Four useful takeaways emerged across the games, sessions, topics, and Q&As at the 2016 Games for Learning Summit. These themes demonstrate significant progress in understanding how to effectively create and distribute learning games, and reveal new opportunities for sharing this knowledge with our community.
The number of commercially successful learning games is growing across a variety of content areas, as is the demand for such games.
The conference presented a wide range of games with at least emerging indicators of commercial success and participant engagement in the K-12 market. Games covered a wide range of topics and skills, including school community, critical thinking, youth collaboration, classroom management, health, analyzing texts, medical science, coding, history, as well as core academic content. Expert panelists also described emerging markets for games in multiple subject areas outside of core K-12 academic subjects, such as social-emotional learning, data analysis and manipulation, health education, and business analytics.
There is widespread respect for and understanding of teachers as game users, advocates, and strategic partners.
Multiple panelists promoted teacher-centric practices, including: a) solving real needs and pain points with games; b) providing transparent and fair pricing structures; c) gathering teacher input early in the process of game development; and d) building games that are familiar to teachers to reduce training and professional development. A number of panelists also described the importance of providing relevant and meaningful tutorials and professional development for teachers, though they also acknowledged that this is an ongoing challenge.
There is a growing consensus among game makers and game-based learning advocates for what good learning games should look like.
As one member of the G4C Industry Circle put it during the Town Hall session, “We’re winning the battle between quiz games and real games.” Presenters agreed on a number of features and considerations for creating good learning games, such as:
- When the learning is integrated, not separate, from the game
- Providing students with opportunities to experiment and fail
- Educational versions of popular games need to retain the fun of the original game
- Games are particularly good at teaching skills as opposed to curricular content, which can be an effective marketing strategy for selling to districts
- We should not think of games as replacing teachers. Teachers should lead and support the game experience as they would other classroom activities, using games as teaching tools.
Demonstrably effective business models and distribution channels are emerging for learning games, but more work is needed to expand these models and grow the community.
Participants in the “Feats and Flops” panel at the Games for Learning Summit moderated by U.S. Department of Education SBIR program manager Ed Metz provided a range of funding strategies and considerations for game companies, including:
- Balancing profits from contract work and grants to support learning game projects
- Using strategic small investments as opposed to venture capital (a few presenters described the implied profit-motivated goals of venture capital may be misaligned with the K-12 market)
- SBIR grants from the U.S. Department of Education
- Fostering strategic partnerships and profit-sharing to capitalize on collective competencies.
Presenters and attendees also raised important factors that support and prevent successful distribution of learning games. Factors that lead to wider distribution include teachers championing games through social networks, crowdsourcing funding for early capital and proof of concept, and pilot-testing games and building a loyal following on Steam’s Early Access. Barriers that hamper distribution of learning games included the historic lack of support from publishers for small game companies, tendency for content creators to get squeezed out of profits, market saturation of “educational” games, and difficulty in evaluating quality.
The most common audience questions were about game publishing and distribution, funding, and business models, evidencing the need for more recognition and dissemination of successful approaches as case studies, resources, and business models in forums, at events and through working groups.
We’d love to hear if there are additional accomplishments to celebrate as we develop an agenda to build towards next year’s Summit. Please share any other milestones, moments, or accomplishment that we left out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Videos of sessions, workshops and keynotes are available on the G4C YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/gamesforchange