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1338(OT) Serious gaming

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  • John Harrington
    Jun 20, 2006

      EPS INSIGHTS :: 20/06/2006
      On the web: http://www.epsltd.com/locate.asp?go=updateNotes
      Search the archive: http://www.epsltd.com/locate.asp?go=search


      * The International Serious Gaming Event (ISGE) held in Birmingham
      earlier this month brought together developers, academics and
      corporations to discuss the role of gaming in training and
      education. Though the speakers and attendees were unshaken in their
      faith in the future of serious games, there was clearly a feeling
      that time was running out for the industry to prove its worth.

      by Majied Robinson, Associate

      "I have never seen a good educational game. It's been crap for
      thirty years". Dr. Brenda Laurel's quote, cited by speaker
      Professor Ian Marshall of Coventry University, reflects an attitude
      the serious gaming industry has faced for many years. The principle
      behind serious gaming is sound - taking whatever it is about games
      that makes them engaging, and applying this to the learning
      environment in order to stimulate unmotivated learners. What tends
      to happen in reality is that the incorporation of education into a
      gaming environment has the effect of removing the fun from it,
      leaving a product that is neither educational or engaging. But the
      undoubted success (and growing size) of the games industry, combined
      with an increase in the number of unmotivated learners (both school
      children and company employees) means that there is enough
      investment to encourage optimism. The speakers fell into three
      the academics looked at the case for more research into games, the
      developers showcased their technology, while the corporate trainers
      outlined their criticisms and what it was that developers would have
      to deliver.

      Professor Marshall outlined his proposition for the creation of an
      institute for research into serious gaming. This would require a
      UKP3m investment and he envisaged it as a centre where companies
      would direct the activities of academics. Importantly, the research
      would also look at the long-term effects of serious gaming - an
      important consideration in such a new and unproven teaching method.
      However, Birmingham University's Professor Bob Stone was adamant
      that this sort of institution would be a waste of money and time -
      he pointed out that similar existing institutions had not proved
      their worth and were closing down. He agreed that it was the end-
      user that should be directing the development of serious games, but
      the risk had to be born by the developer, not by state funding. He
      also outlined some of the work he was doing towards developing
      viable serious games, from training facilities built into battle
      ships to the development of games to help the 500 British soldiers
      who return home every year with post-traumatic stress. He also
      disagreed with the conference itself - saying there were too many
      conferences and too many uninspiring speakers. To applause he said
      the industry had to make its case to the e-learning and training
      industries, not the converted.

      A number of developers were present at the event, and demonstrated
      their technologies between speaking sessions. The products ranged
      from games that trained directly, such as a game for training road
      traffic accident investigators in Dubai, to social network-style
      applications for team building. The price for developing games has
      decreased drastically, with small developers creating decent games
      for charity and public sector
      causes in limited amounts of time. Aqua Pacific demonstrated a
      game they
      had developed for the Women's Business Development Agency to
      encourage girls to get involved in business and science. The
      product, a sim-style game called Sim Chemist, took three months to
      develop and cost UKP50,000 - it is currently being used at centres
      across Coventry.

      BP's Joe Little made the business case for serious gaming. His
      interest came from recognition of the shortcomings of current
      training, where employees were taken to off-site workshops. These
      workshops were costly, not immersive and very much a `tick box'
      requirement. They were often supplemented with e-learning, which he
      criticised for not providing enough behavioural information and a 50-
      80% drop out rate. Games dealt with both these problems – a good
      game is both immersive and as close to true experience as possible.
      It is also repeatable and easy to distribute across a corporation.
      But he warned developers how difficult it would be to sell such a
      product to a corporation like BP. Processes in the oil industry,
      like many others, were very rigid and mistakes in the training
      process resulting from a poorly designed game would not be easily
      forgiven. Corporations, especially traditional ones like BP, also
      have a short attention span, and developers would have to prove a
      return on investment within 3-6 months. Looking at the games on
      display at the ISGE, it was clear that the industry is not yet ready
      for this sort of challenge. None of the exhibitors could say that
      they were yet making a profit; indeed, the closest was industry
      leader PIXELearning which said that it expected profitability later
      this year, though it may also take on further investment depending
      on outlook. Most of the others looked at becoming profitable in two
      to five years time. But it was also clear that lessons had been
      learnt. The user was now central, and pedagogy was being taken
      seriously. The industry knows that it will not have the luxury of
      producing `crap' for another three decades.

      A more detailed look at Serious Games will be included in this
      month's edition of imi.