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Merit metamorphosis

While it may still be labelled as a game, Merit is a serious business.

First mooted in 1985 by the ICE, which was seeking to improve management training opportunities for young engineers, the challenge was taken up by Balfour Beatty which developed the game through its IT and training departments, along with Loughborough University's civil and building engineering department professors Ron McCaffer and Tony Thorpe.

Merit 1 first saw the heat of battle in 1988. Teams were given a virtual construction firm to run, and competed against a computer in a series of postal rounds, attempting to tender successfully for contracts.

Company performance depended on the allocation of cash on resources such as labour, tendering, marketing, head office costs, and the appointment of suitable managers to run projects. Jobs would arise in different areas of civil engineering. Firms which specialised would generally be at an advantage, but jobs would be offered at varying distances from head office, posing different cost and management challenges.

After a series of postal rounds the top six teams would meet face to face to do battle against each other. In the contracting spirit of the time, teams would ruthlessly undercut each other to win business.

Merit evolved to replicate business more closely and mirror the changing role of engineers. Running from 1993 to 1997, Merit 2 introduced a stronger financial emphasis. By 1997 the game was attracting over 300 teams, up to six strong, each year.

Steered by Loughborough's Francis Edum-Fotwe, Mike Fletcher, and professors Ron McCaffer and Tony Thorpe, Merit 3 took two years to develop. The result is a spectacular advance, incorporating factors such as risk and allowing for design and construct projects.

Team performance is based on 10 indicators - turnover, gross profit/turnover, operating costs/turnover, cash account balance, contract completion rate, forward workload, forward margin, return on capital, share price and client satisfaction.

'Essentially the objective is to make participants aware of the factors and ramifications involved in making decisions, ' says Edum-Fotwe.

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