Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo Talk Edutainment So last month I picked a pet peeve to harp on and on and on about. I wanted to know why it is we don't see more educational video games for this next-generation of consoles. Why no awesome Math Blasters or Reader Rabbits or Typing of the Deads for the Playstation 3, Wii or Xbox 360. One thing I learned is that there are a few of those out there, but I still wanted to hear from the three console holders on the top. So I emailed Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony to see their take on number of prepared questions. All of which lead to my final question: Why not give away an educational game on your console? Hit the jump to read the answers from Denise Kaigler, Nintendo of America’s vice president of Corporate Affairs; John Koller, director of hardware marketing, SCEA; and XNA General Manager Boyd Multerer.Do you think educational games are a good fit for your console either via a standard disc title or downloadable title? Kaigler The response of consumers to games like Brain Age for Nintendo DS demonstrated to the entire industry that games with an educational theme were viable. Brain Age remains a top seller, which tells us people are hungry for different kinds of entertainment, including those that stimulate your brain. We have already seen Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree for the Wii console. Wii is a good fit for educational games because the pointing and motion-sensing abilities of the Wii Remote controller allow for more dynamic inputs than simply pressing a button. Koller Consoles and handhelds can be a great platform for educational games because they leverage advanced technology while providing an interface that’s intuitive to users. Teens and younger children in particular are familiar with how to interact with games on these systems, so whether it’s for entertainment or education, consoles and handhelds are a natural fit. As far as the medium, both disc and downloadable titles would be appropriate. Multerer As part of the XNA team, I don't want to speculate as to the overall strategy of the console. What I can tell you is that with Xbox LIVE Community Games, we're opening the floodgates to the community to create any type of game they want to see on Xbox 360, including educational games. What we've seen through programs like Imagine Cup, Dream-Build-Play, Games for Change and the Community Games beta is that developers are interested in making games that are educational and socially responsible, and we're now giving them a forum to do that and reach millions for the first time on any console. When Xbox LIVE Community Games launches as part of the new Xbox Experience this holiday, we fully expect to see fun titles that span the entire spectrum of gaming. That means we'll see games that intentionally have an educational focus like "City Rain," "Future Flow" and "Clean Up" which were all created by teams of university students to teach concepts of environmental sustainability. Why do you think educational games haven't really found their way onto the current generation of consoles? Kaigler I'm not sure about the overall reason, however, educational software on our portable Nintendo DS has gained a foothold. Games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy demonstrate that the public enjoys video games with educational themes. You also see a variety of third-party software with brain-training themes. Koller We’re still in the relatively early days of the current generation of consoles, and when you consider that PS3 will have a 10-year lifecycle, it takes time before secondary applications start to take shape. With the PSP, now in its fourth year of its lifecycle, there are educational games. We work with PLATO Learning, which develops educational software for children as part of its PLATO Achieve Now on PSP program. PLATO provides the software and PSP units to grammar schools that are interested in adding an interactive component to their curriculum. But it’s not just about math and science. Our first-party PlayStation 2 title, Eye Toy: Kinetic, provides fitness education, while our Buzz franchise has an educational component delivered through the more entertaining format of a quiz show. Multerer Up until recently, with the release of free development tools like XNA Game Studio, console games have been extremely expensive to make. They're expensive for developers and publishers alike, sometimes costing upwards of tens of millions of dollars, which means that everyone is less likely to take risks with new or unproven concepts. With Xbox LIVE Community Games, we're able to give those sometimes risky, experimental and innovative titles an opportunity to make their way to consumers at little cost to the developer. For the first time ever, Microsoft is opening the floodgates for those developers to prove that an educational game can be a blockbuster. Is your company currently developing any educational games for your platform? Kaigler It depends on how you're defining educational games. Games like Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir for Nintendo DS require a close attention to detail, while the upcoming Wii Music teaches about different musical instruments and can lead to a greater appreciation for music. Many other games require skills like problem solving or teamwork. And then you have software like the “Coach” series from Ubisoft that is designed to teach users something new, such as a language or vocabulary. They have My Spanish Coach, My French Coach, My Japanese Coach, My Word Coach and even My Weight Loss Coach. Nintendo’s upcoming Personal Trainer: Cooking for Nintendo DS helps people out in the kitchen and can even teach you to make new dishes. The “educational” label can apply to all kinds of games. Koller Yes, see above. Multerer Again, I don't want to speak to the overall console strategy, but what I can say is that with Community Games we are leaving it open so that the community can create any type of game they want to see on Xbox 360, including educational games. We've already seen the beginnings of this, through programs like Imagine Cup, Games for Change, Dream-Build-Play and the Community Games beta. These programs have proven that developers are interested in making games that are educational and socially responsible, and we are excited to bring them a forum to do more of this and reach millions for the first time on a console. When Xbox LIVE Community Games launches as part of the new Xbox Experience this holiday, we fully expect to see fun titles that span the entire spectrum of gaming. That means we'll see games that intentionally have an educational focus like "City Rain," "Future Flow" and "Clean Up" which were all created teams of university students to teach concepts of environmental sustainability. The concept of corporate social responsibility argues that a company should consider the interests of society in their business decisions, to go beyond basic obligations and on occasion do something for the greater good. Do you think that concept pertains to the gaming industry as well? Kaigler Absolutely. Nintendo works regularly with a number of charities, most notably the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation, which works to place video game consoles in children’s hospitals. Having video games on hand for kids helps reduce anxiety and boredom during hospital stays. Koller Corporate social responsibility absolutely applies to the gaming industry. One great example of how SCEA is contributing to society is our partnership with Folding@home, which enables PS3 owners to offer the computing power of their system to support research into fighting diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Multerer Whether we have a responsibility to consider the greater good or not, Microsoft has been a leader in this space by working with game creators to provide the resources and tools necessary to create games that positively impact society. What we've seen through programs like the Imagine Cup, Dream-Build-Play, Games for Change and the Community Games beta is that developers are interested in making games that are educational and socially responsible, and with Xbox LIVE Community Games, we're giving them a forum to do that for the first time on a console and reach millions. When the Community Games channel launches as part of the new Xbox Experience this holiday, we fully expect to see fun titles that span the entire spectrum of gaming. That means we'll see games that intentionally have an educational focus like "City Rain," "Future Flow" and "Clean Up" which were all created teams of university students to teach concepts of environmental sustainability. Beyond that, Microsoft has always been a major proponent of working with academic institutions globally to help train the next generation of game developers. Our schools are having a harder and harder time recruiting students who want to major in the computer sciences. A study by UCLA found that between 2000 and 2005, the percentage of incoming undergrads who indicated they would major in Computer Science dropped by 70 percent. Numerous other studies and stories show that the US IT industry will not be able to find the talent needed to continue to grow the industry - resulting in additional pressure for outsourcing. We have been working with universities to help reverse this trend by incorporating game development into their curricula with XNA Game Studio, and universities are responding very positively. What better way to excite the programmers of tomorrow than the opportunity to make their own games? I don't mean to say that these major efforts by Microsoft are entirely altruistic, this is a business, but we've been able to reach out in ways that open doors to aspiring developers and create opportunities for more socially responsible game creation, while ensuring that the best games continue to be made for Xbox 360. As the industry tries to grow by widening its user base and extend its reach past traditional hard-core gamers to parents and children, should companies invest in developing educational games for their console and sell them for little or even give them away? Kaigler That’s an interesting proposition. Our focus has always been on entertainment. Our WiiWare downloadable game service offers a great opportunity for companies large and small to create all kinds of games – educational games included – and offer them at a fraction of the cost of a disc-based game. We’ve already seen dozens of new WiiWare games from developers that have big ideas but smaller budgets. Koller If it fits a publisher’s business model, educational games can be a tremendous opportunity to both expand the traditional user base, while contributing to the greater good. Price is less of a concern than distribution, as retailers are more apt to give space to better selling genres. This is why digital distribution is such an exciting avenue for educational titles. Multerer We're already seeing that happen in many ways. Over the past year Microsoft has been supporting the development of educational games through programs like Imagine Cup and with organizations like Games for Change. We've also seen through Dream-Build-Play and the Community Games beta that developers are interested in making games that appeal to a whole new range of gamers, like parents and children, and we're now giving them a forum to reach those consumers in their living rooms. When Xbox LIVE Community Games launches as part of the new Xbox Experience this holiday, we fully expect to see fun titles that span the entire spectrum of gaming. That means we'll see games that intentionally have an educational focus like "City Rain," "Future Flow" and "Clean Up" which were all created teams of university students to teach concepts of environmental sustainability. Apple found great success by targeting schools in the 1980s with affordable or even donated computers for classrooms. Do you see a time when consoles could also find their way into classrooms as a valid educational tool? Kaigler Wii and Nintendo DS are focused on entertainment, but they also have plenty of software that people are using to enrich their lives in other ways, such as Brain Age and Wii Fit. Recently we also have seen a trend of libraries incorporating Wii into their programming. Koller They already have through PLATO’s work with the PSP and previously with the PSone and PlayStation 2. Multerer Absolutely. We have always believed that reaching out to universities and schools to integrate XNA development tools into the curriculum is fundamental to ensuring that great games continue to be created for Xbox 360. In 2005 we released XNA Game Studio, a set of development tools offering an approachable and affordable way for students and hobbyists to develop video games for Windows-based PCs and Xbox 360, and last year we announced that we would offer a free trial Creators Club membership for students and educational institutions, which we hope will help spark additional interest in game development and programming. The beauty of this program is that universities aren't required to have special hardware on hand that could potentially cost tens of thousands of dollars, but games created with XNA Game Studio will run on any retail Xbox 360 console. XNA Game Studio has seen a surge of momentum this past year with more than 1,000,000 downloads, adoption by nearly 700 academic institutions globally and the creation of more than nine books on the tools in development since its release in 2005. The programs are still extremely new, but the excitement we've seen from both the development and academic communities has been overwhelming and we only expect to build on that momentum with the launch of Xbox LIVE Community Games as part of the New Xbox Experience this holiday. We are heads and shoulders above our competitors in this space. We were the first to offer a free development toolset with XNA Game Studio, we are the first to pioneer full academic access to our next-gen console and development toolset, and we are pioneers in the space of community game development and user-generated content. More than either of our closest competitors we are providing the best, most accessible tools and the open game distribution channel over Xbox LIVE to ensure that the best games continue to be built for the Xbox 360 platform. Do you think that the industry’s console holders have a responsibility to create the sort of games that can be held up as an example of the positive influence games can have on children? Kaigler I think our vast library of games promotes a positive influence with kids. This library includes games that go beyond teaching the alphabet or multiplication tables. Wii and Nintendo DS have been at the forefront of the social gaming phenomenon. Friends play together and have fun. And the intuitive controls for our systems make them easy for anyone to pick up and play, which means different generations can play together. Games can open up the imagination, just like a good book or movie can. Koller LittleBigPlanet is exactly the type of game with the potential to be held up as providing a positive influence. The ability for gamers to create and share their own levels delivers a whole new level of interactivity in gaming that’s never been seen before. Children will be able to express their creativity in LittleBigPlanet, and perhaps we’ll see the game will drive some children to pursue a career in the videogame industry. Multerer Whether we have a responsibility or not, Microsoft has been a leader in this space by working with game creators to provide the tools necessary to create games for children that inspire learning and healthfulness. Not only have we supported programs like the Imagine Cup and Games for Change, worked with universities to incorporate XNA tools into the curriculum to help spark interest in design and programming for the next-generation of developers, and offered affordable tools and an accessible pipeline to anyone who wants to reach children and families with educational game content, Microsoft Research recently partnered with New York University (NYU) and a consortium of universities to launch the Games for Learning Institute (G4LI). The G4L Institute will study how educators can harness student predisposition toward technology to engage students and boost interest in math and science. The goal of this partnership is to identify, through scientific research, the key elements that make games fun and effective and translate those findings into the design and development of games as learning tools. The research will complement and extend existing research programs at NYU and Microsoft Research and will be shared broadly with researchers, game developers and educators in the hopes of pointing the way to a new era of using games for educational purposes.