Media and Learning 2011

What is the best business model for a learning game?

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Media and Learning Circle

Finding successful business models for media-rich learning games is a big challenge. Do you have ideas about how to cover the costs of educational gaming? Join our discussion to add your voice and share your experience about how best to use the power of gaming to support learning in sustainable business models.

Join the panelists:

Moderator: Steven Malliet, University of Antwerp, University College of Limburg, Belgium


Steven Malliet

Hi all, In preparation of the panel I think it can be highly useful to launch some online ideas / discussion threads - so that we can select from these the most interesting topics for real-life discussion. I think, when we are talking about the most viable business plans for educational or instructional games, there are a few issues that need to be addressed:

Steven Malliet

At the moment, which do you think are the most interesting or cooperative organisations to set up a partnership with for the development of an instructional game? I know in the past developers have made partnerships with government instances (from both cultural, educational and technological perspective) and educational organisations (like schools and publishers of educational books). Are there others that I forgot to mention? What are, in your opinion the main benefits / drawbacks of each type of partner mentioned? Is there any need for infrastructural changes to establish better cooperation between cultural/educational instances and artists/designers/game producers?

Steven Malliet

To what degree do you think existing business plans for commercial games could/should be applied to educational games? I know that many do not agree with a strict distinction being made between 'serious' and 'non-serious' games, and I perfectly understand their point. But I do think that, when it comes to promoting or positioning a game, we can make mention of two different markets or market segments. Do you think it might be useful for 'instructional' designers to apply a commercial logic to their games? To what degreee is it possible for a classroom game to be sold on the shelves as well? Also, from a deontological point of view, do you think aspects such as in-game advertisements and product placements might be used in educational games as well? Would such practices undermine the educational value of a game, or can it be considered a useful option for the future?

Steven Malliet

What are your thoughts on aspects like 'augmented reality', 'gamification', 'pervasive gaming' : new types applications that stretch the notion of a game to include practices that are different from the mainstream types games we've known for some time. What do you think is the potential included in such applications? It might break a barrier towards instances that are reluctant towards using games (for reasons documented elsewhere: games are not serious, teachers do not have the appropriate level of digital literacy, etc. ). Are we still talking about games, or is this somebody else's territory? At the moment, these are to me the most interesting issues that come up. But if you have other ideas, do not hesitate to add new topics to this list. Looking forward to reading your thoughts!


First of all I wish to point out the importance of education games:
Results of brain research and learning theories by Manfred Spitzer and Vera F. Birkenbihl proved that a learning process will be triggered with sustainable success if it belongs to personal experiences. Otherwise the acquired knowledge will be incorporated into short-term memory and disappears after a few weeks. The experiences are resulting by their own actions - reinforced by the recognition of the significance and intrinsic motivation. Therefore, I wanted to develop games that meets these requirements.

I think the biggest challenge is the game should be so exciting that the students play it with enthusiasm in their spare time - because they are spoiled by action games....

My next comment will describe my experience developing education games.

Swen Vincke

With Monkey Tales ( we have some experience in trying to monetize educational games targeted at kids as a consumer product, and our experience has been that the road to success is hampered by several issues which require significant investment to overcome.

-There's been so many low-quality releases by publishers looking for quick money that coming with a high-quality product sometimes feels like planting a tree in scorched earth - people have grown very wary of educational games that are available commercially (rightfully so imho) and it takes a lot of effort to convince them that your game is different. It also complicates raising visibility via media and distribution channels, who are equally wary.

-You need to convince both kids and parents of the added value of your game, otherwise you will not get the word of mouth that is essential in marketing games like this. It's one thing getting a game to be played in the class-room if the game is free, it's an entire different thing getting parents to pay for an educational game and getting the kids to enjoy playing it while still achieving the educational goal you may have. You also need to realize that other games may be competing with your game once you're in the context of a home.

-To achieve the goals of an educational game, you absolutely need to balance the fun with the learning, and while a lot has been written about the subject, it's an incredibly complex matter. We found that intelligent adaptivity is key, yet achieving it in such a way that the fun is not hampered is quite a challenge, and requires a lot of field testing. This further increases the cost of developing educational games, making it even harder to recoup in a traditional manner.

-Despite games being such a mainstream medium nowadays, you still have to overcome old-school stereotypical thinking that games are bad for you.

Our experience has been that once you make all of these investments, and manage to put the game in front of parent's noses, and they see their kids engaging actively with your game, a sale of the game can be made, but, it really takes a lot of effort to get to that point, and it raises the issue of what channels/platforms/places are the right ones to confront parents/kids with an educational game. I'd be very interested in discussing this particular point.


I agree with Sven. It is very difficult to develop educational games which the students like to play in their leisure time and learn a lot. This because they are spoiled by action games like egoshooter...
We made admissions to that in our second multi user online game "The merchant of Venice". They have to defense pirates and learn accounting - its like to walk a tightrope.
Another problem is to earn money developing educational games. It depends also from the medium. I think it might be easier if you sell it on a DVD. There you have the problem to make it well known and you have to invest a lot in marketing.
Our games are online games - available in the internet only. We integrated them in our platform for training of accounting ( Everybody can use this system for one week free. After this trial period the students pay only about € 8 for one semester.
But what they are doing is to regiter again using another short term email. I think they are used that everything in the internet must be free!
We are glad that the are using our platform - but we are forced to invest a lot in hardware and internet to enable the game with a good perfomance, because our games are very complicated and need a very strong database.
I think I will try to make my platform free and to look for sponsors. But I assume this way will also be not easy.

24 - 25 November 2011 Flemish Ministry of Education Headquarters, Brussels