Games getting into serious business

Games-based learning makes headway among organizations as platform to support corporate training and education, but monetization remains challenging for game developers, note market watchers.

SINGAPORE--The "serious games" market is picking up and making its way into the enterprise realm as traditional game and e-learning vendors look to provide products for the business segment.

Speaking at the Serious Game Conference held here Wednesday, Pure Lam, president of CyberWisdom Learning Solutions, noted that traditional game companies were starting to look at serious games as a viable business model. Chinese game developer Giant Interactive, for example, has collaborated with China's Nanjing military to launch a game for army training, Lam said. China Mobile has also set up its own serious games department, he added.

Serious games are defined as games not developed primarily for entertainment purpose but for other purposes such as healthcare rehabilitation, teaching and learning as well as training in corporate and military settings.

According to Lam, traditional e-learning companies are now seeing serious games as an innovative way to support corporate learning. He said Cybervision currently works with Chinese companies such as Amway and ICBC to develop games-based learning programs for sales training purposes.

He added that the arrival of Gen Y and millennials--who grew up with games--in the workforce will also drive demand for serious games. He explained that the game-based learning program deployed in Amway China was suggested by a top-level executive who saw how engrossed his child was when playing games, and decided to introduce games into the company's training program.

He added that these recent developments were driving the adoption of serious games.

During a panel discussion at the conference, Jacqueline Cawston, senior business executive at U.K.-based Serious Games Institute, noted that the way people learn is changing. She predicted that in the future, instead of leaflets, companies or government agencies would be using games to educate employees or the public.

Despite the predicted growth of game-based learning among enterprises, Lam said the industry still see some challenges.

The cost of developing a game-based learning is about 4 to 5 times the development cost of traditional e-learning, he said, adding that companies will also need to be convinced of the returns on investment (ROI) before they are willing to adopt serious games.

Monetization a serious problem
During the panel discussion, market players also highlighted monetization challenges facing the industry.

Thomas Lim, director of interactive media, games and publishing at Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA), observed that some serious game developers create mainly for a single client which leads to "very little room" for further monetization.

Sidddarth Jain, chief creative director of Singapore-based Playware Studios Asia, added that for serious game developers, project-based revenue is not sustainable business model. Instead of handling projects that cater to a single client, these developers should adopt a product-based business model that would allow them to sell the product to multiple clients.

Simon Bennett, CEO of U.K.-based Roll7 and Focus Pocus, said the "freemium" business model is also gaining traction among serious game developers. He pointed to Mangahigh, which provides free math games for school but charges teachers who wish to have analytics of their students' score.

While he was positive about the role of serious games in education, Jain cautioned against thinking games will automatically make a topic more appealing to students. He noted that users need to invest effort and attention to play a game and as such, will disengage faster if the game is boring.

He added that serious games do not necessarily have to be "fun" but should instead focus on engaging the users.