While many of us gravitate to point solutions for our games, or focus on a single learning objective, I believe it is important to invest in and to support independent research about the games for impact environment as a whole.
Beyond specific game mechanics and individual problems to be solved, the way games are funded, deployed, and supported are systemic issues that are critical to the long term sustainable success for many of these games.
Irrespective of content and the learning problem to be solved, there are key factors that affect any serious game’s long term success; they must be designed for the environment where they will be deployed and must be economically viable. The road behind us is littered with many well-designed and effective serious games that failed to survive the test of time because of their one-off nature. These games were often plagued with two essential deficiencies: they were designed without the constraints of the target deployment environment and ecosystem in mind and they failed to support a sustainable economic model.
All too often we see excellent learning games that are very effective at imparting a specific learning goal or objective, but fail to integrate well with the classroom workflow or ecosystem. Some of these learning games were designed without addressing these essential deployment environment questions:
• Should students have access to the game all the time? Or, only in school?
• Is this a single player game or multiplayer? If it is a multiplayer game, is it synchronous with students playing together in real time, or asynchronous, where classmates can play on their own time?
• Should students be able to play the game on multiple devices, such as a computer, tablet, and smartphone? Via the web or dedicated apps ? How will that data be stored and synchronize to the students user account ?
• Is single-sign on from a Learning Management System or integration with an assessment engine required? What will the data capture and assessment system look like? How can this game be adaptive to the individual player’s performance?
• What will IT’s involvement be at the target institution – will this live on an internal firewalled-server, content server, or in the cloud? How is this environment likely to evolve over time?
Failure to address these issues in the planning and design process will either be very expensive to accommodate later in the project or may doom a great, well-designed game to a short shelf life.
And, many of these excellent learning or social impact games had no business model and so died of economic starvation. This is not to say that the creators needed to charge for these games, but in order to be sustainable they must make economic sense (i.e., provide a positive Educational Return on Investment; think “EROI”).
As of this writing, Google Chrome is phasing out support for NPAPI plugs-ins in the browser, so any game projects or game authoring tools that are dependent on those plug-ins will require an investment to update the software. And, three years ago, tablets were not even a option as a deployment platform. Now their inclusion is required in many projects, and games historically designed for the PC and MAC need to be retooled and re-engineered to adapt. These shifting sands of deployment environments will not go away and in order for games to survive they will require an ongoing revenue model (or value creation model).
Much as any good website needs ongoing support and maintenance funding to ensure that it is kept technologically current and contextually relevant over time, so too do serious games. Most serious game funding models support an initial development effort to make the game but fail to take into account the ongoing costs of hosting and supporting.
To plan for success, it is incumbent upon the funders and the project developers to identify the value created (or cost avoided) through the successful use and implementation of their game for impact. Once demonstrated, that value ought to somehow be captured and used to support the ongoing investment to support and improve the game over time.
Without an investment to identify best practices, industry benchmark standards, and appropriate funding models, the many excellent games proposed here today may not get the long shelf life they deserve.