Proper Educational Games are Important
Educational games are not like your typical video games. Video games specifically for entertainment, don’t require the developer to give a direct learning purpose. Educational games, on the other hand, must give a direct purpose of teaching the player how to do something. There is a lot of argument about what is the best way to do this.
Many people will state that edutainment video games don’t necessarily need to fun, they just need to educate. The problem with that statement, is most people, especially children, will not engage in the activity if it’s not fun. And if it’s not something interesting or fun, people and children are less likely to retain the information they learn.
There are other arguments that talk about how video games cannot teach. There’s no sense is listing all the reasons why anything that’s fun and gives a positive response is more likely to be remembered. That has been an issue talked about over the past few decades and has been proven over and over again that video games can and do teach.
Educational Games Do Exist
Now, there are a lot of educational games available in the marketplace. From your phone apps and handheld consoles to your TV consoles and personal computers, there are tons of educational video games. But, in general, 90% of them are just horrible.
The education being taught in the current edutainment games is valid. It’s correct and probably 100% full of facts. But the educational games aren’t fun. They don’t fully engage the player. They almost literally ask questions, and then when the player answers it correctly, they are given a pretty shitty animation to go with it. And people are calling those games.
Yes, by the definition of a video game, those qualify as video games. But they are not great. They aren’t even good. They are garbage games (not all of them, but most of them) because they don’t fully engage the player into the world of the video game they are playing.
So, let’s get to the point and show you some tips to help you create a good educational game for kids. Your edutainment game will “mop the floor” with those other games if you can get those kiddos to have fun playing your games and get them to learn stuff, too.
16 Tips for Creating Educational Games
- Choose a Specific Age Group
- Stick to One Game Theme
- Make User Interface (UI) Simple and Large
- Easily Interperated Game World Design
- Logical Edutainment Game Rules
- Obvious Educational Game Objective
- Keep Controls Simple
- Simple Gameplay
- Visual and Audio Cues are Important
- Use Recognizable Icons
- Don’t Use Existing Cartoon Characters
- Bright Colors
- Allow Kids to Learn at Their Pace
- Check the Facts
- Quality Game Ending
- In-Game Ads: Maybe?
1. Choose a Specific Age Group
Before you even start your game concepts, you should know who your target audience is going to be. You’ll need to know this for creating game art concepts, and knowing what knowledge level your game should be for. You would not want to make a simple addition math game for kids in high school. That kind of edutainment game would not be challenging for that age group, and the players would easily lose interest. That kind of educational game would be best for 6 – 8-year-olds. Or an alphabet game would be great for pre-school and kindergarteners.
Knowing which age group your game is built for also helps when brainstorming for gameplay ideas and building the mechanics for in-game and controls. F your target audience is preschoolers, then you should develop a game based on correctly identifying objects like animals or fruits. Quiz and Puzzle games are great for grade school students and adults.
2. Stick to One Game Theme
The game theme goes along with what age group you will be targeting. Like, a matching game would have a great use for being farm themed to match farm animals to their words and using cartoon-style images. Or word games could be themed to look more like a classic board game.
The goal for your edutainment game theme is to allow the player to be engaged while playing. If the player is enjoying the game, he or she will be more likely to retain the knowledge he or she is learning from playing your game.
You also don’t want to go far off from your theme. If your game is farm themed, keep it farm themed throughout the game. Don’t all of a sudden change the game to a city theme for matching fluffy purse dogs. This could have a negative effect on the player retaining the info you are teaching him or her. Consistency is key in helping people remember things.
3. Make User Interface (UI) Simple and Large
The User Interface of your edutainment game should be large and obvious. Not so large that it blocks the gameplay or distracts the player from playing the game, but large enough that the player can easily define what he or she is supposed to do and what information is being given to him or her through the User Interface. In the case of educational games meant for kids under the age of thirteen, you should probably aim for a little larger and brightly colored for your UI. Children under thirteen are still learning to keep their attention focused, so a larger UI can help them keep the focus from their eyes darting around the game screen.
The UI should be kept simple for your edutainment game. The player doesn’t always need all the information on his or her screen. The UI only needs to display what the player needs to know during gameplay.
For example, the player definitely needs to know how much health is left on the hero character, but the player probably does not actively need to know how many macaroons for collection are in the player’s backpack. A collection item count could be left to be displayed in a pause or inventory menu.
4. Edutainment Game World Design
This applies to games that have a sort of “map” for the player to travel across. A map, similar to Mario World for the SNES or the Candy Crush Saga maps.
If your game has one of these maps, you’ll want the map to reflect the theme of the levels that the map is associated with. If your map displays a candy-themed world, the player will expect the levels in that world to be candy themed. Remember, consistency is key to learning, and to keep the player engaged in your game.
5. Logical Edutainment Game Rules
Rules can create problems if they do not allow for a logical play of an edutainment game. For instance, if there is money in your game, make sure it serves a purpose to the game objective. If there is money in the game, but the player can’t use it, then why is it there.
Also, make sure the rules and gameplay are easy to follow for the age level. If the rules become complex, this may cause your players to become confused and frustrated, resulting in them not enjoying your educational game. The best way to avoid this difficulty is actually to develop a working demo of your game and have some people test it out. This will help you make adjustments for your game to help you get it to be the best product for your players.
6. Obvious Educational Game Objective
Your edutainment game needs an objective or goal. Why else would anyone play the game? Obviously, the main goal is for the player to learn. But is this game level based, score based or pass/fail based? The player needs to be able to achieve something while he or she is learning so at the end of each level, the player is rewarded and then pushed to continue and achieve even more.
It’s kind of like when a book or TV show leaves you on a cliffhanger at the end of a show and you can’t wait until next week when the new episode is on to find out what happens. Give that sense of urgency in your gameplay and you’ll have an ace game for your consumer.
7. Keep the Controls Simple
In-game commands shouldn’t require too much multi-touch input or other complicated gestures for touchscreen based games. Simply stick to swiping and tapping for input. Both are easy and can be consistently performed. Tapping is probably the best since it is the likeliest input kids will try by default.
If your edutainment game is meant for older kids, you can include gestures like “pinching” and drag-and-drop input on the touchscreen. If you choose the drag and drop controls, avoid gameplay where unfairly fast reflexes are required. Your game is meant to teach the player educational stuff, not prepare them for button mashing in a fighting game.
If your educational game is for the Computer, stick to the traditional left mouse click to shoot, mouse movement to turn your camera (in 3rd and first person), the WASD and arrow keys for player movement and Spacebar to jump. If the game is simple, just use the spacebar button or mouse left-click. Try to aim for as few keys as possible to keep it simple. The goal of educational games is to learn knowledge, not memorize key functions to play the best.
The only instance where memorization of keys would be useful is if that is what is being taught. This would help the player retain “muscle memory” when placed in the scenario to actually use those keys. See the video below that talks about a Nintendo Wii game called Underground that uses Laproscopy Surgerical styled controllers attached to the Wii controllers to play and teach the player muscle memory for the surgery.
Just remember who is your consumer and what you are trying to teach him or her.
8. Simple Gameplay
Encourage the player to trial and error. Obviously, don’t reward the player for messing up, but maybe find a fun way to allow the player to start from a save point or earn extra credit to redo the last level or something like that.
Also, STEM is a key concept, but it also fosters playful exploration and curiosity. Maybe have a mechanic that teaches the player how to properly use Google to search with keywords. It is surprising how many people in today’s society don’t know how to use Google search to even half of its capabilities.
If you have a younger audience playing your edutainment game, offer a cooperative gameplay mode. This will encourage the player to ask others for help and to also teach the player how to share and play well with others. Role-playing might be a fun opportunity to help the player learn about diversity.
This is a must-have for games aimed at a younger audience. Teaching and gameplay are important, but kids 13 and under should be encouraged to go outside and play and see the actual real world. Place some sort of timer that will send an alert to the player (without interrupting gameplay) to advise him or her to take a break and go seek some sunshine and stretch the legs.
9. Visual and Audio Cues are Important
This is significantly important if your edutainment game is meant for children about 10 years and younger. That age group is more receptive to cute little sounds and sparkly things on the screen. Visual and audio cues are always important, but even more so to young children who can’t read.
Make sure that whenever he or she does something correctly or incorrectly, the game lets them know via sound and imagery. You can add special effects for every time they do something in the game, like a bubble popping sound and a bubble floating animation whenever the player taps the screen, regardless whether the input-triggered something in-game or not. Anything that shows the game is “alive” and interactive, to keep the kiddo’s attention and focus on the game.
Remember not to get too crazy with the sounds. Keep it within reason, and consistent sounds with the same action. Like, the bubble pop for touch the screen, and maybe a swish wind noise for a finger swipe. And one to show a positive reward for correct answers, and a poppy negative noise (a buzzer sound or thunder) to show a wrong answer. Make it fun, but keep it simple yet engaging.
Remember, kids are much more easily amused than adults and typically don’t require much.
Remember that really expensive gift your parents got you for your birthday when you turned 7 and all you played with for weeks was the box it came in? Yeah, simplicity.
10. Use Recognizable Icons
If your edutainment game involves learning letters, for young kids, make sure you use shapes and items that kids would easily recognize like an apple or a cat. Or if your game has stop and go functions, maybe use a traffic light with green to mean go and red to stop.
Remember, kids are still learning what the world is and are trying to build up their informational toolset. And, many can’t read yet.
11. Don’t Use Existing Cartoon Characters
It is tempting to use characters that kids and people recognize. It might even help people to use your edutainment app or game. But don’t do it. If your game gets popular and starts making money, the company that owns the Copyright to any of the characters you used will come after you.
So, do a little research, and come up with a cool character on your own. What does your age range like? Should you use animals as characters? Maybe puppets would be more effective as a learning tool for your players. Do some A-B testing with your apps and have your friends’ kids play your game. Watch their reactions to your characters.
12. Bright Colors
Use bright, easily distinguished colors in your edutainment game. Kids are attracted to bright, exciting colors. Just go down the cereal aisle in your grocery store. Notice that the sugar cereals generally have a cute character and/or bright colors to help them stand out. Ad agencies figured it out. Kids like bright, shiny colors. Probably has a lot to do with their very minimal attention span.
You want your player to pay attention to your game, keep it colorful.
Avoid using pastel and unsaturated colors.
13. Allow Kids to Learn at Their Pace
Your edutainment game shouldn’t push kids from level 1 to level 50 as quickly as possible. The kiddos should be able to process what they accomplish and learn from it. Your game should allow for a little breathing room after each completed task or level. It shouldn’t immediately start the next skill level.
If you made a quiz game, add a short text explaining why an answer was correct or incorrect. You can add trivia during loading screens. A color-based game might require kids to pick among a selection of colors corresponding to an image shown, so show other examples when they pick the correct answer.
14. Check the Facts
This should be obvious but check your work. You don’t want to teach kids the wrong answer. Your quality edutainment product should also have correct answers.
15. Quality Game Ending
Does your game end once the first player has reached the objective, or does it end once everyone has reached the objective and the winner is determined through a comparison of points, acquisitions, etc.? Just remember to keep your gameplay moving at a consistent pace. If your game has specific goals, the game could have an ending.
Maybe the kid could be role-playing as a valedictorian of their high school and the goal is to graduate with a 4.0. Just make sure your ending goes nicely with what you are teaching, and how the gameplay works.
16. In Game Ads: Maybe?
There’s a good way to do ads, and a bad way to do ads. If you can avoid having ads in your game, it’s probably best. But, if you need ads to make an income, there is a better way to do than what’s traditionally done.
Traditionally, ads are placed everywhere or as a pop-up, or even as a view to receive in-game rewards. These are all great, but you need to offer a way or reminder for the parent to be able to pay to turn the ads off, or an email reminder sent to the device owner’s account.
This is important because if that kid accidentally purchases something while playing your game, that parent will be quite angry with your game, I’m sure.
Develop for kids first, but don’t forget the parents! They’re the gatekeepers who decide what their kids are allowed to play (and buy). Strike a balance between a great user experience for kids that also addresses parents’ education expectations.
Again, although it’s an educational game, make sure that it’s never lacking in fun. It doesn’t have to be addicting, but it should be at least enjoyable enough to warrant completion. It’s the same with other games, really. Keep things balanced in regards to fun and learning.
- Atari VCS Orders: Less Than One Week!
- Twitch: Designing an 8-direction character for Spine Pt.1
- Twitch: Designing an 8-direction character for Spine Pt.2
- Twitch: Rigging an 8-direction character for animation in Spine Pt.2
- IndieCade 2018 Regular Submissions CLOSE May 28th