Using online games to teach economics

Using online games to teach economics

The playing of simple, short games has become an increasingly common way to teach a range of key concepts and theories in economics.

In our experience, using short in-class games is a great way to engage students. In addition, it makes it easier to get across the underlying economic theory and bring out the implications of the resulting predictions. There is also evidence to suggest that introducing games can have a positive impact on students’ learning.

These games typically take between 20 and 40 minutes to run. During this time, students make decisions and find out the implications of their payoffs (winnings) at the end of the round. Then, in subsequent rounds they can respond to the outcomes from their own and their classmates’ previous behaviour.

Traditionally, in-class games were played in a paper-based format in face-to-face classes. For example, experimental economics pioneer Charles Holt demonstrated that ordinary playing cards can be used to facilitate the running of games.

However, over the last ten years, many online versions of economics games have been developed. Students can play these games on laptops, tablets or even mobile phones. As a result, it is now possible to play online games in the classroom or even through remote delivery.

The following websites provide, typically for free, a wide range of single player and interactive games covering topics including game theory, industrial organisation, macroeconomics, the environment, and finance:


Set up by Charles Holt, this site provides a wide range of games for free. These include classic lottery and intertemporal decision making games and a host of market-based games as well. They are all presented with simple graphics and easy to use interfaces. The results can be presented in graphic form and saved to be revisited in subsequent classes.


Again free, this site provides a range of single and multiplayer games. These include both simple games and more involved simulations, for example on pricing strategies and competition in markets.  


This is another site that provides a wide range of games for free. One very nice feature is that instructors can access the code underlying these games. It is straightforward to learn how this code works. Then, the games can easily be modified to suit your needs. Furthermore, it is also possible to create your own games. This feature also allows you to imbed student questionnaires at the start, during and after playing a game.


Accessing the games on this site requires a subscription fee. The games are presented with sophisticated graphics and are based on a range of real-world settings. There is the option to have students play games against pre-programmed robotic players. In addition, polling software is embedded, and it is possible to set assignments based on gameplay.

A good way to learn how these online games work is to set yourself up as the instructor on a laptop or desktop and as separate players on your phone or tablet. After spending 10 minutes or so playing a few rounds, it will become much clearer how the game works from both the tutor’s and the students’ perspectives.

In addition to these suggestions, the Economics Network has a range of resources to help with using games in the classroom. We encourage you to experiment with this engaging method of teaching!

This article was produced in cooperation with the Economics Network, the largest and longest-established academic organisation devoted to improving the teaching and learning of economics in higher education. Learn more about the Economics Network here.

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