Designing Serious Games for Mobile Devices

There are a lot of resourceful bibliographical evidences of the influence of video games in education, and much has already been said about their benefits on the player’s cognitive skills development and engagement. What most people tend to overlook are the key ingredients of a highly successful game based learning experience. While terms like interactive and engaging are used depict characteristics of a design experience, the words aren’t descriptive enough to actually define a game-based learning experience. A game can be engaging because of a visually attractive and appealing experience that comprises of content; it can be interactive if it requires the user to perform some specific actions, and they can be made relevant by basing all questions on real facts. But what we need to consciously ask ourselves is whether it is an activity that users will be actively performing every day? You need to ensure the game you design is the correct medium for the objective of learning and whether you can elicit all the relevant behaviors of users in the game.


The Foundation of Designing Effective Game-Based Learning Experiences Your design should aim at drawing out certain specific behaviors from the users; it should focus on actions that a player must perform in order to develop their skills and acquire newer abilities. It is often a good idea to direct the learner’s attention to any particular task that resembles a real life situation so that they can relate to it better and learn practically. Having achievable and concrete goals inculcated within the game helps you define the rules clearly; enabling them to be capable of doing something with the content like taking a strategic decision is quite effective. There must always be levels of difficulty that lead up to the master level of skills and you must always try to give feedback on all consequences of any specific actions to invigorate emotions for the learner. Finally, reinforce the need of development through scoring/badging and allow users to replay the game. These are the core aspects of game design that one must never overlook when trying to create educational games that meet their objectives. Learning Efficiently at Anytime and Anywhere Once you have understood the chief ingredients that go into designing a successful educational game, you need to optimize it for mobile devices to expand its audience. Always keep in mind that not every game is suitable for small-sized screens and various kinds of user input. Consider the following deliberations for creating highly successful mobile-enabled game-based learning experiences. When setting out to design a game, always start from the ground and work your way up. Starting at the lowest common resolution screen size helps you assess your design better; use this as the foundation you build upon and continue up the ladder as the idea develops. The Delivery Method Adobe Flash was (and can be argued to still be) a reliable technology until recently that was used for creating interactive experiences, but since it is not supported in iOS browsers, the practice of publishing Flash based output or content is becoming dormant. The Training industry has now adopted newer and evolving technologies that output toHTML5 in order to create seamless and fluent cross platform experiences. Technologies like CSS and HTML5 may arguably not be as high performing as Adobe Flash, but they still help substantially in developing multi-device applications. Varied Screens Always be prepared to provide support for a variety of resolutions and screen orientations; your game may very well be running on hundreds of different mobile devices with varying screen sizes. This is where responsive design comes in. The term is generally used in the context of web design, but essentially means exactly what we mentioned above: ensuring that your product (usually a website, a game app in our case) has a design that adapts according to the device it is being run on. This makes compatibility, as far as screen size and orientation is concerned, a non-issue. Value User Input Apart from a variety of screen resolutions, there must also be a distinction between how the user interacts with the desktop version, and how that interaction differs from the touch-enabled contact on mobile device screens. Most users are often more accustomed to using the keyboard shortcuts or the right mouse button to perform actions when they play, and the biggest loss for a mobile device game is the keyboard. Some games, especially the ones with a fast paced experience, do not work as well on a mobile device compared to how they perform on a desktop because of the absence of keyboard enabled actions. So it is important that you add value by incorporating dynamism by fostering a unique perception of the experience, swipes and flips compensate for the loss of the keyboard because learners are able to experience a higher number of ways to manipulate the occurrences. It is important that you lay importance on the mode of input you designate for the users because it matters quite tremendously to the user experience. Built-In Capabilities of Mobile Devices Native apps have a huge advantage over web apps; they can access the capabilities of the device in order to enhance the experience designers seek to create. We can use many different mobile development frameworks to wrap our game in a platform-specific armor, and then rely on homogeneous web APIs to admit the targeted mobile device’s data and sensors. This enables us to create a variety of interactive scenarios that can be more immersive for the learners. When you are designing serious games, remember that you are essentially designing experiences that can reach users and cater to their different perspectives while providing a consistent message. Therefore, being aware of how innovative your entire serious game based learning experience can potentially turn out to be.

Serious Games & the Future of Education

In a recent Forbes interview, Atari and Brainrush founder Nolan Bushnell explained that today’s serious games are being designed with brain science, which can possibly unlock our learning potential like never before.  Bushnell believes that humans can learn up to 10-20 times more efficiently through technology, and he feels that the world of education is finally ready for this important evolution.  In fact, he thinks that serious gaming will change classroom learning more in the next five years than any other concept has in the history of teaching.  That’s quite a statement.

Can serious gaming really transform our society as Bushnell predicts?  Here is our take on the future of serious games.

A Rebirth of the Educational SystemSerious Game | 3D Simulation

Even though serious games have proven their worthiness many times over in business, public schools have been hesitant to adopt this technology because of the inherent expense involved.  School systems across the country deal with shoestring budgets that force teachers to purchase classroom supplies out of their personal salaries.  Some areas are even busing kids 50+ miles a day due to closings and budget cuts, so it is not simply practical to expect the adoption of serious learning in the classroom today.

Several school districts have already started to seek private funding to take their classrooms into the 21st century, like the iPads for Education drive that took place in San Diego in 2012.  Some areas are seeking government grants or state lottery money to upgrade their technology as well.  The future of serious games will be directly tied to these movements since it can validate this technology at the household level.

Powerful (Yet Affordable) Hardware Options

Then again, serious gaming is vastly dependent on fast, affordable hardware and network accessibility nationwide.  Bushnell predicted that within five years, there will be numerous tablets and mini laptops available that almost everyone will be able to afford; and some of that vision is already coming true today.  A recent CNet review showed budget offerings from Google and Barnes & Noble breaking into their “Best Tablets” category, and competitors like Amazon and Windows aim to drive those price points down even further.

While the top electronics manufacturers continue to produce next-gen technology that is bigger, faster and more expensive in the United States, these same companies are already producing a number of budget models specifically for the European and Asian continents. As consumer demand continues to shift towards more affordable options, it will provide serious game manufacturers a standard platform to reach exponentially more customers.

A True Desire for Smarter Learning

At Designing Digitally, Inc., we believe that the future of learning is directly linked to serious gaming in more ways than one.  It will soon become a standard model of teaching inside our classrooms, within the workplace and even online for various hobbies and interests.  In fact, serious games and simulations will eventually transform almost everything we currently believe about learning.  The direct feedback through in-game metrics allows us to fine-tune a lesson plan for almost any type of learner, and that’s simply too powerful of a tool to be ignored much longer.

So when will this happen?  In many ways, it already has thanks to the popularity of games in modern society.  The Entertainment Software Association saw this trend emerging all the way back in 2008 when they discovered that over 67% of US Head of Households play video games.  Today, smartphones and tablets make gaming an even more popular option among children and adults alike, and serious games are being produced in record numbers.  It is only a matter of time before the world of educational learning is transformed forever due to this technology. To learn more about how serious games are beneficial in education, contact us today.