Freemium - Tricks of the trade or legitimate practice?

It may seem somewhat ironic but the Internet has disrupted the traditional business models of the computer games industry just as it has many other industries.

The ability to distribute data electronically as opposed to on a physical disk has been an undoubted boon for many suppliers of digital or digitise-able content. It has also provided great benefits to the end consumer.

Not only does the Internet allow gamers located in different continents and time zones to communicate and play each other in real time, it also provides an efficient way of acquiring upgrades, expansions and even bug fixes to the original game software. Modern games consoles provide a platform which assumes a hybrid online/physical disk model.

These days of course gaming is big business not just on the traditional platforms and computers, but also on mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones - all of which have an Internet connection.

Playable game demos have always been important for the marketing of new computer games and magazines have been distributing demos on cover mounted cassette tapes, disks and later CDs and DVDs for almost as long as the industry has existed.

In is therefore no surprise that the playable demo has used the Internet as a means of distribution.

Combine the notion of online program upgrades and the idea of the playable demo and you get the 'Freemium' model as it applies to the computer games industry.

A player can acquire a basic form of a game for little or no money and have a play. If they enjoy the game and wish to experience more, they can expand the games parameters by paying for an upgrade from within the game's own interface (and 'in-game' or 'in-app' purchase).

The Freemium model for digital content is widely used in a number of industries. Many online newspapers for instance will provide a certain amount of information for free, but require an upgrade to read deeper.

There has however been much debate around the freemium model as applied to computer games, and especially those which appeal to younger children. Recently the Office of Fair Trading warned the games and online application industry of what it perceived as "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices" amid concerns that they could irresponsibly coerce children to pay to continue playing.

There is obvious concern over potential for children to spend or run up bills on in-game or in-app purchase.

It is yet one more area of online safety which parents and teachers will need to educate their children about. But like many aspects of e-safety, much of the learning is about ensuring that usual practice and knowledge is understood when contextualised within the online world. If a child has no concept of money or cost then what hope do they have of understanding a virtual purchase.

While it is undoubtedly possible to cite cases of some app and games providers applying a cynical approach to exploiting in-app purchases by bamboozling the end user into making purchases, the model when used responsibly is a legitimate mainstay of the software publishing sales strategy.

The freemium model is here to stay and is comparable to the way in which we pay for utilities per metered unit or cell phone call time through pay as you go.

One of the reasons that app and games producers use the freemium model is because it provides some kind of defence against the rampant piracy that the software, games, music and movie industry has suffered. Piracy is now so common place that many people simply expect all digital content to be free of charge and show little respect for the talent, energy, time and cost which goes in to producing it.

And yes, once again it is our responsibility to teach young people about piracy in the same way we would talk to them about theft of a physical item.

For teaching resources on gaming or online piracy, visit the E-safety Support Lesson Plans and E-safety Support Assembly Plans

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on October 10, 2013 18:48

Game-based Learning

“The difference between mere doing and learning, or between mere entertainment and learning, is not a difference in terms of activity. It is not that one is mindless and the other thoughtful, that one is hard and the other easy, or that one is fun and the other arduous. It is that learning – whatever form it takes- changes who we are by changing our ability to participate, to belong, to negotiate meaning. (Wenger 1998)

In recent years there has been a considerable increase in interest surrounding the use of computer games for learning, mainly as a consequence of their ubiquitous nature among school-age students - ask any typical class ‘who plays computer games?’ and you’ll be unlikely to have any student without their hand up. Indeed, in a BBC research study carried out in 2005 it was found that 78% of 16-19 year-olds play computer games and 87% of 8-11s and 88% of 12-15s played games on a games console at home in the UK.

Without a doubt, the attention and focus that games can command from students must be the envy of any teacher, couple this with their incredible power to motivate young people and instil in them a strong desire to progress and improve and the question that has to be asked is “what if we could somehow capture and use the thirst to learn that games manifest within their players, in our classrooms?”

It is with the aspiration to tap into this high-level of engagement that educational computer games are now finding their way into teachers’ resource kits; however, what are the skills and attributes that students can learn from game-based learning?

Observed and anecdotal research has demonstrated that engagement in computer games provides far more developmental benefits than just refined hand to eye coordination, offering genuine progression in spatial awareness; resource organisation; team-working and communication; literacy improvement and a variety of problem solving skills as well as encouraging players to reflect on their on-going performance within the gaming environment.

Research also suggests that playing computer games can encourage students to deepen and broaden their learning experiences by developing their awareness and interest in other external subject content. In their article entitled ‘Public Pedagogy through Video Games’ (2009) Gee and Hayes describe the experiences of a young girl called ‘Jade’ who, developed her ‘Photoshop’ skills by designing ‘virtual’ clothes, for characters within the video game ‘The Sims’, which gave her advanced graphic design skills and by selling the clothes through an online store, also encouraged her to gain commercial knowledge and awareness too.

So, if games can offer so much to education why isn’t there a rush to adopt the beneficial aspects of gaming in formal schooling? Well, here lies the problem! Research has clearly shown that the advantages of game-based learning are primarily situated outside of traditional pedagogy, the learning process and achievements manifesting themselves as incidental consequences of an activity rather than the main learning objective. This process is termed ‘informal learning’ and incorporating it into traditional school-based pedagogy has been shown to be fraught with difficulties due to:

• Games not being an easy fit into school culture, curricula and practices,
• A reluctance, within traditional communities of practice within schools, to embrace fundamental changes to teaching and learning practice as a consequence of the historically strong and deep links to long-established pedagogy,
• A lack of knowledge of the learning potential of games within teaching communities, indeed a lack of knowledge of games, period!

As a result of these points, a large number of attempts to incorporate games into the school curriculum have been unsuccessful, in spite of valiant efforts by innovative teachers and the gaming business due to the games that are solely created with the intention to educate failing dismally to engage their audience, the perception that genuinely engaging games don’t offer sufficient academic value and their inability to correlate well with the school curriculum

That said, there are those, however, who continue to believe that games can be introduced into a rigid, curriculum-lead school environment.

‘Serious Games’ are games that have commercial gameplay and game environment but have genuine academic content fundamentally designed into them. An example of this type of educational game is ‘The Small Business Game’, developed by the same company who retail the previously mentioned ‘The Sims’ range of games. In this game, participants run a football retail shop and the focus is on the learning of students whilst maintaining the ‘feel’ of a commercial game that students will be more familiar with.

Another method that has been employed to introduce games into the curriculum is the use of game-making software as the curriculum. ‘Thinking Worlds’ is a good example of this, whereby games design becomes a subject with formal curricular accreditation. An additional example is ‘Missionmaker’ from ‘Immersive Education’ a game design environment that is endorsed by one of the top three UK awarding bodies.

It would therefore seem that games can play a role within the academic setting; however, it also appears that there is a long and complex path to tread to progress game-based learning from just another teaching resource to being a fundamental conduit to inspirational, engaging and motivational learning. As a final thought, there is a steadily increasing number of educationalists who believe that the benefits and opportunities offered by game-based learning is signalling a tipping point whereby the victorian model of education that has endured to the present day, must finally move aside to allow the creation of a system that has new technologies, such as games, at its very core and that can stimulate 21st century students with genuinely exciting and inspiring learning.

If you have any comments or teaching tips on game-based learning, please contact E-safety Support using the form below

Written by Steve Gresty on August 21, 2013 08:01

Gaming Addiction

As teachers, we regularly come across some of the hazards of the addictive qualities of computer games. I'm sure you will be familiar with the students who enter the classroom in a dream-like state, collapse into their chair and promptly put their head down on the desk and when you enquire as to the reason for their exhausted condition they mumble something like "I was playing 'Call of Duty' until 1am". Similar situations, such as the one described above, are played out in classrooms across the country and I'm sure that student's obsession with computer games is one of the main reasons that homework does not get completed on time.

There is, however, a more sinister consequence to gaming addiction.

In 2007, a 13 year old Vietnamese boy from Hanoi strangled an 81 year old woman for just $6.20. When the police interviewed him he said he needed the money to fund his obsession of playing online games.

In 2008, a teenager from Ohio, Daniel Petric, was convicted of shooting his mother and father because they had forbidden him to play 'Halo 3'. In court, Daniel's Defence Attorney stated that he was obsessed with the 'Halo' series of video games, which he played 18 hours a day when he had the chance!

In 2012, an online 'Xbox live' skirmish pushed a 17 year old to exchange his joystick for a knife and a gun, enter 20 year old Kevin Kemp's home, shoot at him and stab him 22 times.

Research, such as the study that was carried out by Chih-Hung Ko, a neurobiologist at the Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital in Taiwan, and colleagues in 2008, has proved that the extreme desire to play that gamers, who are obsessed by their favourite games, demonstrate, has the same neurological symptoms as drug addicts craving their next fix. The scientific study discovered that under MRI imaging the same areas of the brains of gaming addicts 'lit up' as those of addicts craving narcotics.

Dr. Ko's research was carried out as a consequence of the fact that there are now well over ten million people engaged in the online game 'World of Warcraft' and game statistics have exhibited that some players are spending incredible amounts of time playing the game - some spending 16 to 20 hours a day engaged with the game. This frequently results in their personal life acutely diminishing, they lose touch with their family and friends and their health deteriorates rapidly.

The phenomena of gaming addiction is increasing so rapidly that in the United States an online group, 'On-line Gamers Anonymous' ( www.olganon.org) has been set up with the aim to help gamers recover from personal issues that have arisen from excessive game-playing. Through an online community of recovering gamers, family members, friends and concerned others, OLGA hopes to support those at the early stages of addiction but encourage professional help to players who maybe exhibiting more serious symptoms. OLGA also exists as a one-stop shop for the gathering and collating of information and research on this new and not necessarily fully understood condition.

It would be easy to dismiss gaming addiction in young people as purely extreme self-indulgence by immature, lazy, teenagers who need to get a grip and concentrate on 'real life'. With the considerable number of people around the world now playing computer games however, coupled with the highly addictive qualities that game designers engineer into their creations, this attitude would appear to be remiss and irresponsible as plainly the condition of gaming addiction is very real and set to increase at a rapid pace. It is imperative therefore, that more research needs be carried out to fully understand what triggers the condition and to discover what are the best methods of treatment.

As teachers, it is our job to offer information, awareness and knowledge and to educate people, both young and old, of the dangers becoming addicted to computer games, to ensure that individuals can recognise if they themselves or a friend or relative are demonstrating symptoms that could indicate that their passion is becoming a dangerous addiction.

To assist you in preparing for your lesson or assembly plan on gaming addiction here are some helpful websites:

www.video-game-addiction.org - This is a great American site that offers advice to both parents and teenagers on the condition. It offers an explanation of the addiction, describes the symptoms in both adults and teenagers, the different consequences of the condition and possible treatments.

www.videogameaddiction.co.uk - Although this is a commercial site (part of ADT Healthcare) it contains a lot of detailed information that is clearly explained. There is also additional information on Internet Addiction.

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wlmj0 - This BBC Panorama site contains some excellent short videos that would be really useful to break up the pace of a lesson and clearly show how computer games affect some people.

www.newvision.co.ug/news - This article describes the deceptive behaviour that some computer game addicts can exhibit. It describes how the condition impacted on children, and one child in particular, in a village in America. It is interesting as it describes the different perceptions of both parents and a primary school teacher.

If you would like to share your teaching tips on tackling this with your students, please add your comments below. Alternatively, visit our lesson plans and assembly plans page for ready-to-use teaching resources supporting this topic.

Written by Steve Gresty on July 18, 2013 10:16


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