Bringing Game-Based Learning to Scale: The Business Challenges of Serious Games
This article examines business challenges that prevent educational games from finding wider penetration into (1) the general consumer market and (2) the K-12 formal education market. Contrary to popular belief, neither lack of product, nor boring subject matter, nor a more modest expenditure on game development keeps learning games from attracting a significant audience in these markets. Interviews with companies that have attempted to work these markets show that they face three primary challenges: finding a sustainable (revenue-generating) business model, creating or obtaining a distribution network, and achieving consumer acceptance. Obstacles include identifying an appropriately large paying customer base (though adult learners/hobbyists may prove to be a lucrative niche market); finding monetary support for consumer hardening, marketing, and sales (U.S. grants, in particular, do not allow these cost categories); and creating a functional distribution network into K-12 schools (where attempts to partner with textbook companies have yet to yield fruit and where individual efforts have been agonizingly slow). Some consumer acceptance issues—for example, adaptation to the cultural and technical environment of schools—appear to have been somewhat resolved for games, with design guidelines currently available. This review focuses on current U.S. practices, though some comparisons with European business efforts and efforts to market learning games in the golden era of edutainment are also made.