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I and the rest of the PIXELearning team that have Twitter accounts have been engaged in a bitter war for a few weeks now on Spymaster.

See http://playspymaster.com

The game involves acquiring assets & cash and basically killing other users. It is buggy, has annoying traits, little instructions and yet we cannot stop using it.

It has also, I wager, seriously subverted the Twitter platform. Two weeks ago I had about 66 Twitter followers. After signing up for Spymaster, just 2 weeks later I had 188. None (I guess) of these new followers know me or care about my Twitter posts. I wonder what the guys at Twitter make of this? Great boost for their platform or worrying abuse of it?

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It was refreshing to see the Daily Mail taking a constructive stance on the game industry over the weekend, even if the issue at hand was not a positive one.

The article – in The Mail on Sunday – highlighted the fact there are now several dozen ‘video game’ degrees being offered by UK universities (over 80 I believe) but that only four of these are accredited by the industry sector skills council, SkillSet, resulting in a host of, as the Mail put it; “Mickey Mouse degrees with little job relevance.”

Having written about this subject previously and as some one who was involved in a small way in the SKillset initiative and as an external industry reviewer of one institution’s curriculum I find this depressing. The UK is poised to be churning out several thousand ‘game degree graduates’ each year for a UK industry that currently employs less than ten thousand people in all capacities. There are far too many universities which are mashing together existing computer science and creative modules together and marketing them as being relevant to the games industry. At the same time companies are crying out for talented, motivated and well-trained people and cannot fill key position…at least not without paying ridiculous salaries.

Employers need graduates with specialisms e.g in 3D modelling, mathematics, physics or script-writing. Universities are providing courses that cover practically every job function in the industry meaning that whilst graduates may have an appreciation of all the different roles, they are equipped for non of them and thus place a heavy responsibility on companies to provide a huge amount of training for new hires.

Whilst the remit of educational institutions is to ‘educate’ not to train (e.g. in specific software packages) – and we must not ignore this – it is painfully apparent that there is a gross mismatch in courses which are supposed to equip graduates with the skills they need to gain employment and the real world needs of employers in this sector.

Until this matter is resolved, thousands of motivated and talented young people face having their dreams dashed and many companies will struggle to be competitive. When you consider that the cost of undertaking a degree can be calculated at £100,000 through loss of income, fees and living costs and that employers will increasingly need to offshore work in order to deliver then clearly this situation is failing UK Plc and needs to be tackled urgently.

Grand Prix Tycoon

Two associates of PIXELearning, Rob James (a.k.a. ‘RobotJam’ – see www.robotjam.com) and Robbie Woodhead, worked together to create a fun take on business simulation with a F1 themed bit of frivolity.

Their Flash-based game, called ‘Grand Prix Tycoon’ is freely available on the following URL:

http://www.mousebreaker.com/games/grandprixtycoon/play.php

Is the business simulation model of worthy of MBA level business training? Probably not. Could you integrate it into a conventional corporate training programme…debatable.

Would it serve as an excellent intro to business concepts and enterprise training? Absolutely! Is it fun to play? You bet!

I won’t reveal their budget for this but rest assured you would be amazed – further evidence that the use of games and simulations for learning need not be a big expense.

Jude Ower of Digital 2.0 ( www.digital2point0.com) sent me a link to a good article on the BBC site about the UK game industries skills needs. One issue it covers is around the apparent overabundance of game degree courses and the disparity between the course programmes (and focus areas) and the actual day to day needs of employers in the game industry.

I found this particularly interesting as we are involved with several universities in the UK, EU and US such as Coventry University, Warwick University, Huddersfield University and The University Of Michigan and, as CEO of PIXELearning, I am frequently asked to validate proposed courses, find placements for students or to partake in skills surveys.

There are very many games degrees courses in the UK but my perception is that most are simply nebulous amalgamations of existing course modules which are hastly thrown togther under the banner of ‘Computer Games Degree’ in a cynical attempt to attract students to the university in question.

Article link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7460870.stm

VNU’s ‘Tech Talk’ (www.trainingmagevents.com) is one of the few email newsletters that I am subscribed to that I actually get around to reading these days. Today I broke my Tech Talk ‘virginity’ with an email response to the following post….

GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME

A reader is wondering what kind of games others are incorporating into their e-learning programs. “I’m looking for activities that break up the training a little bit, perhaps adding some levity where appropriate. But at the same time, these games should serve to reinforce the curriculum’s learning objectives. I’m looking for options that we could apply specifically to online delivery scenarios.”

Whilst this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask – especially if the poster is unfamiliar with what is happening in our cosily (still) niche serious virtual immersive games-based simulation worldsindustry (note: irony), I think this is the perfect example of where those of us that preach about the potential of serious games et al should be piping up to help move our learning and development colleagues forward.

Here is my response….

“The statement (e.g. “looking for activities that break up the training a little bit”) suggests that the assumption is that “the training” is, perhaps, somewhat tiresome to work through and that, therefore, a (fun) game element will serve as a refreshing interlude. Whilst this is by no means a bad thing, how about thinking about using ‘serious games’ (or immersive simulations) in a more central role within your learning strategy? “

“If your subject domain includes a describable environment, process, or system that can be simulated, and in which goal-orientated scenarios can be embedded, then games/sim are the missing bit of the training jigsaw for fostering true learner mastery. By all means use discreet, high-energy ‘frame games’ (e.g. the typical game show format) as motivational jolts, but don’t expect these alone to deliver a significant tangible impact.”

We can hold Serious Games and Virtual Worlds conferences and techfests for eternity, but it is genuine everyday needs like this that offer the best potential for establishing a sustainable beachhead in what is, lets face it, a skeptical and risk-averse mass audience still.

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