If you are involved in the video game industry or in education, you probably have heard about Serious Games. But, if they are so promising, why are they not already among our daily learning tools? Here you have the 10 main reasons that are slowing down the change.
1. Public Awareness
Although Serious Games have been around for a long time, they are still considered the little brother of the huge entertainment video games industry. Why is that? Because almost no one, even inside the industry, knows exactly what they are for. Ok, let’s settle that for good.
Serious Games are games that mix entertainment with Education (in school, in Health, in simulators…). How many complex things have you learn playing WOW, LOL or almost any other game, even apparently “silly” apps? What if all that knowledge had not been just random, but something that you could actually use in your everyday life, like negotiation skills, Chinese or Economy? Welcome to the world of Serious Games.
2. Industry Structure
After awareness, the next step is industry. The Serious Games market needs to create its own… market! From specialized developers including not only programmers and designers but also experts (teachers, pedagogues, doctors…) to its own congresses, prizes, news, networking events…
Just as an example, in Spain there is the Fun&Serious Games Festival, one of the first to bring Serious Games to the broad audience. But when I attended last year, Serious Games were completely eclipsed by entertainment games. The press attending the event didn’t care about them and there were even jokes about going for beers until the good prizes came. This is understandable. How is a little game about water supply going to compete in hype with Hearthstone, the release of a new Assassins Creed or the ultimate Lord of The Rings Game?
And here comes the big difference between serious and entertainment games: money. Of course, if you don’t know it, you don’t buy it. Why should a company invest in the development of serious games? And why would a player buy them?
Well, did you know that Wii Fit is considered a Serious Game? It’s a platform that allows you to do something “boring” using entertainment ways. Would you say Wii fit was profitable? Probably the $996 million profit obtained by Nintendo during just the three months after its release can confirm that it really was.
But ask yourself three questions: Would you pay for a game that makes learning that language you want to learn to be fun and engaging? Would you pay for a game that teaches your kids to love and understand Maths? And would you pay for a game that can help your grandmother’s brain to stay active? If you answered yes to all of these, why aren’t you already investing in Serious Games??
4. Governmental and Institutional Support
Apart from few subsidies and funding, the Governmental support is non-existent. In this case, I’m talking from the perspective here in Spain where money is being thrown away and nowhere near Education. But this problem is not only about money, but also about the need for reforms.
When Education and Health are confronted with new approaches it is likely to encounter thick barriers of suspicion and misunderstanding. In most cases, any new development in these areas comes from private institutions and especially from citizen associations.
5. Parental support
The family’s rejection moves along the same lines. Especially in schools, when teachers present children with new approaches, parents can turn apprehensive towards trying something new and react by blocking any possible changes. They are too scared of spoiling their kids’ education.
Ok, maybe a change won’t bring the perfect solution at first, but we already know that the current system is not even near of being a good one. So, what are we waiting for to start improving it? Or do we prefer the alternative of sticking with a defective system forever?
6. A change in how we think about Education
We have mentioned Institutions and Parents but, what about our own approach to Education? What about us adults improving ourselves through Education? Learning is not children-exclusive, so why do we perceive it like that?
Usually lack of time, money and energy are the barriers we have to deal with. But nowadays, knowledge is everywhere and almost free of charge. Serious Games are the perfect solution to help adults improve their careers and also their hobbies in a “non-painful” way. Yes, you can start guitar lessons at forty, and learn Japanese at fifty. People are doing it. So let’s get rid of our mental barriers and claim back our right for Education.
7. Lack of quality products
Let’s face it, usually the Serious Games in the market are not … serious enough. Usually they are just silly little puzzle games with little content behind their surface. The problem is usually in the developers. Nowadays there are three kinds of Serious Games developers: opportunists, dreamers and professionals. Opportunists try to live from subsidy to subsidy, but never really developing something of quality. Dreamers are mainly teachers, eager to put their ideas into practice, but with a lack of technical or distribution knowledge. Professionals are very, very few, as developing entertainment games is so profitable that usually teams are rapidly disbanded with the crew flying to triple A studios.
Fans, journalists, producers, studios, scriptwriters, developers, congresses… how many of them are involved full time in Serious Games? As we saw before, industry awareness is almost non-existent. Why? Because there is no money on-sight.
But, if Wii Fit was profitable, Brain Training was profitable, all platforms are investing in bracelets to measure your blood pressure and pulse, and we have already reckoned that the market for adult learners could be huge… what are we missing here then? Well, I’m afraid we are missing the “Angry Birds effect”. A sudden and unpaired hit that brings Serious Games under the spotlight.
9. Bigger thinking
As we said before, how could little serious games compete with Assassins Creed? Easy! Serious Games need to stop being little. What Serious Games need is their own Assassins Creed! An ambitious project with a real approach for learning and entertainment. Ambition, Quality, Fun and Learning. Four words that are rarely together but must be the pillar of this new industry.
The word “Serious” is probably not helping the Serious Games here, but who would have thought that playing tennis could be incorporated into video games and be fun at the same time! While burning calories!!! The industry needs to open their minds and start to really look at the data. The gold mine is just under our feet.
10. Connection between Educators and Developers
Educators know how to improve Education. Developers know how to develop amazing games. Do you see the problem here? If you are in the video game industry, think how many of your friends and LinkedIn connections belong to the Education world. And, the other way around, if you are a teacher, do you really know about game mechanics?
One of our goals at On Serious Games is closing the deep breach between these two worlds, which are so in need of each other. Education will find a vehicle to evolve and Development will find that fresh air they need to stop copying World of Warcraft again and again.
So, what do you think? Is there potential in the Serious Games industry? Do you know about any other causes that are stopping them? Do you have a Serious Games project? Share your thoughts!