Thursday, May 28, 2009

Games people play: Principles of edutainment

"Culture relates to objects and is a phenomenon of the world; entertainment relates to people and is a phenomenon of life." -Hannah Arendt

I'm not sure what that quote means, but on the auspicious occassion of the 300th RKDNA post, let's have some fun. 

Specifically, let's talk about games--and then play one. Or, if you like, let's play a game and then talk about it.

Game Types

Online games come in many forms...shooters (Quake), racers (Mario Cart), puzzles (Bejewelled), collectors (Pac Man), Strategy (Call of Duty), Adventure and others (like Chess), based on traditional board games. There are single player, multiplayer and Massive Multiplayer Online Games, aka MMOGs. If you are new to online games, get a glimpse at part of an expansive category universe at or Yahoo games . 

Regardless of type, games can play a useful role in education...and not just the kind of education that caters to the K-12 kids. Product education--on mode of action, features and benefits, and other topics in marketing's domain--need not be the dry lecture of collateral, ad copy or hyperspeed voice over in radio and tv spots. 

Principles for online edutainment in marketing

We've built several games as support for client marketing campaigns. And while there are certainly more credible opinions on incorporating marketing into gaming titles, we'll limit this post to the subject of incorporating games into marketing campaigns. Specifically, games that seek to educate and entertain about a product or brand, though not necessarily in that order. See a couple of prior game-related posts here and here.

How might one approach games as edutainment in a marketing context? For the games we've developed, a simple set of design principles has guided us:

1. Simplicity: Rules + the gameplay itself should be simple to understand and execute. 

2. Excitement: Goals should be incorporated around short and long-term progress to build and sustain excitement...using multiple levels, variations in speed, time limits, scoring bonuses, and increasing number--if not complexity--of objects.

3. Consistency: Maintaining consistency in the type of game (e.g., a shooting game doesn't suddenly become a racing game), and in the user interface (i.e., the game controls) helps eliminate distraction and un-funness (is that a word?). 

4. Feedback: Of course games should be interactive. But they should also provide feedback on success or failure during play. Ideally the feedback is tied to the educational component of the game (e.g., it should be clear when a player gets the points and the points should be associated with the learning). Feedback can take the form of interstitial messages between game levels or visual clues during certain events of the game.

5. Gemutlich and Shadenfreude: (why, bless you!) Ideally, games for marketing engage by embedding rewards for both the intrinsically motivated (e.g., building a high score through multiple plays, and increasing familiarity with the game) AND for those whose motivations are more extrinsically motivated (as in taking pleasure at beating someone else's high score).

6. Fun: The most important principle is that the game has to be fun to play. Of course fun is in the mind of the beholder, but certainly little education will take place if one's mind is not open... and there is nothing quite like a lack of fun to close a mind quickly. Mostly in the marketing context, this means balancing the entertainment against the education...when a particular education objective goes unfun, then it has to be subordinated lest the entire idea of entertainment is undermined. Online, unfun usually shows up as a page bounce or short dwell time, both of which are measures of relevance that can help in a test-learn-redeploy environment.
Of course, the investment in the game should be matched to the metrics for success. In our experience, our clients tend to be willing to spend a little...not alot...on edutainment.  And we try to use the principles above to guide games that, at whatever budget, deliver an experience that will leave a player wanting more.

Let the game begin

We'd like it if you would play one of our recent games...hopefully, you will like it. Tell us what you, hate, indifference? Does the game deliver an entertaining and educational experience? What could we have done better?

Play Pest Invaders (here)



  1. Love it.

    Probably just because I'm a hack, but might be too hard. Took me several tries to get to level 2 so I spent more time clicking (cursing?) than I did getting your intended message.

    Very cool.

  2. Fun but hard to get to next level at beginning.