There are popular games like Monopoly, Scattergories or Farming in which we test our expertise at succeeding in business, creative thinking or on a farm. Why not apply those same rules to university and business education? This process is called gamification and, in the insurance world, one name stands out: bugaMAP (business game of MAPFRE).


MAPFRE Stadium is the first soccer-specific stadium in the United States, built primarily for hosting the so-called king of sports. Its construction in Columbus, the Ohio state capital, at the close of the 20th century reveals the rising appeal of this game in a country that is reticent to bow to its global dominance, in preference to football, baseball or basketball. MAPFRE USA named the stadium in 2015 to raise its brand awareness in the United States and support the local community. But this is not the only “game” to which MAPFRE’s name is linked in that state. The writer George Orwell once said that soccer “has nothing to do with fair play […], it is war minus the shooting.” You may agree or disagree with the brilliant author of 1984. But what is certain is that the ability of soccer – and, ultimately, any sport or game – to represent reality without dying in the attempt is fundamental to the concept of gamification.

Gamification consists in applying these recreational or competitive dynamics, governed by rules and with the possibility of winning or losing, to completely different contexts such as work and the company, environments in principle totally unrelated to the world of games. The aim is to promote the values inherent in the practice of any game, such as concentration, endeavor or commitment, with the aim of influencing and motivating groups of people.

So popular has the concept of gamification become that some of its bolder proposals have become urban legends, such as the belief that personnel selection exists on the basis of their proven video game skills. It was said (and some believed it) that the coin-operated video game arcades kids and teenagers frequented after school or on Sunday afternoons were actually talent recruitment centers, generally seeking military skills, those deft at killing Martians on the screen. There was even a cult film in the 1980s, The Last Starfighter (1984), in which a teenager addicted to one of these space video games was recruited in this fashion by an alien intelligence to fight for them in an interstellar war. Interest in its premise seems to prevail even today, as Hollywood is now considering doing a remake of this film…

Simulation games applied to the business world have existed and been used for many years now. In fact, they are a fundamental part of managerial training, given that they enable key elements of management skills to be developed. Moreover, they are considered very useful and risk-free, since they represent a way of learning similar to that of practical work experience, but without the fear of the real-life implications that might arise as a result of mistakes made.

Simulation games are a fundamental part of managerial training, given that they enable key elements of management skills to be developed

For this reason, top-flight multinationals use business simulators as a key tool in their training programs, and even for selecting potential talent in the universities.

The first known games of this kind for the insurance market date back to the 1970s. The bugaMAP (business game MAPFRE) was created some years later in Spain, in 1987, and has been regularly updated since then as one of its most successful training activities, both in Spain and overseas. This is the case of Ohio, where some 1,200 students each year take undergraduate or postgraduate courses related to the insurance sciences. MAPFRE’s presence there goes beyond sponsoring the local team’s soccer stadium and is closely linked to the university education system. The gamification program promoted by Fundación MAPFRE is known there as bugaMAP and has gone on to become a student competition statewide. Teams of five people from different campuses get together to see who can run the most successful insurance company. Carol Blaine, Program Chair, Risk Management & Insurance at Franklin University and manager of the competition in Ohio, commented “bugaMAP came along in 2015, when I was at Ohio Dominican University starting the Risk Management & Insurance (RMI) program, and I knew right away that forming a student competition around the simulation would help existing RMI students see the wide range of skills needed to run a successful company”.

“We were leading [the competition] and, suddenly, I just had to understand the effect of going for each of the different options, as regards gaining greater market share and generating profits that we could invest to earn even more money or set lower prices so as to grow faster.” The person speaking so passionately is not a company CEO, but rather Cassi Cronin, one of the university students in Ohio who have participated in Fundación MAPFRE’s bugaMAP program, the business simulation game applied to the insurance market. Its explicit aim? To ensure participants acquire a global vision of the various management areas of an insurance company. And the implicit aim, if any? Do away with that boring image traditionally attributed to the running of an insurance brokerage. Unfortunately, our Manichean culture always pits the concept of security against freedom. As though prudence were the opposite of fun, and insurance the dark side of humor. This is a fight which, at least at the marketing level, seems hard to win. And while great classics of the imagination such as Miguel de Cervantes or Franz Kafka made a living drawing up policies, what is certain is that insurance seems to have more to do with science than a novel.

In the case of the bugaMAP program, teams representing five different insurers compete in a single market. For three or four rounds, students have to make various business decisions at the helm of each of their companies. These depend on certain key competitive factors, such as commissions paid to agents, average premiums, reinsurance, binding ratios, expenses, etc.

After each round, each insurance company receives a report indicating its market share, profitability indexes and other indicators, as well as its position in relation to the other four competitors. The game allows the bugaMAP organizers to simulate certain uncontrollable circumstances that may well arise within the given context. For example, a natural disaster affecting the progress of the “match” to which each team has to respond to the full extent of its possibilities. In the end, the weighted score reflects which team ran the most successful insurance company, given all the different decisions made and how it performed on the market.

“Insurance companies are continually evolving to help businesses and consumers better protect themselves and meet their changing tastes,” said Alfredo Castelo, Fundación MAPFRE Chief Representative in the United States. “We are proud to support the bugaMAP competition to show students that the insurance industry is an exciting field with a variety of career opportunities.” In the 2017 edition, some twentyfive students from eight Ohio universities reached the final, held in the capital Columbus. Among the aspects they underscored regarding their participation in this challenge was, precisely, the chance to compete. They felt they had managed to develop that spirit of the big league sports such as soccer, within a context in principle unrelated, as is that of the university.

However, the main goal of the game is educational; it does not seek to foster competitiveness. It consists in simulating the activity of an insurance company within a certain time-space market context. To ensure their company comes out on top, the student teams have to make a series of decisions on the basis of three fundamental factors: market share, profit and solvency.

As Albert Einstein once said “the game is the highest form of research.” And how can you contradict the Theory of Relativity genius? But perhaps, in this case, such research is both external and internal. “I’d never imagined that insurance could pose such a complicated, interesting challenge,” the student Emily Schofield remarked. “When I think of insurance, the first thing that always comes to mind is selling policies, but here I’ve learned that there’s a great deal more to it.” As for Johnny Hojnacki, a senior member of the winning team in 2017 from the University of Akron, he declared that participating in the bugaMAP challenge had been “a great way to spend a Saturday; it brought all I’d learned in the classroom and textbooks to life… and being able to include this experience on my résumé is yet another benefit.”

In this sense, the students were surprised by just how difficult it was to earn money as an insurance company, given the different variables they had to consider. Do you want to grow really quickly? Be careful, because profits may fall. What if I save money by reducing my reinsurance costs? Well, maybe I’d have to pay out more than expected in some claims and lose more money than, in principle, I might have saved… The only sure thing is that playing at being insurers does not guarantee success. But nor has anyone been able to guarantee that the Columbus soccer team is going to win the league this year. Although, as the Nobel prizewinner John Nash, a game theory expert, once declared: “Gentlemen, might I remind you that my odds of success dramatically improve with each attempt…”