I had a good time at the Serious Gaming and Social Connect 2012 Conference organized by Christopher Ng and Ivan Boo in Singapore between Oct 4-6. Kudos to the organizers and their terrific effort at getting so many different stakeholders in one place. It was also great to have NASSG members Amruth (Vitabeans), Rajiv (Knolskape), Inder (Wisecells) and a bunch of people from India there. I presented a India Country Update as well.
There were quite a few takeaways for me. There were a lot of different interpretations around definitions – Serious Games, Gamification, Simulations, AR Games, Virtual Worlds and Social Network based games (no mention of Alternate Reality Games). These are different genres with different points of relevance.
The conference was not limited to use of these genres in education, but took wider perspectives from other industries such as healthcare and governance, although I have not seen genuine examples of serious games in healthcare and governance yet, and I believe that applications in healthcare and public safety often are mistaken for serious games, when in fact they should fall under the simulations genre.
I gradually realized that Singapore, really all of South East Asia, is really way ahead in terms of games. They are riding on the immense video game and entertainment industry in the region and game makers are slowly exploring the role of these technologies in K12 and Higher Education spaces. Governments also recognize the power of serious games, and edTech infrastructure in solving their educational needs. In fact, Singapore has a target to convert 20% of the curriculum using these approaches by 2015.
There were sessions and discussions around monetization and business models around serious games. In the panel I was on that discussed this issue, I flipped around the question of monetization, especially for the education space, and asked instead what could create value in the mind of the student and the teacher (which in turn will create value for the entire ecosystem). Turns out that it was not an easy question to answer!
We discussed standards as well, in that context and later (in my presentation).
My belief is that we are fast approaching a point where we need standards to be conceived of for this industry. There are obvious benefits (as are there obvious tensions) in this quest, but at some point there perhaps needs to be concerted efforts from a group of stakeholders across the world to put standards in design, development, use and marketing of serious games. Some participants discussed game abuse & psychological problems and suggested a separate rating/certification mechanism for educational games.
As we reach the next inflection point (the industry is already supposed to be USD 3 bn worldwide, some estimates put it at USD 10 bn), accompanying standards will make the key challenge of adoption more tractable and will provide an ecosystem in which production will thrive.
Perhaps even more interesting are initiatives to make game authoring accessible, in an open manner, to educators. Sid Jain from Playware Studios made an impressive case for this. Learning Analytics for games and adaptive learning through game technology also were part of the focus of some of the presenters. A lot of the work happening in the USA was presented by Aaron Walsh @ Immersive Education and Sue Bohle @ The Bohle Company who also leads the Serious Games Association in the USA, who are collating and publish a load of examples and research evidence about the benefits of these game genres.
India has to take a deep look at these genres (so does China, really). Recent experiences with people leading the edTech panels that advise policy makers (and the latter themselves) have shown to me the lack of awareness and appreciation of these genres. Without these, the nascent serious games space will not make much progress.
I came away with the belief that NASSG, the association we have formed for Simulations and Serious Games, has a responsibility and a pivotal role in making this happen. NASSG is now part of a council of South and South East Asian country representative that will contribute to greater collaboration and sharing between countries such as Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore and India. There is also now an agenda to hold monthly meet ups across Indian cities and also to host the 2015 Serious Games Conference.
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