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Belated ExPlay Conference Post

This is one of those posts that I’ve been meaning to get round to forever, but never really happened. Better late than never anyway.

Well, I went to the ExPlay conference at the end of October in Bath which was great. A wonderfully curated selection of talks, workshops and small but well-formed expo area. For a quick run-down of how the festival turned out you can watch the montage video of ExPlay 2013 here.

As for me, I was on a panel with the title, “Entertainment vs. Education: Where’s the sweet spot for learning games?”. This is due to my background as a secondary science teacher, my new chosen career and passion for games design, plus my involvement in the London Educational Games Meetup (LEGup) which happens at various venues around London each month.

I’m pretty chuffed to have been invited as a speaker at this conference and I got a ton of really interesting feedback on what I’d said as a result (if you were there and gave feedback – cheers! Always grateful for ANY and ALL feedback!).

This is still a really new area as far as many designers are concerned. I got the distinct impression that many people either hadn’t really thought about it being a viable market, or that it would be the same as making games for entertainment – just with different content.

In summary, my points were as such (and note that these come from a secondary school viewpoint, rather than primary school viewpoint where there is quite a lot of good stuff happening already):

  1. There REALLY is a sweet spot

    The reason a lot of developers haven’t got involved with this before is either because of the shadow of ‘edutainment’ of ages past, or because it’s really bloody hard. And it is. But to whoever manages to start solving the problem in this balance, there is a lot of satisfaction (and a lot of money) to be had in it.
    (note that secondary schools have VERY little going on with regards to educational games due to all sorts of logistical and curriculum restrictions – I’d be glad to clarify if you wanted me to. Contact me).

  2. The classroom IS the platform

    You wouldn’t release a game originally developed for mouse and keyboard for the iPhone without drastic reworking. You wouldn’t really release a tablet game straight onto iPhone without some thought along the way – because tablets and phones are different both in terms of size, hit zones, what kind of interface is possible, play habits and locales, play session lengths and so on.

    So why would you do the same with a heavily restricted play space with lots of extra criteria outside the control of the teacher, never mind the players/pupils? 

    You cannot focus just on what technological platform is available (web/Windows/tablets etc.). The classroom has more needs, restrictions and dynamics going on that just that. You MUST bear in mind how an app/game can be deployed in the classroom/homework setting BEFORE you design it!

  3. You need to get experts involved

    Time and time again I see well-meaning (or opportunity seeking!) developers making forays into this area without consulting experts in the field before hand. That would be teachers, especially in regards to the above point. Why you wouldn’t do your research before designing and building a product in any area is beyond me and it’s no less important here. Yet people do tend to think, “I went to school, therefore I know about how to make an educational game.” Yes, it is on the same level as, “I like playing games, therefore I know how to design games,” but it still crops up pretty frequently.

Anyway, if anyone with an interest in educational games is reading this then I hope this has been helpful. Don’t forget to check out edugameshub – the website of LEGup (mentioned above) where I’m also a commissioning editor. If you have any more questions regarding the above – feel free to get in touch.

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