Educational games hold the promise of changing the way in which children acquire knowledge. Their immersive (3D) graphics and interactive game mechanics keep kids motivated, and support a learning experience that is tailored to individual users’ levels. Yet, the breakthrough of educational games does not seem to materialize. In pursuit of their ideal attributes and ways to make their commercialization economically interesting, the Games @ School (G@S) team explored how to optimize the design and distribution of high-quality serious games.
Initiatives such as the Flemish educational math game ‘Monkey Tales’ have shown that building this type of game is extremely labour-intensive. On top, publishers should be aware of legal complexities (such as the reuse of textbook material), they need to have a feel for user experience, etc. Taking Monkey Tales’ lessons-learnt and challenges as a starting point, G@S formulated following research questions:
- How to build an enabling platform that fosters an engaging experience while demonstrating effectiveness?
- How to tune this platform / framework, so that it expands beyond math games?
- How to lower the threshold for users to add educational content?
- Which business models and technological solutions make the commercialization of high-quality educational games economically interesting?
- What about the legal aspects: who owns the platform / the hosted learning material?
1. Scientific research confirms positive effects of educational games on students’ math skills
A study into the learning outcomes of Monkey Tales by iMinds researchers has shown that children who played the computer game over a period of three weeks made significantly more progress than a group solving similar problems on paper.
2. A unique tool to rapidly and cost-effectively create 3D-avatars
Educational games should offer the same quality and (graphical) user experience as regular video games.
As to meet this requirement in a cost-effective way, G@S led to the development of a unique software suite that enables virtual avatars to automatically mirror an actor’s facial expressions. What used to require weeks of manual development, can now be realized in a few hours.
3. An open environment for game creation, with advanced video compression and streaming
Tremendous progress was made in the domain of video compression and streaming, allowing for bigger, better and more immersive 3D game worlds to be created – while avoiding long download times. This G@S technology breakthrough has contributed big time to the creation of Graphine, a spin-off from iMinds – Ghent University. The project also resulted in a software platform for teachers, parents and children to support the creation of their own game worlds.
4. Flanders is too small a market for the successful commercialization of educational games
The G@S consortium has found that especially consumers (as opposed to schools) are willing to invest in educational games. Yet, they also expect to have access to regular updates. A game that is browser and subscription-based thus seems to be the best commercial approach. The techno-economic study also found that the cost of developing an educational game is too high for the small Flemish market; financial support from the government will be indispensable.
5. The current legal framework discourages customized content creation
Ideally, teachers, parents and even children should be able to create and share their own educational mini-games, as part of the bigger game platform. However, the current legal framework discourages the creation of user-generated content: the law and contractual mechanisms do not allow the game platform owner to avoid legal sanctions himself in case users were to provide unlawful inputs to his platform. Therefore, the game platform owner will typically choose not to open up his platform to inputs from users.
6. Scientific experiments reveal that good educational games adapt the game’s difficulty level to the learner’s gaming skills
iMinds researchers conducted a scientific experiment on the difficulty of educational games. Results show that if learners get low game scores, this is not always because they lack math knowledge, but also because they lack gaming skills. So, in order to optimize the learning experience, an educational game needs to adapt its difficulty level to the learner’s math knowledge and gaming skills.
Teachers who would like to participate in the research can visit