Ian Bogost: Project Management: Avoiding Mistakes… If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now

Serious Games Summit DC 2005 Ian Bogost: Project Management: Avoiding Mistakes… If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

Bogost reminded the group that, despite the fact the room was arranged for a lecture, this is a roundtabe.

Why is an academic talking about project management? “After all, uiversities are not exactly known for finishing things.”

About a third of the audience self-identified as game developers, about a third were educators, a smaller group were owners or investors in serious games projects. Dealing with the diverse needs of a heterogeneous group is one of the most challenging situations I face as a teacher.

Bogost’s talking points:

What’s different? Budgeting, Expectations, Stakeholders, Testing, Deployment, Integration, Other Stuff?
Topics called out from the audience: Distributed teams, risk-averse environments, creativity, production pipelines, efficiency.Some initial tension between the creativity of the designers and the accuracy of the instructional content. An instructional designer noted “There is no such thing as an educational game model,” while there are educational models for other media.

A woman who said she is from a story-basted instructional design company says start with the learning objectives, moves to what she called the “story envelope,” but trying to get away from the opening exposition, a game that has little to do with the story, and then a final story. Bogost noted (without naming) the position of ludologists (who say that games are not fundamentally storylike).

Instructional designers in attendance said they need more game literacy. One member noted, in jest, that “Instructional designers suck all the fun out of the game.”

One speaker spoke of three champions in the mix – the game design champion, the instructional design champion, and the subject matter champion

Another speaker invoked David Letterman, who says if you ever learn anything on his show, then he’s lost you. Game designers don’t worry about learning outcomes

Another speaker noted that a serious game is selling a concept that the game will improve learning, and that the outcomes must be evaluated, while the outcome in commercial games is determined through sales. In a conventional design situation, a particular feature might be cut for time, but certain features in serious games simply aren’t optional

At this point, Bogost asked a very good question. Is a particular instructional component just another constraint, or is it qualitatively different from other constraints

I noted that, while you might want to evaluate the success of a game based on how many copies you sell, simply spending money is never the intention of a game customer. In a similar way, the creators of a serious game will have a different objective than the players (who may not want to play a game at all)

Budget: One participant mentioned that 3D prototyping must be “evangelized” so that funders can see the value of that particular technique.
Expectations: When speaking of working in risk-averse environments, Bogost noted the importance of going to the top of the organization. One participant warned that, once you educate the stakeholders about the potential of serious games, a problem is that the decision-makers suddenly develop high expectations – but typically that happens after the developer has committed to the project.
I noted that, as a verbal thinker, I was interested in the assumption lurking behind so much of the activity here that better graphics and more polygons equals a more realistic game, which by definition is a better teacher. But I noted that today’s young people are also interested in animation. For example, we need an abstracted version of an atom in order to understand the forces at work inside an atom. I suggested that we shouldn’t forget about the power of abstraction to teach basic concepts. (Bogost gave a thumbs up and said, “Inform text adventures!” The participants seemed to like that.

On the difference between simulators and games – good simulators depend on outside knowledge, while a good game teaches you how to play the game (through a context that uses rewards and penalties to get the user to modify his or her behavior). Bogost introduced James Gee’s definition of the difference between games and simulation, though Bogost himself holds that there is no fidelity to the outside world in a simulation (and then, after dropping that bomb on the audience, rather comically changed the subject).

A comment from someone sitting next to me — designers make games too difficult, because they are typically expert gamers themselves, and they tweak a game until it holds their own attention. The gameplay may be too hard for the intended audience to learn

Developers noted the difficulty of testing their games on their intended audience, but in response to a question that Bogost and I asked at almost the same time, who in the room has funded such research? The crickets chirped in the room, two hands crept up, but when Bogost called on one, the speaker simply asked, “Where’s the money for that kind of research?”

Bogost will run a similar roundtable tomorrow.