Designing Games for Consumer Acceptance
Some observers attribute the limited sales of educational games to date to the lack of a commercial-quality example or market leader (Mayo, 2009b). Most educational games are produced for less than $1 million, while commercial games often cost $10-$100 million. A Sony Corporation executive (Hight, 2009) observed that, in the world of commercial gaming, graphics are very important. In 2009, half of his 135-person team working on the game God of War 3 was devoted to creating detailed three-dimensional graphics (the total project budget was over $40 million).
Mayo (2009b) argued that such large investments in graphics may not be necessary for consumer acceptance of educational games. She noted that Whyville has attracted 5 million regular players, although it cost only $30,000 to develop and incorporates simple two-dimensional graphics.* The Sony representative (Hight, 2009) agreed, noting that commercial publishers look for a variety of other attributes—besides expensive, detailed graphics—when considering the potential audience appeal of a game. He said that a coherent artistic vision throughout the game is very important, as illustrated by the small, web-based game flOw, created by a university student as a master of fine arts project. Hight invested less than $500,000 to purchase and market the game, which is sold on line through the PlayStation Network. He observed that game distribution channels are beginning to move beyond a handful of large retailers, which will accept only a few new game titles each year due to their limited shelf space. Games are increasingly marketed directly to consumers on the web—a trend that facilitates sales of inexpensive games (including educational games) in niche markets. At the same time, new authoring tools are reducing the costs of graphics design (Mayo, 2009b).
A key element in design for consumer acceptance is to repeatedly test the game’s acceptance by the target audience (Gershenfeld, 2009). Hight (2009) noted that Sony game development teams invite young people (the target audience) to play games in a special room, where their facial expressions and the content on the screen are recorded. Experts thoroughly observe the players as they navigate through every stage of the game, taking notes on what the players do and do not understand and when the players are enjoying themselves. Extensive testing is important because potential customers can be very quickly turned off (within 15 seconds) by a weak interface. This extensive consumer testing during the development process is likely to be as important with educational games as it has proven to be with purely commercial games.