• # Educate En Masse: Gamifying The Process

GameDev Unboxed

## When I Was Your Age...

Video games have been part of education since the beginning. When Spacewar! was developed in 1962 for the PDP-1 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a new era of entertainment was born. In the 55 years since, countless educational games, the creation of Serious Games, and so much more has happened.

Growing up in the 1990s, I was bombarded with mounds of games, between Humongous Games, Nintendo edutainment titles, the Carmen Sandiego series, and so many more that it’d take a separate article just to list them alone. Additionally, if you can get through this article without getting the “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” television show theme stuck in your head, you might not have lived through the 1990s yourself.

But, I digress. By that point, educational titles were in full supply and we were put on full blast. Students lined up at computers for these video games to learn from Reader Rabbit, Mavis Beacon, and Pajama Sam. The holy grail was getting to play The Oregon Trail, a game where players had to make it on the Oregon Trail itself, utilizing resources given, without dying. Looking back, it was a 20 year old educational game from 1974 that kids clamored to play even then.

## Delve into the Past to Learn the Future!

History has shown games and “edutainment” titles even in 1967, with a software title named Logo Programming, which taught the programming language Logo as an early example of a serious game. The late 1970s and 1980s saw a boom of new titles due to the ease of use of the new Personal Computers, like the TRS-80 and Commodore 64. Though, Lemonade Stand is the seemingly sole heir to the popular 1970’s educational titles for the Apple II. Atari even got an early chance to jump in with Math Gran Prix in 1982.

Nintendo jumped onto the bandwagon, pushing their educational Mario-themed games. These commonly known titles included Mario Is Missing!, Mario’s Time Machine, Mario Paint, and Mario Teaches Typing. But, Nintendo started even before those with Donkey Kong Jr. Math (Japan 1983, North America 1986). In the modern era, Nintendo’s edutainment doesn’t seemingly focus on the concept like it used to. But, they do continue with games like the knock-out Brain Age. Unfortunately, this progression also includes tons of shovel-ware titles available for the Wii and 3DS/DS, but every so often a gem is discovered.

## What's the Future of Educational Games?

Education will only get more diverse as the years progress. With the uprising of “Serious Games” in the past decade, doctors can learn proper techniques and skills without needing a real corpse. Police officers are trained in problem solving skills, digitally. Organizations like the Serious Games Institute (SGI), focus on applied research into the thought process of Serious Games, providing courses and education on how to properly convey the development. Training and technique are gamified across multiple vocations.

Additionally, Virtual Reality is at an all-time high at the moment. Back in 2011, author Ernest Cline dreamed up a world of VR, in his novel “Ready Player One”. In a dystopian near-future, people prefer to live in the virtual world, even attending school in the aptly named OASIS. Where, this is a nearly complete science-fantasy, some truth can be found in it to hint at our future. With online and virtual schooling, professors and teachers are just an email or a webcam call away. As technology advances, so do the ideas. For instance, companies like Google and Microsoft look into their respective head-mounted displays for new ways to give entertainment, which often runs parallel with education.

Immersive VR Education is working on a platform called Engage, which brings Cline’s VR classroom closer to being a reality than ever before with fully interactive lecture halls. Virtual assets and tools can help presenters teach their lesson plans, draw on the white boards, and interact with students through their Engage avatars. Engage 0.2 can already be found on Steam, Vive, and the Oculus Store.

The advent of the 360-degree camera is playing a part in the process as well. Google Expeditions Pioneer Program lets students travel to far off lands they normally wouldn’t have visited, whereas Alchemy VR lets people dive into the sea and explore the Great Barrier Reef.

## On-The-Go To Learn

Where full-on teacher replacement is not in the outlook very soon, there are so many possibilities to learn using games and gamification today. With more virtual realities on the horizon, one has to ask when the educational institutes will eventually go fully digital, or if they will at all. Or will the idea be simplified and streamlined even more?

But, not all of the future of education is in virtual worlds; some can simply be found right in the palm of one’s hand. Digital mobile education is as simple as learning a new language with a slew of gamified apps available, such as Duolingo, or helping math skills with apps like Photomath. Out are the days that students have to write notes with a pencil. Note-taking in the modern era is simplistic with apps like OneNote and Evernote. TED-Ed gives a platform for more than 250,000 teachers and public speakers to do what they love. Websites like Udemy offer a mobile app to allow education and training in whatever the heart is set on completely on the go.

## My Avatar And I

Not all games in education is embedded within the technology. Sometimes, it can be in the unlikeliest of ways. For example, school shootings over the years have put people up-in-arms about video games whenever it turns out the suspect plays them. Several here in the USA have been reported on, but in 2002, Germany had a similar situation. The Erfurt school massacre left 16 people dead at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium and because the gunman was an avid fan of first person shooters (called “ego shooters” in Germany), parents rose up against video games for a time. Fifteen years later, the situation has shifted dramatically in favor of games.

In 2011, a computer gaming educational group from the University of Erfurt named “Spawnpoint” worked on a project with teenagers of all ages at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium called “My Avatar and I”. They let the students create digital avatars of their own personal identity, share screenshots, and discuss the appreciation and contribution of computer games into the modern culture. Aside from the creativity factor involved, the project helped students learn from gamification and have self-reflection on their own multimedia usage. The project won the 2011 Dieter Baacke Prize, an award given each year to educational, social, and cultural work.

Since then, Spawnpoint and the University’s Erfurt Gaming Group continue to help train teachers on how to utilize games in their curriculum. They are taught that classic educational games are considered “chocolate-covered broccoli”, which refers to the idea that it may be sweet on the outside, but the second kids see the green vegetable, they will reject it. Instead, AAA games are introduced to the students to keep them engaged and teach the relevant lesson involved. The group also holds public events and presentations to advocate games as a cultural asset.

## To Clarify: We Must Gamify!

In conclusion, video games, gamification, and utilization of digital tech is the future of education, training, and culture itself. The quicker we, as society, embrace this concept, the sooner we can move forward to make education easier to those that want to learn.

Edited by Jesse "Chime" Collins

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Let’s say you have made a game. It’s working quite fine and in your opinion, it is extremely interesting to play. Will it be enough for becoming a new hit? What level of sales can you expect to get? This article is my attempts to analyze some general and insider information, gathered throughout years of working on different games and communicating with colleagues.
Unfortunately, a possibility of finding a simple answer to this question is slim to none (which is not really different from trying to find some solution to other issues like “How to become successful” of “How to win one’s heart”). What is worse – it’s a lack of some proper statistics or at least, some trustworthy information on sales levels and promo feedback. Out of publicly available information, we can rely only on the number of reviews and players on steam, postmortems, positive twits and marketing presentations of developers. Half of this information is worthless but could be enough for some approximate estimation. Confidential information usually pops up in terms of a crisis, when this or that company goes bankrupt or a new post like “Our game has failed” turns up. In these cases people don’t care about conversions or organic anymore and tell the truth.
Gearstorm. Procedural sci-fi sandbox
Well, enough of the initial data, so what about the goal? How to determine the level of your product’s success? I consider gamedev to be a part of the art world and making games is more of a calling than a job. But bare enthusiasm is not enough for living, so I have come to this idea – if you are doing what you like without any need of working extra hours in Walmart - you are doing fine. It means your games bring you and your family enough money for living and if any of these games one day becomes a hit – it will be only a pleasant but sufficient enough bonus.
To keep it simple – let’s estimate the costs, based on the average industry salary and the time spent on making a game (in case if you are not hiring anyone). Gamedev is a poor industry when it comes to wages of average employees, so don’t count on more than $30 per hour. Let’s add more sad facts: It’s rumored that only 16% of games get any money at all If it is so, two reasons might have led to such an outcome, in my opinion. Numerous advisors tell you to release as many small games as possible, counting on the possibility of one of them to breakthrough. It’s a bad idea. This amazing model of behavior makes the market full of trash. In order to save up money and accelerate the release, these developers come up with raw and dull games. So, everybody is suffering from it. A good idea would be to start many projects, work on them up to some sufficient demo level and go public. If nobody wants a prototype with a well-determined unique main feature – give it up and start working on a new one. That’s how you can save lots of time and the general quality of the ready-to-play indie-games will increase. But don’t call your tech demos as “early access” and don’t waste time examining the market for years. The second is a problem of any creative person. I like to compare gamedev with music. Imagine, one day you decided to give up on everything and become a solo developer, sounds like an ordinary story, right? And now let’s imagine being in exactly the same situation, with the same zero knowledge of the subject, but this time you have chosen music. “Yeah, everybody is listening to music every day. What is difficult about playing something myself? Give me some advice on what instrument is the best, folks!” Doesn’t sound very optimistic, right? For some reason, forthcoming musicians study a lot, get together in groups and never expect that their yesterday-made track in their dad’s garage will become a hit. I have never seen an amateur guitarist, who would have such confident and overoptimistic outlooks of life as a typical developer from /r/Gamedev or UE4 forum. The higher you fly, the more painful it is to fall. Shining eyes of the latest go dim every time he/she faces the reality: bugs, procrastination, and, most importantly – misunderstanding. No one hears you and if they do – they mostly criticize you. A popular decision in this case is to give up halfway and release what you have. Last Joy. cRPG about death in a world of immortal people How many beginner musicians have become famous? Or at least, paid off their educational costs. I think everybody will agree it’s less than 1%. Your game, probably, has even fewer chances of success. But even the most basic game requires at least 100 hours of work, meaning you have to sell more than 600 copies ($5 each). Sounds realistic but the level of difficulty in this current situation can be seen in the following example. It is like approaching a stranger on the street and trying to sell a book. And even in this case you have an advantage of some real-time contact and lack of competition at that particular moment. It is obvious that on the internet hundreds of people fight for attention of a potential buyer simultaneously.
Don’t rely on ordinary ads. I spent more than $240 in Google Ads during one night for my first game and received only 2 installations. On Facebook it turned out to be impossible to even figure out the budget in order to start showing the ad. It was already$50 for an estimated installation (more probable that it would be $500). Don’t think that once you create a page in a store you will start selling. No channel nowadays brings any organic installations (even though there are some individuals who manage to get 90% of the traffic from the “More Like This” section on Steam). But if you decided to give it a shot anyways, try to search for some growing portals which are obtaining content and money artificially. I have lost$235 advertising my first game.
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What unites good games?
Reasonable price. There is a golden rule that says – a casual player should pay \$1 for one hour of gameplay. If it’s less – it is fine as well, if it’s more – you have higher chances of getting negative reviews, being called greedy and being nit-picked.
Eye for detail. The game should create a feeling of being worked on hard. Marketplace assets along with tutorial framework will never breakthrough. Polishing up the game will take 20% of the time but give 80% of the result. The point is to know when to stop because the process might last forever.
Right choice of the target audience. So much has been written about it – it’s the basic rule of business.
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Community support. Even if you are making crappy games but people already play them you can simply keep releasing series after series and make good money out of them. Even in case if your community is not made of gamers but a bunch of SJW paladins instead, they will be forming hype around everything you do anyways.
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Abuse of rating systems in digital stores. It seems like the programmers themselves don’t know their ranging algorithms (Steam, for instance, can’t even configure their account server). I am not even speaking of the Google Play ads, there are so many theories of how you can be promoted there once you sign up. The worse the system is working, the easier it is to break it. And who knows, maybe you are the one who knows the secrets of promotion.
Simple luck. Game announcement is similar to a longread on Reddit. Imagine you are tossing a 1d20 dice with each post. The post gets in “hot” only if you have a crit, 19 posts out of 20 will be lost amongst hundreds of announcements. A famous reviewer can accidentally pick up your game among numerous options and make a living for you, dooming others to stay poor. The chances depend directly on the length of the list.
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