kind in the executive learning space, allowing leaders to test themselves in formidable situations.

Customers include organisations in the UK, USA and India. The game is designed for two-players connected wirelessly. One player experiences the Mars basecamp in virtual reality, the other runs Earth’s Mission Control using an interactive tablet. Gameplay is estimated to take 30-45 minutes.

Together, players navigate a number of incidents requiring them to lead, collaborate and negotiate. As with life, things are not always straightforward; and they must cope with problems, twists and surprises along the way,” says Nitin Thakrar, CEO of eLearning Studios.

Headspring’s Learning Architect, Ian Shakeshaft says, “Serious games take on different meanings when used across different groups. That’s why Earth-to-Mars is designed to be flexible.  Learning doesn’t depend on ‘winning’ the game, rather in how the players deal with challenges. We don’t learn from experiences per-se, but from reflecting on those experiences.”

He says, “Depending on how the facilitator wants to use it, the game’s learning outcomes include perseverance, keeping focused under pressure, evidence-based decision-making, negotiating in the moment, and dealing with the unknown.”

To validate his point about flexible design, one customer has already adapted it. Gertrude Mandeville, CEO of TCP Learning from Rhode Island, USA uses Earth-to-Mars in teaching business people how to learn more effectively. “We use it in our Cultivating Learning course. The game hits on all the aspects of good learning design in that its immersive so that it focuses attention, memorable so that it aids in long-term memory thinking, and its experiential so that it develops higher-order thinking.  Together, these elements demonstrate the difference between routine expertise and adaptive expertise.  I also like that all the pedagogy was included!”

Mandeville is referring to the support materials developed by Claire Masson, Headspring’s expert for measuring learning impact, and Ian Shakeshaft. Masson says, “We have so many instructor aides that Ian and I had to create a visual guide on how and when to use these tools. The instructor is the lynch-pin in the successful deployment of any serious game. They have to take on different roles before, during and after gameplay. We created a teacher’s manual, debriefing presentation questions, tech support quick start guides, and so on.”

She says, “When we were storyboarding the game with eLearning Studios, the role of the instructor was an intricate part of every discussion. Game design decisions were informed by both educational research and work-based research. For us, it would only be considered successful if the game had a positive impact on people’s workday lives.”

About eLearning Studios

eLearning Studios (ELS) offers a portfolio of learning technology design and development services including Virtual Reality (VR) Training, eLearning, Mobile Learning, Gameful eLearning Design, Apps, Augmented Reality (AR), Serious Games and blended solutions.  A selection of VR projects can be found on

About Headspring

Headspring, the executive development joint venture of the Financial Times and IE Business School, empowers organisations to embrace change and inspire a culture of continuous learning. It achieves transformational results by working in partnership with organisations globally to co-create bespoke, future-focused learning designs that empower people, develop leaders and enhance the strengths of businesses. It designs and delivers customised education and leadership programmes, taking the business acumen, academic rigour and innovative approach of IE Business School and a global network of expert educators, adding the perspectives and skills of the most influential Financial Times journalists.

Headspring Executive Development was originally formed in 2015 by the Financial Times and IE Business School as the Corporate Learning Alliance. Visit

About Serious Play Conference

Now in its eighth year, Serious Play is a leadership conference for professionals who embrace the idea that games can revolutionise learning. Speakers, who come from all parts of the globe, share their experience creating or using games in the corporation, classroom, healthcare institution, government and military and offer tips on how to move game-based education programs ahead.

Thiago Kiwi

Head of Marketing & Communications at Headspring

Thiago is an award-winning marketing and communications leader with over 10 years of experience in the global higher and executive education sector. He holds a Bachelors in Communications and a Masters in Political Communications & Marketing from the University of London, as well as multiple executive and leadership development certifications. When he's not busy studying for a new course, he's growing vegetables in his allotment or training for his next marathon.