I'm writing this rant because this¬†Kickstarter has just come to my attention. ¬†As a bit of background, I'm working on a learning game called Codemancer, and consequently I keep a close¬†eye on the games for learning space,¬†especially games that teach programming principles.
I think we can all agree that a good game is hard to make. ¬†Even a team of fantastically talented and experienced game developers with infinite money can still make a bad game. ¬†There are an incredible number of books, courses, conferences -- hell, this entire website you're on -- all saying "games are really hard to make, but here's, maybe, a bit of advice that can help you."
And yet I see 'startup people' (aka technology entrepreneurs) assume that it's as easy as e-commerce. ¬†Some guy has an idea and thinks he's a game designer -- well, maybe he¬†is, but wouldn't it be smarter to find out with a small¬†project? ¬†Make something with a $0 budget and see if anyone thinks it's worth playing. ¬†Oh, but you just have this one epic game idea, and no others? ¬†That's easy, then. ¬†You are not a game designer -- at least, not yet.
Right now¬†I'm in the midst of making a learning game (they used to be called edu-games, but most things by that name were insipid, and the term¬†was jettisoned). ¬†Learning games are MUCH HARDER than entertainment games, because on top of all the difficulty of making something interesting to play, it also has to be teaching you something. ¬†The thing you're learning has to be what MAKES it fun, not an add-on bonus stage, or a gate that blocks you from having fun until you have answered this math problem.
So when I see a group of people attempting to make a learning game without anyone who calls themself a game designer¬†on the core team¬†(which is very very common, for some reason), it makes me sad. ¬†There are a few reasons I get sad:
1. This game is probably either going to be bad, or isn't going to get done. ¬†There's always a slim chance that it will be finished and good, but almost negligible.
2. ¬†If the game is finished¬†but bad, as most turn out to be, it will erode the already poor reputation of games designed for learning - just as we're starting to get a foothold!
3. ¬†In the worst case, the creators of the game know the horrible¬†truth: It doesn't actually need to be any good to make money. ¬†All it has to do is play to the anxiety of parents who want their children to succeed (citation).
4. ¬†There was an easy way to avoid this disaster -- get a game designer on your team (me, for instance -- I'm happy to help)!
Truly, I'm sorry to be negative about people joining the games industry. ¬†I really do want as many people as possible to make their voices heard. ¬†Please make games. ¬†Learning games are especially sparse, and I like to encourage people to make them for any and every learning goal. ¬†Please, make games for learning.
On the other hand, independently developed games,¬†and especially independently developed learning games, have very limited public attention and favor, and I'd rather that it not be spent unsustainably.
If you are an entrepreneur at heart, I recommend that you start a games company! ¬†This is a very different process from creating a game, and perhaps one that will make better use of your talents. ¬†Hire a talented game designer or two. ¬†Due to downsizing at nearly every major studio, there are quite a few on the market right now. ¬†You could also buy out a respected¬†indie studio in financial distress. ¬†Sit down with these people and come up with a game together (it's absolutely OK for you to be part of the creative process).¬† Get an experienced producer who can figure out how much money and time you will need. ¬†Let me know if I can help.