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Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations
One business model, in which academic developers aim to commercialize a game, generally fails for one of two reasons, in Mayo’s (2009b) view. The first reason is that grants provided for game development generally do not include funding for commercial “hardening” (enhancing security, consumer testing, refining), marketing, and distribution. Second, even if the funders do support these activities, most academic developers lack the skills and knowledge, personnel, and financial resources to harden and market the game. In addition, academic reward systems typically do not encourage faculty members to commercialize educational games.
A representative of the commercial game industry (Gershenfeld, 2009) agreed with Mayo that most academic game developers lack the expertise needed to commercialize games. He argued that educational games have not sold well because academic developers have not designed them from the beginning to successfully meet market demand, as commercial publishers do. Publishers have staff and expertise to support the entire life cycle of a game, including marketing, distribution, and business development (see Box 6-1).
Another business model has also failed to gain traction in Mayo’s (2009b) view. In this model, a large commercial gaming company with knowledge, investment capital, and marketing expertise would develop and market games for science learning. However, the typical business model of entertainment companies—an enormous up-front investment in game development, including high-quality graphics, followed by millions of sales to individuals within a few months of release—is not aligned with educational markets. Entertainment companies are not familiar with educational markets or how best to market to them, and they may not view these markets as potentially profitable. Uncertain about the potential sales revenue of educational games, these companies have made few efforts to develop educational games and have not established distribution channels to market them, either to schools or to the public.
A variation of this model would tap the knowledge and marketing expertise of textbook publishers as a way to develop and distribute science games. However, these companies’ systems for selling print books—including their sales incentives and outreach to state textbook adoption committees—are poorly suited to marketing learning games. Textbook publishers generally focus on selling textbook editions that may remain unchanged for up to six years, but computer operating systems and software are revised frequently, so an educational game requires ongoing maintenance and upgrading. For all these reasons, efforts to market serious games through commercial textbook publishing companies have faltered.