BLOG: Designing A Learning Game – Where Do You Start??
We all learn from games, even when we don’t realise it. Who discovered London through Monopoly, has picked up random general knowledge facts from Trivial Pursuit or has a better grasp of geography from Risk? Computer and online games are no different, but how do you make sure you get the learning you want from a game?
As he continues working on Unicorn’s Project #P2L – otherwise known as the Abbreviation Game – Amuzo Games‘ Lead Designer, Dan Mascall, reveals all.
1) When you sit down to design a game, where do you start?
The key questions we ask from the start are:
- Who do you want to tell?
- How do you want to tell them?
- What do you want them to do?
The initial brief will typically answer these questions, indicating the target audience, the message to deliver and key performance indicators (KPIs) e.g. how many players the game should attract in its first year.
From there we research the information and take reference from similar games and gameplay mechanics that would complement the goals. The majority of projects will take on new trends and ideas to add flavour or simplify the approach.
We will also often suggest alternative directions if we feel confident that a different solution would be better suited to deliver results.
2. What was in the forefront of your mind when it came to the initial design of the Abbreviation Game?
“Which games have I played before where I learnt abbreviations and why was I motivated to learn them?”
And yes, I have played an abbreviation game before! Check out the classic Fighting Fantasy adventure books ‘Sorcery’ series.
3. The Abbreviation Game is designed to teach, so how did you decide on what method would work best to make the game most effective?
We’re working with closely with our partners Unicorn Training on the project, combining our team’s extensive knowledge of game development and their expertise in digital learning.
Games offer the chance to learn new skills in a fun and engaging environment. Through the process of repetition and the natural desire to progress, players learn and experiment with new information to overcome increasing difficulties.
In the past Amuzo has developed an educational game for the RNLI to teach players the values and skills required to be a lifeguard, which received over 600,000 game plays, as well as a brain training suite of games for Learning and Teaching Scotland’s student intranet and an internal training game to teach staff at Aviva the benefits of their pension scheme.
Social mechanics and achievement milestones are implemented to drive players to learn more, get ahead and complete goals.
In the Abbreviation Game a quiz-based challenge is included at the end of each session to assist in bridging the gap between the abbreviation and its meaning.
It’s always important for any game that the player has fun first before we ask them to think a little deeper or follow a call to action. I’m definitely an advocate out to prove that games can teach.
I have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of weapons from World War Two thanks to Call of Duty, an enthusiasm for the subject of warfare during the Sengouku period of Japanese history because of Shogun: Total War and a real world applicable trading skill known as ‘market making’ from Eve Online!
4) How long does the game design process take approximately, from initial idea to finished design?
It varies depending on the size of the project. A significant factor that influences timescales is how many people are involved with signing off designs. New IP takes significantly more time to lock down character designs, style guides and story content whereas with established brands we can hit the ground running.
Using the Abbreviation Game as an example, from presenting the concept internally to sharing and signing off with the client took roughly two months.
The design part represented about two weeks of this process, producing and updating the first round of documentation. The design documentation doesn’t necessarily reach ‘finished’ state as features are iterated, adapted and improved during the process.
The Game Design Document (GDD) is consistently referred to and updated throughout a project as a ‘live’ document.
5. You are the main designer of the game but how many other people input into it?
The philosophy of idea generation is that we all have great ideas and everyone can contribute. Our documentation system is open to the wider team to view and comment on during the process.
After the initial concept phase, the ideas are discussed and developed within the design team, presented to the lead artists and coders and then written up as a first draft. The game takes shape as the GDD is produced, often introducing new ideas as we progress.
To facilitate these ideas we have two options that can be entered into our project management system: ‘Improvements’ and ‘New Features’. These are reviewed each week as we plan the next weeks work. Some make it in and some drop in priority. The decisions generally relate to what we consider the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This ensures we complete the project on time and within budget.
All ideas that didn’t make it in the first time are stored within a ‘Backlog’ list, so should the project come together ahead of time, receive extra budget or have scope for future updates we can make further enhancements.
6. Who gets the final say on the outcome of the design of the game?
The game design is ultimately signed off by the client. Generally the team at Amuzo often come to the same conclusions as we all play games, keep up with the latest trends and instinctively know what works best.
It also helps having a great team of people that all get on, both during and after work time. Watch out for our next beach BBQ, Dragon Boat Race or Kahuna burger challenge, everyone is welcome!
7. Is there anything else we should know?
At the time of writing, a colleague has just approached me to brag about their unbeatable high score in the Abbreviation Game. Bring it on!
And don’t forget . . . ASBMAETP, acronyms should be memorable and easy to pronounce. BFN (bye for now!).