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Amplifying applied game development and uptake
Hollins Paul , Westera Wim, Manero Iglesias Borja The University of Bolton UK , The Open University of the
Netherlands, Netherlands, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain.
The established (digital) leisure game industry is historically one dominated by large international hardware
vendors (e.g. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo), major publishers and supported by a complex network of
development studios, distributors and retailers. New modes of digital distribution and development practice are
challenging this business model and the leisure games industry landscape is one experiencing rapid change. The
established (digital) leisure games industry, at least anecdotally, appears reluctant to participate actively in the
applied games sector (Stewart et al., 2013). There are a number of potential explanations as to why this may
indeed be the case including ; A concentration on large-scale consolidation of their (proprietary) platforms,
content, entertainment brand and credibility which arguably could be weakened by association with the
conflicting notion of purposefulness (in applied games) in market niches without clear business models or
quantifiable returns on investment.
In contrast, the applied games industry exhibits the characteristics of an emerging, immature industry namely:
weak interconnectedness, limited knowledge exchange, an absence of harmonising standards, limited
specialisations, limited division of labour and arguably insufficient evidence of the products efficacies (Stewart et
al., 2013; Garcia Sanchez, 2013) and could, arguably, be characterised as a dysfunctional market. To test these
assertions the Realising an Applied Gaming Ecosystem (RAGE) project will develop a number of self contained
gaming assets to be actively employed in the creation of a number of applied games to be implemented and
evaluated as regional pilots across a variety of European educational, training and vocational contexts.
RAGE is a European Commission Horizon 2020 project with twenty (pan European) partners from industry,
research and education with the aim of developing, transforming and enriching advanced technologies from the
leisure games industry into self-contained gaming assets (i.e. solutions showing economic value potential) that
could support a variety of stakeholders including teachers, students, and, significantly, game studios interested in
developing applied games. RAGE will provide these assets together with a large quantity of high-quality
knowledge resources through a self-sustainable Ecosystem, a social space that connects research, the gaming
industries, intermediaries, education providers, policy makers and end-users in order to stimulate the
development and application of applied games in educational, training and vocational contexts.
The authors identify barriers (real and perceived) and opportunities facing stakeholders in engaging, exploring
new emergent business models ,developing, establishing and sustaining an applied gaming eco system in Europe.
Key Words : Applied Games ; Serious Games ; Game Assets ; Ecosystem ; Gamification
For some time now games have been employed in education and training settings across a wide and varied range
of application domains including most notably and successfully in business and administration, the military, and
health care. Proponents have consistently highlighted the enormous potential of games in education and training
settings to stimulate engage and motivate (Prensky 2001) , in particular , disaffected learners. Critically digital
games have in the past been presented as the panacea for solving the many problems in schools and training sic
(cf. Gee, 2003; Quinn, 2005 ) .There is ,however, an increasing volume of research and validation evidence
available to support the notion that games can indeed be extremely effective tools for learning (Connolly 2012).
In parallel emerging digital technologies in design, production and distribution have enabled considerable cost
reductions in game development production and delivery. In an environment with reductions in costs married
with significantly increased capabilities one might have expected to experience substantial growth of the applied
games market. However, growth figures of the wider domain of game-based learning, including simulation-based
learning are estimated to be in the region of 3-4 % per year until 2017 (Adkins, 2013). In contrast, the leisure
games market is experiencing much higher growth which is forecast to continue over the coming years, to an
estimated 7 % per year (PWC, 2012). A number of explanations for the cause of this phenomenon in the applied
game industry and markets have been suggested. Firstly that , the applied games industry exhibits the
characteristics of an emerging, immature industry namely: weak interconnectedness, a very limited knowledge
exchange, an absence of harmonising standards, limited specialisations, limited division of labour and insufficient
evidence of the products efficacies (Stewart et al., 2013; Garcia Sanchez, 2013) and could, arguably, be
summarised, at present, as a dysfunctional market. There is, however, seemingly contradictory evidence to
suggest that the exponential social impact of the Leisure Games Industry is leading to a growing acceptance of
educational games as having an authentic and legitimate place in the digital game development industry (Hollins
& Whitton 2011 ). Paradoxically; this social impact could have a negative effect on the attraction of the applied
games industry to leisure game developers concerned with maintaining their perceived established brand
characteristics such as “coolness” , “edginess” or rebelliousness.
Secondly, the education and training market is widely characterised as intrinsically conservative and (highly) risk
averse. Over the years, various authors (Bates, 1995; Clarck and Estes, 1998; Westera, 2012) have criticised what
is perceived as a conservative culture in educational practice; one that is entrenched historically in the intuitive
and traditional pedagogic methods of the pre-medieval apprenticeship model, featuring an omniscient master
and a naive pupil. Bates (1995) goes further in critiquing the established organisational model of education itself
in the classroom and in teaching in presenting a scathing judgement on the role of teachers, who, he asserts,
rarely use any kind of design process and do not ground their work on validated , scientific evidence. Thirdly it is
suggested that there is a significant dichotomy between the established and emergent business models of the
leisure games industry and the emerging properties of the much less mature Applied gaming markets.
In this paper the authors will analyse these issues in the context of the RAGE project: Realising an Applied Games
Ecosystem. In essence the RAGE project is a technology-driven research and innovation project that makes
available accessible self-contained gaming assets (i.e. solutions showing economic value potential) that support
game studios in the development of applied games. These assets are made available together with substantial
accompanying high-quality knowledge resources through a self-sustainable Ecosystem The ecosystem is a social
space that connects a variety of stakeholders from the research, gaming industries, intermediaries, education
providers, policy makers and end-user communities.
European objectives and policies (H2020)
The RAGE project is situated and funded as part of the Horizon 2020 European Framework programme for
Research and Innovation . This programme is the largest EU research and innovation programme with an
investment of 80 billion euros available over the seven years of its intended life-cycle 2014 to the present day.
The intention of the programme is to stimulate economic growth through innovation and bring “good ideas” to
market quickly, ideas that address real needs by coupling science and innovation in order to boost the European
economy and competitiveness in global markets. The programme aims to couple Industry , in particular Small to
Medium Enterprises (SME) with academia , innovation blue sky thinking , in order to address real needs in effect
creating an innovation union. This activity is characterised by a series of research and innovation pillars namely;
excellent science, industrial leadership and investment in industries.
The Distinctions between the “established” Leisure Game industry and the Applied Games Industry
The authors assert there are significant distinctions between the Leisure and Applied gaming industries which can
be characterised in the following ways :
The leisure game industry :
Digital games have acquired extraordinary social relevance, becoming a highly significant media in modern
culture and life and constituting a massive industry with 155 million of users and $22.4 billion per year in the US
alone (ESA 2015). There has been a prolific rise in the number of game players of games in particular casual
gaming, over the last decade played by an ever increasingly broad demographic audience , in terms of geographic
location, age and of both genders over an increasing and varied number of technology platforms including
consoles, personal computers, hand held devices and significantly mobile telephony.
However, it seems that digital gaming industry has been primarily remained focused on the development of
entertainment products and services . Recent research undertaken by the Entertainment Software Association
(ESA 2015), provided data indicating that only small percentage ( 5%) of the games acquired (purchased) in the
United States were developed for educational purposes (Notwithstanding these commercial off the shelf (COTS)
games could conceivably have been applied within educational settings).
As suggested in the introduction, anecdotally at least, the established Leisure Games industry has thus far been
extremely reluctant to engage in the development of applied or serious games (Stewart 2013). There are a
number of real and perceived barriers to active participation by the digital game development industry in applied
and serious games markets. As indicated in the introduction of this paper there is a perceived lack of maturity of
the Applied Game Market in particular in respect of established business models or clear evidence of return on
investment of development costs. Whilst development costs through technology have reduced significantly for
some sectors of the market notably with the rise of the use of middleware and small scale App development over
the last decade in other segments such as console (proprietary platform technology) the “cost of success” in
terms of development, licensing and marketing has increased markedly. The risk and cost of entry to digital game
developers in new applied gaming markets is significant.
Leisure digital games product business models can be analysed vertically, or alternatively from concept to market
or horizontally (Williams 2002) into market segments. Games have been identified as “experience goods” where
quality is determined only through their consumption (Kerr 2006 ). Historically, in terms of vertical analysis game
development has been focussed on large scale, and time consuming two years of development, consolidating
A cursory review of the value chain analysis of the the final price of a game a conventional “Commercial off the
shelf console boxed game” reveals contribution levels of the console manufacturer (Licensor) 10 % , the
Developer/publisher 20 %, the Distributor 6 % , the retailer 14% and finally the customer 50 % (Deutsche Bank
As discussed, alternatively the value chain can be analyzed horizontally into a number of different market
segments. (Williams 2002) divides this into three market segments consoles,handheld and PC’s and these into
market into percentage market shares whilst others including (Kerr 2006) ,in light of the emergent market
conditions of the time including convergence and , adopt a slightly different approach by taking the game
“genre” as the starting point; console games, “standard” PC games, Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Games
(MMORPG) ,and mini or casual games extending segmentation arguing that a platform based (Williams 2002)
approach is unsatisfactory given then the rapid changes to the market and players and emergence of new
platforms (and technologies) on a regular basis.
In what is entirely consistent with the evolution of other entertainment industries , such as the music, television
and hospitality industries, the ubiquitous effect of digital technology on established Leisure game business
models is becoming increasingly evident with the emergence and challenge of new digital distribution and
service models. Recent years has seen the establishment of major commercial entities such as Steam
new cost effective channels to market with service support and active communities of engagement. Established
publishers and developers such as Electronic Arts (EA) have responded with the establishment of its proprietary
digital distribution platform Origin.
A Recent addition to the digital games distribution channels has emerged in
the form of Galaxy GOG offering games free of, the highly contentious, imposition of Digital Rights Management
(DRM). Galaxy potentially offers some guidelines as to the future evolution of business models . Models that
mark a transition from a product based to a service based ecology with foundations embedded within the
establishment of a Galaxy online community.
In a competitive and dynamic environment the associated risk of entry to new markets (Applied Games) for
digital Games Developers could, arguably ,be the
most significant barrier to entry.
The Applied game industry :
Applied Games; or at least the more established genre of Serious Games have historically exhibited low
production values and whilst there are authors (Whitton & Moseley 2012) that argue “the opportunity to create
bespoke fit for purpose computer games is beyond the technical capabilities and time limitations of teaching staff
and outside of the capability of most learning technology teams”
(P 138) and that effective games need games
expertise and that many, expensive, in house or designed for education games simply aren’t games. (Whitton &
Mosely 2012) advocate the value in a low tech approach in claiming production quality has little value in engaging
and motivating learners compared to pedagogically sound instructional design and playful approaches.
In direct contrast with commercial entertainment games which are designed to target a wide demographic
audience, applied games are usually oriented towards a narrow audience with very specific learning
characteristics. They incorporate strong instructional design and pedagogy , andragogy and heutagogy. For
example ; Unsurprisingly an applied game developed to support the teaching of geology to year four students
would be quite distinct in comparison to one designed for undergraduate or postgraduate students studying
within a university setting.
Further; applied game development is not only driven by the subject matter but , consistent with the leisure
gaming industry, by the intended targeted audience. When an applied game is not instructionally designed in an
appropriate and relevant way in terms of pedagogic structure , interface and learning outcomes for its intended
audience the result is usually a game that neither engages nor motivates students to play or more importantly
achieve their desired learning outcomes. This disjunct results in games that are incomparable with entertainment
games (Facer et al,2003; Kinzie & Joseph,2008). This could be further explanation as to why , from the large
number of educational games produced there have been few games that users ,or players have a preference for.
Recent research in respect of the effectiveness of applied games endorses this perspective but is inconsistent
(Hays 2005; Connolly et al, 2012; Ibanez et. al 2014), highlighting both games with very successful engagement
and learning outcomes and others equally where the engagement and learning outcomes have not met
expectations. Some authors (Michel D & Chen S 2006) argue that free of the conventional and established
business models of the Leisure game industry the applied or serious games industry allows game developers to
experiment with (vertical) business and distribution models that bypass the established retail publishing industry
and open up new revenue streams.
In contrast to the Leisure game industry in the applied Gaming Industry context quality is not merely
determined by consumption. Consistent with most educational interventions efficacy in the achievement of
desired pre-determined learning outcomes is the key performance measure and to demonstrate this through
evidence based data. Cooperation between these two industries could have an impact in improving applied
games quality, and then in achieving better learning outcomes. Applied games industry, because of its youth,
would certainly benefit from leisure industry know-how. Many errors that entertainment industry has made over
the past 40 years could not be repeated in applied games development.
Applied and Serious games are environments which can potentially support a broad variety of pedagogical
approaches including constructivist inquiry based and as didactic instructivist tools (Whitton & Hollins 2008) and
have the potential to provide rich streams of real time activity analytical data It should be noted however,,
learning and playing are inherently distinct concepts. While learning is readily associated with an obligation - even
forced by law - , homework, examinations, are a necessity of life, and a prerequisite for having a job, a salary and
a career, games are associated with play, joy, leisure and having fun. In his seminal book “Homo Ludens” Huizinga
(1950) describes play as a leisure activity, non-obligatory and fully free of any material goal or interest – no profit
can be gained from it. Play cannot be reinforced. Essentially, we are able to force children to go to school or to do
their homework, but - in contrast - it is impossible to force them to play. This conceptual conflict forces game
developers to deal with applied games and leisure games in different ways. Nevertheless learning and playing
share a common base, which is the human need of being challenged by difficult tasks. As Papert (1980) noted: the
best fun is “hard fun”. Applied games may offer the hard fun that we are looking for.
The RAGE project: addressing The key Challenges.
The RAGE project aims to address many of the deficiencies associated with the Business of applied gaming
highlighted within this paper with the aim of stimulating growth of the capabilities and markets within the
European Union and consistent with the objectives of the EC Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation progrmme .
Over a four year period the RAGE project will develop an accessible repository system for the curation of a
cluster of gaming assets. Initially the repository will house thirty six self contained reusable interoperable gaming
assets produced within the RAGE consortium , detail of the asset functions is provided in Figure 01 below; assets
that will facilitate the development of Applied games. An asset is described as specifically within the context of
the RAGE project as advanced game technology modules (software), enriched and transformed to support
applied games development. A RAGE asset is composed of one or more software components working together
on a dedicated task. That is, software components are the subordinate constituents of an asset.
Figure 01 Overview of RAGE gaming assets source RAGE proposal
The RAGE-project is founded upon a number of underlying principles that can be summarised as follows:
●The project will provide an ecosystem with future proof features. Usage of large asset repositories have
an inclination to decline in use over an extended period of time with . RAGE will support the social
dimensions of stakeholder interaction in order to empower the collaborative process via the asset
●creating and stimulating the Internet Value Chain. A knowledge and technology juncture point for
stakeholders available for those organisations on the applied gaming supply side (industry, universities,
…), and for those organisations on the demand side (end-users, organizations,...).
●By involving Universities as an integral part of the innovation process model; consistent with the Triple
Helix model (Leydesdorff & Etzkowitz, 1998),. of government , industry and education .A stated
objective of the RAGE project.
●Enabling the disruptive power of small medium enterprises (SME). History demonstrates , small
companies in the leisure game industry have been at the forefront of innovation in the industry tackling
the development challenges . Larger developers, in general, are accommodated within an incremental
model which can restrict innovation and appetite for risk. The RAGE ecosystem aims to facilitate the
gaming creation process for small companies .
●With the pilot implementations and case studies targeting employability skills specifically aligned with
the objectives of the European Commission Horizon 2020 ambitions. The applied games produced in
RAGE will address unemployment problems by creating accessible and usable tools that educate in
clearly targeted broad social and employment requirements ; that addresses the challenges of social
exclusion and improve retention in education or training . Research paradigms are combined to ensure
that innovative and usable assets are developed . The project will combine design-oriented (to make
them better), intervention-oriented (to make them work), domain-oriented (to make them matter) and
disciplinary research (to make them understandable).
●By focusing on the ecosystem’s usability from the game developer perspective ; having access to
advanced gaming technologies should not be an issue in the future . By producing interoperable assets
both culturally and technologically , integration or communication within or with systems will be greatly
enhanced. RAGE is determined to create easy to use technology, by developing assets with pedagogical
●By addressing the Gaming priority areas. The asset components in RAGE will be: relevant for learning,
advanced, and work in games where there may be challenges.
The conceptual underpinning and Management Approach in RAGE
The transformations from leisures game technologies into applied gaming functions are indicated in Figure 02.
That Figure 02 summarizes what leisure industry techniques should be transformed to create engaging,
pedagogical and capable to analyzing applied games.
Figure 02. RAGE: Transforming leisure industry technologies to build applied games. Source: RAGE proposal.
The RAGE ecosystem aims to replicate the elegantly aesthetic structure and self regulating principles of a natural
ecological system providing an architecture for innovation hence the term “ecosystem”.
The conceptual underpinning and strategic approach to the project in particular developing an “ecosystem” , a
metaphor derived from the work of (Moore 1993) , is based on the premise that agents are embedded in a
competitive business environments that inherently must coevolve in developing symbiotic relationships with
other agents or stakeholders learners, customers, those in the supply chain and their competition . The concept is
well established within information technologies industries with perhaps silicon valley as the prime example of a
fully functional business ecosystem. Specific examples exist within the game development industry itself with
Unity asset store. A significant challenge and in equal measure ,strength, of the approach is to ensure that asset
development embraces both user and developer demand and equally is able to stimulate innovation and creative
embedding of the pedagogical requirements applied gaming in the specific use cases by the game development
community crossing the chasm
(Moore 1991) and diffusing innovation (Rogers 1962) recognising the significance
of cultural and social interaction in ensuring innovation activity and early adoption (early adopters) is embraced
by the domain pragmatists (early majority) which will ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem itself.
The RAGE project will develop entirely new and accessible supported services and interoperable assets with the
objective of bridging the chasm that currently exists between the Leisure and Applied Gaming industries. Barriers
, both real and perceived , the cost of entry and consequently risk will be significantly reduced. These assets,
when employed, will significantly reduce the cost of production of high quality applied games incorporating
hitherto complex pedagogic functions such as learning analytics, learner agency, assessment, and artificial
intelligence validating the quality and efficacy of theses assets by testing them in a series of large scale game
pilots. The RAGE project will support this development by undertaking extensive research in to the established
Leisure Game Industry and emerging Applied Gaming industry business models to provide leverage points for
developers engaged or seeking to engage in the Applied gaming market.
These assets and their ultimate location in a supporting ecosystem incorporating supported stakeholder demand
and supply side agency should ensure both scalability and sustainability with the aim of supporting an increasing
number of Leisure game developers active in the applied games market over and above the ten percentage
(Games Monitor 2012) of those companies participating at present.
The Authors wish to acknowledge thesupport andreceipt of project funding fromthe European Union’s Horizon
2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 644187 and the support of their host
institutions The University of Bolton, The Open University of the Netherlands and Universidad Complutense de
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