In this post I want to describe concrete challenges of designers and marketeers of so-called “Serious Board Games”. In particular I want to describe the trade-offs designers face who create serious games for gamers rather than for educational institutions.
Educational games don’t have the best image among gamers. Both kids and adults tend to be scepticalof games that seem to have an educational agenda. If a game displays a certain moralistic message or is closely linked to reality, it might be perceived as educational.
Unfortunately educational or serious games have a bad reputation among gamers. Partly because many such games don’t have a solid gameplay. They often seem to be designed by pedagogues and not game designers, so the game mechanics are not always very convincing. Furthermore, many gamers want to immerse themselves into a new world, escape reality for an hour and engage in a different role. No wonder sci-fi and middle age are very popular themes for board games.
Thus, creating serious games for gamers is a very challenging endeavour. Designing a fun game is difficult enough, but one that is fun, conveys some real-world learnings and that does not scare off gamers is so much more complex.
4 hints to create serious games for gamers
Your game should be as fun as possible
Strongly favor fun and gameplay over educational content. You will often face trade-offs between the two. A game with 5% educational content and 95% fun will be played a lot more often and will thus most probably have more impact than a game with 5% fun and 95% educational content that hardly gets played.
Pick your theme wisely
Which impact or learnings do you want to convey with your game? Or awareness for a certain topic? Often, one can do so in a subtle way that will not put off gamers, namely by using irony or satire. The best example is monopoly. It was originally designed to critisize capitalism. However, it does so with an ultra capitalistic game where the richer player gets richer and the poorer get poorer. The irony is so perfect that hardly anyone will call Monopoly a serious game, especially not after being the most popular board game for many decades.
Furthermore, you may be able to convey your message even if you use a popular theme such as sci-fi, middle age, zombies. Remember, players like to act evil and competitive in a game.
Don’t market it as a serious game
As mentioned above, gamers won’t be thrilled if you do. So please avoid the jargon of pedagogues and speak the language gamers are used to. People should buy your game because it is a lot of fun and not because they want to learn something about the 15th century!
Make sure your game is replayable
Many serious games that are made to be used in educational institutions might lack replayability. That is ok, the student is forced to play it in class and will probably never play it again. So replayability isn’t really important for such games.
But you want to create a serious game for gamers, right? And gamers want to play games over and over again. So please make sure that your game is still fun after two or three game sessions. Are there different strategies to win? Are they balanced? Do players immerse into unique experiences?