Friday, 25 November 2011

Business models for #gaming #medialearning2011

A panel of game developers who all shed their light on how they got their games funded/financed during the media and learning conference in Brussels, Belgium. It was amazing to see that the main route was via government funding (national). In-game advertising was not discussed (though would be interesting) and no corporate sponsors were mentioned either, though I can imagine that Disney would be interested in providing Disney land decors for an educational game?

Below you will find my transcript of what was said
Members of the panel: Lieve Achten (empowering via gaming), Balthazar Fernandez-Manjon from Universidad complutense de Madrid, spain (computer science background working on eLearning platforms and standards) and Swen Vincke from Larian Studios, a gaming company who built the fabulous MonkeyTales game to enhance math skills for all learners.
Getting money from the parents, as they want the best for their children.
Quickie on Monkeytales math for different ages, international (currently UC,US, Belgium, Poland... growing). The game adapts with an algorithm which enables the program to see how s/he good that student is, the program will adapt to the capacities of teh child in order to keep a motivational pace going that will stimulate the child and not demotivate it.
So even if you take it as an adult, the program will give you increasingly difficult challenges.

Which partners, main challenges for these funding partners
Lieve, works very low-tech so sponsorship for logistics (classrooms, providing students, ...) so she went to the ministry of education and youth to collaborate on this project. She got a lot of skeptical remarks on the 'serious game' idea.
She emphasizes the need to find out what language the different stakeholders understand, so diversifying your business and logic case.
At this stage the governments are more positive towards educational gaming.
Her games are aimed at disabled learners. The teachers are involved from early on (learning labs). The game starts from real life school content, translated to their own experience, then redesigning it towards a game. The teacher often get coaching roles, which the learners can connect to. Once the ball is rolling, it becomes easier to get funds. A game must also feel un-learning, otherwise, with too much pedagogy, the learners think 'get a life' and leave it.

Swen: governments are quite open to it, but frightened by the cost of building a 'real' game. The challenge is to put yourself out there against the competition, so you need research proof that the game HAS impact. So get research funds, manage the enormous amount of curricula. so you will need to be able to sell on the international market, this makes it depending on the curriculum standards in all these countries (quite challenging). you need to demonstrate that the kids will learn more by playing this game. But every algorithm takes years to develop, implement and evaluate. So time is an important factor. You also need to offer the learner a satisfying feeling, the game must deliver what it says it delivers AND without exploding in your face as you are playing it. So finding the strong common denominator with regard to public expectations. Strong surplus of gaming is memorization, by playing it again and again.Multiple disciplines need to be collaboration to get a game going.

Balthazar: problem to incorporate each of the stakeholders language to get positive results on your demand. You risk a deadlock if one of the key stakeholders stalls. The qualitative methodology of the game is also essential. The pedagogical end of the game is tricky, for educationalists come with a long list of learning needs. you need to combine all of the stakeholders concerns to get a high quality result that can stand the test of time and learning. Funding is also a challenge: ministry of education, but a lot of paperwork, but once the money is provided by the government, sometimes the gov contacts the gaming industry, they want to make a clear profit out of it... and this risks your project to become obsolete or missed. So what Balthazar did: sell it to Harvard. This enabled them to get local funding, as the local gov saw the Harvard sell as a quality mark. You must also make the game sustainable (will it be able to shift to 3D, new computers, new devices...), how will you tackle this? You need to make any educational game update-able. Games should be authentic learning. So in-game assessment should be integrated as well. Otherwise you have a discrepancy between learning (gaming) and assessment (paper and pen). The game must also be secured, at all levels... so this costs as well. And if a security breach happens... you risk liability. this is the reason Balthazar builds simple user games, not multi-player games as security is different for each of them.
Working with national standardization institutes of a country REALLY helps in getting funding, as this includes national compliance across that nation.
Games are the new narrative of education, previously it was movies. In the end games could be monetized. (Refers to scratch platform of MIT)

Remarks from the audience
Currently there is no serious game market. Military is one of the key funders of serious games, but what about ethics?

The funding risks killing the serious game market. As the research is subjective, but far too much money is spend on poor research. But the consumer market could be revived. But another risk is the open content which risks killing developing countries as well.

There is a discussion on ethics because of the negative views on killing games. So how to bridge learning and gaming via gaming traditions (shooter up...).

Another option is the learning apps that are on the market, and the completely self-generated games. But to produce this, it takes expertise and you always will and this takes years. That is why teachers will not be able to build games just in a jiffy.