Growing the Dutch game sector
HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, a member of the TISP network, is one of the largest training institutes for culture and the arts in Europe and was the first to introduce a Masters degree in Game Design. HKU education and research seeks to advance human-centered innovation through the meaningful application of the creative arts. To do so, HKU is very active at regional, national and European levels and collaborates closely with more than 150 partners in research and innovation projects at a European level.
HKU has for many years worked with the Dutch Game Garden (DGG). Founded in 2008 with support from EU Structural Funds, the DGG mission is to create economic impact by stimulating the growth of the Dutch game industry. DGG provides wide-ranging support and facilities for students, start-ups and established companies. As such DGG has successfully managed to act as the central hub between game companies and other stakeholders such as knowledge institutes, potential clients within and beyond the creative industries, as well as political stakeholders and institutions at local, regional, national and European levels. DGG has managed to create a favourable climate in the Utrecht Region and beyond resulting in a boost in the creation of local game companies, supporting over 70 enterprises focusing mainly on applied games. The recent BOO Games project is a good source of information about the role of the game sector as a driver of regional growth.
Game design for other sectors
The value of game-based learning has gradually become clearer, with many ‘serious games’ being developed and many universities having departments dedicated to this end. However, in many instances the serious games being developed sacrifice fun and entertainment in order to achieve a desired effect, resulting in a poorly designed solution that is rarely accepted by the intended users.
HKU’s approach to game design is based around the idea of ‘applied games’. Applied games can be understood as ‘games that are deployed for purposes like training, education, persuasion, physical exercise; i.e. all games that bring about effects that are useful outside the context of the game itself’. In this approach it is the way that a game is applied that defines its usefulness outside the context of the game itself (see note below for a broader explanation). At the core of this approach lies the idea that applied game-design tries to retain core game design concepts in the wider areas of application and the broader context of use. Indeed the approach has been deployed across many diverse fields, from education and healthcare to defence and museums.
However this is a complex process, as finding a good balance between the fun and the applied part of the game is often a challenge. Moreover, people who work in game companies are mostly not experts in the field for which the game is being created. For these reasons, we need to build bridges between game designers and other stakeholders in order to maximise the impact of applied games.
Bringing stakeholders together
In January 2014, HKU and Dutch Game Garden began the JamToday network, which is the first pan-European network dedicated to applied game design and aims to reinforce these bridges towards creative innovation. With the JamToday network, we aim to use game design principles not just to create useful and meaningful games, but also to explicate and design the context (such as the classroom or curriculum) in which games can be most effectively implemented and used. JamToday is partially funded by the European Commission under FP7 CIP-PSP.
Game Jams have been successfully organised for several years around the world and are a powerful instrument to stimulate innovation in the creation, development and deployment of educational games. They offer the possibility to develop an idea into a potentially innovative solution around specific themes while at the same time offering the opportunity to explore the process of development (e.g. programming, game and interaction design, narrative exploration or artistic expression). Typically game jams last 48-hours. Over a weekend people from different sectors are brought together to brainstorm and develop game-based solutions for tricky problems.
The network brings together different types of stakeholders from various sectors, fields and expertise for running game jams across Europe around selected themes (such as creative clusters, game companies, education and research institutes, public sector institutions, municipalities, regional growth agencies etc). And at a policy level, Jam Today hopes to support parallel activities, such as eSkills, Open Education Resources and Creative Classrooms.
Each year, JamToday will set up game jams in several locations across Europe focusing on a particular theme. In 2014 there were 8 game jams held in 7 countries, with over 200 participants creating over 50 games to support ICT in learning. The theme for 2015 will be on games for health and well-being and we hope to double the number of game jams being supported. JamToday also provides a framework for evaluating and transferring the games to learning environments.
The network is keen to bring in new member organisations and to this end we have developed a step-by-step toolkit so that no previous experience is needed to set up and run a game jam. All you need is a willingness to bring together the right people at a regional or national level to kick-start some new ideas.
Areas for possible collaboration between games and publishing sectors
In the recent TISP survey on R&D needs in the publishing sector 3 of the top 4 needs identified covered digital distribution, interactive content and multimedia content production. Each of these areas is also central to applied game design. We believe that there are three key areas for future collaboration between the applied game and publishing sectors:
- new instruments for learning
- new tools for industry
- innovative approaches to societal challenges
One of the main TISP recommendations addresses greater cooperation between ICT and the publishing sectors. We believe that the publishing sector can learn from the experience of the game sector in the Netherlands and their interaction with sectors outside the creative industries. For example, for the healthcare sector we have used various initiatives to promote deeper co-operation, such as networking lunches, matchmaking events, joint proposals, living labs, co-creating prototypes and of course game jams. The use of games to design to potentially transform the use of current contexts is already underway. This ranges from the generation of awareness, critical reflection, to both incidental and intentional learning of skills, knowledge and behaviours in all contexts.
Crossovers also exist between the publishing and game sectors for making attractive e-products. Indeed at the core of applied game design lie three important guiding principles for aesthetics, robustness and usefulness. Multimodal interaction design is a significant area and both game design and narrative design offer many opportunities for the publishing sector. Narrative design in general and the transmedia storytelling area in particular also offer huge potential for new e-products and for crossover solutions.
Another area where game-design can offer potentials for making digital content more interactive and meaningful is that of education. Games are becoming a primary tool for engaging the imagination of learners. The collaboration between the games and publishing sectors can lead to the development of new e-products that meaningfully merge educational content and playful interaction.
But when it comes to research and innovation, game companies often use rather different production workflows then the publishing sector. However there are several potential overlaps in the overall process from composition to production. This applies of course to the design of new products but less obviously to new opportunities to co-create and co-design new services and then to provide them to different sectors. Indeed for multimedia education publishers, the focus will move away from designing the content itself to co-designing the learning processes.
Crossovers in action
An excellent example of new approaches is that of Inanimate Alice, a transmedia storytelling platform that has been successful outside Europe, especially in Australia, Canada and the US. Set in a technology-augmented near-future, Inanimate Alice tells the story of a young girl who grows up to become a videogame designer at the biggest games company in the world. Inanimate Alice is written by the award-winning novelist Kate Pullinger and you can see Alice in action here.
With further integration from the applied games perspective, this initiative is now under active consideration for future European roll-out and funding and we would invite any multimedia educational publishers who are interested in joining this consortium to get in touch directly.
In February 2015, JamToday will organise its annual event in Brussels. At this event, the outcomes from the 2014 game jams will be presented. In addition to that, interactive sessions will be organised to introduce the audience to applied game design with concrete cases to exemplify what it means for other sectors. We will also present tools that can help non-game experts in evaluating the potential and effectiveness of an applied game. The event will be highly interactive and practical and we hope afterwards you will be keen to join the network.
If you are interested in learning more about applied game design or would like to run a game jam in your country, please visit the Jam Today website and come along to our conference in February 2015 in Brussels. Let’s build some bridges.
A note on designing contexts as interventions
Studies have outlined the importance of applying design methods to different contexts. Gamification, the use of game design elements in non-game contexts to motivate and rapidly increase user activity and retention has become popular and employed commercially in different contexts such as productivity, finance, health, education, sustainability, and news and entertainment media. Evidence of the potential impact is, as of yet, not well documented and awareness remains low, apart from key user groups such as large firms who are able to risk investment.
The question thus becomes how to devise a method for gameful design that is systemic, appealing to game-characteristic motivations, transcending the application of existing patterns and user-centric. Deterding, Dixon, Khaled and Nacke  suggest that using skill atoms as a design lens to structure a system around challenges inherent in the users’ goal pursuits fulfils just these criteria.
Given the above issues, we must therefore move to designing contexts as interventions, informed by applied game design, and sufficiently addressing the necessary complexity that arises. Historically, educational titles have used gaming elements as a separate reward for completing a learning content. The early ‘edutainment‘ sector tagged games onto learning content. However these methods proved to be ineffective  and have been criticised for mixing the worst elements of games and education  and using extrinsic motivational design models.  Thus a more integrated approach that allows for intrinsic motivation and the comprehensive and critical use of game design and education is the way forward, as the recent white paper for the Whitehouse Office for Science & Technology Policy notes:
“[Games and game design for impact could become]…a marriage of the sciences of learning and motivation with the practice of game design to restructure not just interventions, but tools, environments and institutions in a playful and gameful manner so as to optimally enable and motivate the people that live with and in them”. 
 From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”http://gamification-research.org/2012/05/moving-outside-the-box-from-game-centered-interventions-to-playful-contexts/
 Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R. & Nacke, L. (2011) From game design elements to gamefulness: defining ‘gamification’, Proc. 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments (MindTrek ’11), ACM, New York
 Kerawalla, L., & Crook, C. (2005). From promises to practices: The fate of educational software in the home. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 14(1), 107125. In Habgood, M.P.J. (2007). The effective integration of digital games and learning content. Retrieved from http://steelminions.com/zd/Habgood%202007%20Final.pdf See also Trushell, J., Burrell, C., & Maitland, A. (2001). Year 5 pupils reading an “interactive storybook” on CD-ROM: Losing the plot? British Journal of Educational Technology, 32(4), 389-401. In Habgood, M.P.J. (2007). The effective integration of digital games and learning content. Retrieved from http://steelminions.com/zd/Habgood%202007%20Final.pdf
 Papert, S. (1998). Does easy do it? Children, games and learning. Game Developer, June 1998, 87-88. In Habgood, M.P.J. (2007). The effective integration of digital games and learning content. Retrieved from http://steelminions.com/zd/Habgood%202007%20Final.pdf
 Lepper, M. R. (1985). Microcomputers in Education – Motivational and Social- Issues. American Psychologist, 40(1), 1-18.
In Habgood, M.P.J. (2007). The effective integration of digital games and learning content. Retrieved from http://steelminions.com/zd/Habgood%202007%20Final.pdf See also Parker, L. E., & Lepper, M. R. (1992). Effects of fantasy contexts on children’s learning and motivation: Making learning more fun. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(4), 625-633. In Habgood, M.P.J. (2007). The effective integration of digital games and learning content.
 Deterding, S. (2012). Moving outside the box: From game-centered interventions to playful contexts. (White paper for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy). Retrieved from http://gamification-research.org/2012/05/moving- outside-the-box-from-game-centered-interventions-to-playful-contexts/ See also Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R. & Nacke, L. (2011) From game design elements to gamefulness: defining ‘gamification’, Proc. 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments (MindTrek ’11), ACM, New York