Tencent’s Serious Game Exploration
Tencent, a leading provider of Internet value-added services in China, announced its comprehensive layout of “functional games” (serious games) as well as its ambition of systematically exploring the positive social value of games on February 24.
So far, Tencent has decided to release five categories of functional games, which include traditional culture, frontier exploration, science and technology training, scientific popularization and parent-child interaction. Among them are both works of independent research and development, and outstanding serious games made by the domestic and foreign development teams. The products will be released in this spring.
As the dominant player in the game industry in 2017 in China, it seems Tencent’s ambition is to take the lead in China’s serious games. It also declares its determination to transform and upgrade Chinese gaming industry.
The Potential Benefits of the Games
In essence, “serious games” can be applied as an umbrella term for any game-based initiative that has an additional “serious” agenda. Serious games are designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. The “serious” adjective is generally prepended to refer to video games used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, and politics, and among which, education accounts for 43% of the total. Storytelling is usually applied to the games. Through narrations, the learning content is delivered in the game-based environment.
The lynchpin that determines the success of any training effort is engagement, and that’s where a learning game excels. Jane McGonigal discusses why games are good for us in her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, in which she introduces the benefits that games can bring, including but not limited to developing strategic thinking, communication skills, strengthening social ties, making people happier, more creative, more resilient, and being able to lead others in world-changing efforts better.
Researchers have also proved that games can improve hand-eye coordination, social skills, and cross-cultural sensitivity, as well as better multitasking and teamwork skills in environments with constrained communication. These are all qualities that important in today’s world.
The Reason for difficulties to Mix Education and Entertainment
However, education has always been a tougher market for serious games to enter. In the book Teaching Machines: Learning from the Intersection of Education and Technology, Bill Ferster describes the reasons why the mixture of education and entertainment have not always worked in practice. He likened creating an education game to the challenge of baking a healthy and tasty cake. While it is easy to make a yummy cake (which can be compared to a fun game), or a bland but nutritious one made from oat germ and sawdust (which is akin to educational content), it is difficult to make one that satisfies the both needs.
For years there have always been problems to strike a balance between making business profits and producing improved learning outcomes. The difficulties maybe lie in the different characteristic of education and entertainment, while the former is a time-consuming process and takes time to see its achievements, the latter is based on low-cost incitements, even instantaneous stimulations. Therefore, how to rapidly reach learning outcomes without diminishing fun of games is the issue must address before making profits through it.
However, due to the long-time failure, the budgets of games developed for teaching specifically is much smaller compared to those of modern commercial video-games.
Other Players in the Filed
Although hard, bring games into education has always been a trend, especially in China these years. According to China Teacher Web(Feb. 28), how to add games as an important way of studying in order to satisfy students’ interest and curiosity while help them constantly making progress is the task explored by many primary and middle public schools. Teachers are busy combining the daily teaching with creative games, helping students comprehend difficult concepts through the games, while schools are busy establishing evaluation systems for teachers to conduct the independent assessment during the process.
Under this circumstance, many companies also regard it as the opportunities of the future, and therefore, pay efforts to design the game and make the investment in the fields.
Tianrun Digital Entertainment declared on February 22 that the company is planning the asset acquisition of culture and education industry. The target company of the transaction is initially determined as Kaihua Education, which belongs to the education industry.
The leader of the company claims their hope to break the existing business pattern and build the “game + education” business model through acquiring the industry. By doing that Tianrun hopes to seize the chance in the evolution of the education.
We may expect serious games to attach more importance to the education, and hopefully produce more improved learning outcome in the future, as what Tencent said, “We shall be more imaginative and giving more space to the future games.