How to create games for learning

Online games can provide a unique opportunity to encourage learning while also being entertaining, engaging and enjoyable.

Our recent series of games for learning created for Cambridge University Press (CUP) has been used to consolidate language learning, gain feedback on users’ understanding and provide rewards at the end of learning modules.

Designing a good game

Creating an effective game requires a detailed plan from the start; covering gameplay, layout and design issues at an early stage will save a lot of time in testing and development in later stages.

ELT games

Key steps in the design process:

Generally, a simple concept will work best for casual games. There’s plenty of inspiration to take from the vast range of online games and apps as well as classic old arcade or home computer games. It is also essential to consider how the learning outcomes will be built into the game mechanics and the balance of skill versus education you would like to achieve.

Functional specification
Documenting how a game will work will help to develop the ideas and to see where issues may arise quickly. The specification should cover any interface elements required, the game controls, the content needed as well as all aspects of gameplay mechanics.

Strong visuals are important to make the game appealing to the target audience and in supporting the intended learning outcomes. It is also a good opportunity to see how the game concepts will work practically. Consideration should also be given to how the game will be displayed at different screen sizes.

Technical specification
It is a good idea to document how the game will be built to anticipate any challenges in the development process. This can include the technology that will be used, any dependencies (such as external libraries or frameworks), coding standards and management and which browsers and devices will be supported. It may also be useful to create diagrams of how the different game components will be divided up and communicate with each other.

Flexibility and reusing core content

Games are relatively involved in creating, so where possible it can be a good idea to consider how to maximise their potential or to explore ways in which they can be repurposed.

For the CUP project, the intention was to create a large amount of flexibility and reuse. This was achieved in several ways:

Different sets of images, sounds, fonts and colours could be created for each game and packaged into a theme. This meant that the same game could be presented in very different ways (for example an underwater theme, space theme or fantasy dragon theme) and targeted at different audiences.

Because the text, image and sound content used in the games could all easily be changed, an endless variety of learning objectives could be supported. This project included vocabulary, grammar, comprehension, reading and listening skills for different age groups and abilities.

To support both of these features, AV Studios created a content editor website that allowed users to quickly and easily combine different themes and content to create almost limitless new variations of games. Once completed, these game packages could be downloaded and added to the client’s website for players to access.

Other key considerations

Games can be complex to create, and there are a wide variety of issues to consider to ensure that they are robust and provide a positive gaming experience. It is crucial to have a plan in place for how to identify and rectify these issues.

Key considerations include:

Game functionality should be systematically tested across a wide range of browsers and devices. As well as physical phones and tablets a service such as BrowserStack can be useful in providing fast access to different platforms for testing. Provision should be made for the reporting, logging and fixing of any problems.

To ensure inclusivity, game design and development should consider players who may have a variety of physical or cognitive impairments. The W3C, BBC and others have created guidelines and suggestions for how to address these issues and to make sure games can be played by the widest audience.

Alternative View Studios’ games

We have over 20 years of experience in creating games and interactive content. We have adapted to continuously changing technological requirements and built on our conceptual, architectural and design knowledge to deliver a variety of fun and educational games.