The London Educational Games Meetup Group (#LEGup) Message Board › LEGup newsletter and writeup for February 2013
We’ve got a write up from our February LEGup below, but first some news and other bits and bobs we think you might be interested in.
If you missed January’s #LEGup on investment, you can still get hold of Edd Stockwell’s report summarising investment opportunities. Email Kirsten.email@example.com if you want a copy.
IC Tomorrow and NESTA have announced a new contest offering four awards of up to £48k to “encourage digital innovation in education”. More details here https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/digital-innovation-contest-education. There is a briefing coming up on Thursday 14th March https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/digital-innovation-contest-education-briefing-event.
Pearson have just launched their own-brand incubator for edtech, Pearson Catalyst http://www.pearson.com/news/2013/february/introducing-pearson-catalyst--the-edtech-incubator-programme-for.html. If you have a product that aligns with something Pearson do, and you want mentorship, this could be useful. We predict this is going to be the year of incubators and accelerators. Keep your eyes peeled for ones which offer seed funding later in the year.
Gary Chimwa has been in touch about the Tech City Careers Festival www.techcitycareers.co.uk on the 28th March at Emirates Stadium. He said: “we will have amazing opportunities for all type of roles such as Software Developers, Front End / Back End Developers , UX Designers, Marketing, Sales, Analysts, HR , Interns / Graduates - you name it ! 1,200+ Attendees, 400+ Jobs, 50+ Exhibitors”. If you are a company who might be interested in taking part, drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can pass your details on to Gary.
Our lovely hosts OneKX and their theatre company Y Touring have a new educational production and workshop about “novel neurotechnologies” touring at the moment, with a show at the Royal Albert in March. It’s called Stunted Trees and Broken Bridges and you can find more details here http://www.theatreofdebate.com/Projects/StuntedTrees/.
We’re in the process of organising the March #LEGup and our second birthday party in April. If you have ideas for a future event, do get in touch.
Kirsten and Martha
Write up from our event on Teach Your Monster To Read and educational games for young children:
Another packed house at February’s #LEGup. Everyone had come to see Digital Producer Antonio Gould (@antoniogould) talk about Teach Your Monster to Read (@monsterscanread). TYMTR is the initiative of Peter Usborne of Usborne Publishing, who set up the Usborne Foundation with his daughter and son Nicola and Martin to create digital education products to promote literacy.
TYMTR is a free online game designed by a team of expert games designers, illustrators and researchers in synthetic phonics from Roehampton University. The result is a very engaging, very beautiful game, containing a series of addictive mini-games focusing on different aspects of phonics. The games encourage 4-5 year-olds to get to grips with letter and sound combos until they can help a monster within the game to form words (that’s the teaching your monster to read part).
Antonio took us through the process of designing, building, testing and marketing the game, and gave us some of his thoughts and insights along the way. In particular, he noted that he hears a lot of talk about educational games, but rarely hears developers talk about game design. He sees a lot of products which ‘look like games’ but when you look deeper, very little thought has gone into the game mechanics or into encouraging replayability. Antonio’s test is whether kids want to play the game over and over again.
Another observation is that too many edugame makers don’t want to test their game. TYMTR went through extensive testing at prototype stage and then all along the way. The testing was all free because they worked with schools and in fact actually saved them a fortune in not wasting all their money on games that didn't work. People often use a lack of budget as a reason not to test but with many schools being open to setting up testing groups with educational app developers, there’s really not much excuse.
Some other insights from the talk:
User Interface for kids is a big concern. Antonio was very critical of phonics apps which require kids to be able to read instructions. TYMTR uses audio instruction to get past this problem. It’s also vital to have a very simple sign up and log in process for young kids, and this can often be a trade off with being able to collect and utilise data.
In addition, not all 4-5 year-olds are confident and adept with trackpad and mouse, scotching the digital natives idea somewhat!
Antonio explained that TYMTR is deliberately built in Flash, rather than HTML5, and that this is still a good choice, at least until tablet devices become ubiquitous in schools (which may come as a relief to many of our Flash developer members!)
As far as marketing is concerned, Antonio explained that his team had utilised every marketing channel they could, including PR, social media, getting exposure on popular sites like Boing Boing, hiring a community manager, talking to teachers at education conferences. He stresses that marketing is a long, slow, laborious process, and also that marketing should be ‘baked into the product itself’ (e.g. when a child gets to a certain level in the game their parent gets an email encouraging them to tell all their friends about the game).
After the talk we split up into groups, each with a mentor specialising in a different aspect of game design and promotion. Each group discussed several different topics and then reported back at the end. A roundup of the results:
Teacher Dawn Hallybone’s group discussed what’s needed in the GameEd space and noted that the national curriculum is changing – developers need to be aware of the changes and design for them. Mozilla open badges were discussed (any experts in this want to come and tell the group – give us a shout). Dawn also advised not cold-calling schools and not approaching schools via head teachers. Find a tech-friendly teacher on Twitter first and approach them. Following the Thursday night #ukedchat hashtag is a good start.
Researcher and TutorFair supremo Edd Stockwell’s group discussed investment for edtech startups. Edd’s advice is to follow Teach First’s approach: check out the sponsors on their website (http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/TFHome/) and get together a good ‘case for support’ – a four-slide deck that explains (1) What pain your product solves, (2) How it solves the pain, (3) How much money you need, (4) What the money will help you to do. Another pointer is to use Google analytics tools to find keywords relevant to your product and then run tests to see whether people will click on your ads.
The Google adwords approach was also discussed by Sophie Bessemer (Educational Consultant at EdComs) and her group, who felt that it wasn’t always the best approach. They also discussed whether leaderboards were useful and whether reduced attention span in class was an issue. One of Sophie’s marketing tips was that it can be possible to communicate directly with young people via hackathons and code clubs, thereby reducing your dependence on teachers for your marketing.
Chris O’Shea from Cowly Owl and his group discussed game mechanics and what we can learn from entertainment games. The 1-star/3-star ratings in Angry Birds were thought to improve retention and increase replayability, as did appealing to different personality types: from completists to speed-players. Minecraft was considered to be an exemplar in the ‘sandbox’ type of game environment, and there was discussion about whether a game like Space Team could translate to iPod touch for multiplayer educational games.
Digital producer and usability specialist Olivia Dickinson’s group discussed user testing and concluded that it was vital to test as early as possible and test with different types of schools. It’s also important not to give too much guidance while they are playtesting, and to debrief immediately after the test. Olivia stressed that you have to do lots of preparation beforehand in order to get the most out of testing. (Speaking of testing, if you are interested in running some informal user testing with a group of homeschooled kids, get in touch with Kirsten at Kirsten.email@example.com)
Finally, Antonio’s group discussed why it’s so hard to break even as an app developer (which will be the subject of a future #LEGup), and concluded it was to do with perception of value (all those 69p games are devaluing our educational apps!). Being attached to an existing and well-known brand can be a huge advantage, but some developers (such as Toca Boca) do manage to make it on their own.
Huge thanks to all our mentors this month – everyone got a tremendous amount out of the sessions.