The concept of serious games has been around since long before gamification, but gamification has arguably taken the first major steps into going mainstream whereas serious games have largely been mired in small form pilot projects. In an article in Develop, investment consultant and games industry expert, Rick Gibson, explains that the crucial difference is that most serious games cannot scale, “Gamification is patently not about turning something non-games related into an entire game – that’s the domain of serious games… and its fatal flaw.”
This year’s gatherings of the serious games community such as the GDC’s Serious Games Summit, Games for Health, and the Games for Change Festival highlighted some amazing projects in using the power of play for projects outside of entertainment. Fold.it is a long time crowd favorite and a great of example of how games can aid research; Evoke–designed by Jane McGonigal–was selected for the Direct Impact Award at Games for Change and continues to educate on global change. Even with great examples of serious games and over twenty years of development in the industry, serious games have still largely failed to enter the mainstream.
The future may signal change for the serious games industry, but so far and despite these excellent examples the field has failed to take off. Gibson argues that this is because serious games still follow the “whole-game” model where a game can be packaged into a DVD, shipped off, and except for the occasional bug-fix, largely ignored.
“When pitching entire, substantial games on single subjects to non-games clients like governments, serious games companies are effectively asking deeply risk-averse organisations to bet on potentially short-term hits as if they were risk-aware games publishers… With apparently few willing to repeatedly fund such punts, this has resulted in a consistently low-value market,” Gibson writes.
Following the models set by free-to-play, social, and casual games, gamification has been able to escape from the mire that caught serious games. Iterative design, viral mechanics, and social gameplay are baked into the current gamification offerings, and the marketing world has taken notice.
Although marketers have a larger part to play in gamification, game designers remain vitally important, “This vibrant new sub-sector of games would not exist without the disciplined genius of designers,” and Gibson concludes, “Games designers, who are fundamentally tutors as well as entertainers, could yet play an even more central role in our culture.”
I recommend reading the full article.