The ASPECT Games Hub Pathway

27th October 2023

Lauren Watson

Funded Project:
Games Hub Phase 3

We at the ASPECT Games Hub are delighted to share the central output of Phase 3 of the Games Hub project: the Games Development and Commercialisation Pathway. This pathway takes the form of a course on the getTWOit Platform, with 7 individual modules to complete, taking you through the entire process of creating an educational game (whether tabletop or digital), while bearing in mind the potential for commercialisation.

The Pathway was started as an idea to help academic researchers, including students and staff, build their first game. It provides advice to researchers who have minimal prior experiences with games in general, but there are plenty of tips throughout the course for those with more experience with games and games development as well. There are also multiple sections on commercialisation, which were included to help project longevity. In increasing awareness of the potential of academic projects to reach external audiences through commercialisation, we wanted to ensure those making the game understood how to ensure engagement with them and their needs. Video games, especially educational video games, have huge potential within higher education as evidenced by the myriad of university-based Games Labs throughout the UK, including the University of Glasgow’s Games and Gaming Lab which supported the development of the Pathway.

The pathway was also informed by the experiences and insight of the professional services team comprised of individuals from ASPECT universities across the UK. They advised on a number of elements included in the final pathway, especially where commercialisation and project planning were concerned. The initial pathway was envisioned as a far more linear course, wherein we would take users through each stage of making a game and have all of them building upon one another. There is still an element of this that remains in the final project, but games development proved to be much more complex, influenced by development structures in software engineering especially on the commercial level.

Beginning as a timeline of draft modules on Padlet, the Games Hub team hosted multiple meetings with the aforementioned professional services members, and organised a set of workshops to obtain feedback from key stakeholders in both academia and industry. By combining the experiences of both parties, we were able to ensure the veracity of the course’s content, and increase confidence in the academics who will come to use it. In refining those initial modules in the linear course, the pathway was split into three phases: planning, building and publishing. Subsequently, our workshops were designed around this, with the initial online workshop based on planning, and the last in-person workshop based on building and publishing the game. Both workshops were supported and hosted by our external games consultant Matt Leeper of Education Evolved, to whom I offer my thanks for all his fantastic work.

We also wanted to ensure the course was engaging, including multimedia elements (the infrastructure for which was provided by getTWOit which is the platform used by the Aspect Membership) such as infographics, downloadable tasks/quizzes, and videos. I’d like to take this moment to also thank our graphic designer and illustrator Sarah Ahmad of The Floating Designer, and our university videographers Kieran McCaroll and Andrew MacIver, for their fantastic work throughout in supporting our building of the pathway.

The feedback from our workshops proved to be immeasurably useful, with the first workshop on the planning phase of development helping us to concentrate on the importance of including external partners from the very inception of the project, to reassessing that linear structure of game creation. On the latter point, our participants highlighted how processes aren’t as linear with game development compared to typical academic project construction, and how the majority of a game’s development timeline will be taken up with testing. This was something we interrogated further as a point of curiosity, influencing the direction of our detailed timeline module where we help users plan out their development cycle. We chose to recommend to users in the first module, ‘Outlining Game Objectives’, to have a very rough plan of the timeline in place as is required in most funded, academic projects. Then, when it comes to in-depth planning and timelines, this could be informed by the clear goals and research done by users in the first two modules, ensuring a more realistic timescale for their project while not ignoring academic funders’ point-of-view.

The second workshop on building and publishing a game proved just as salient, where participants explained to us further how testing works. Our key industry stakeholders described how games development is more of a continuous iterative spiral, each stage of testing, reviewing and implementing building upon each other and encouraging the ability to ship an MVP (minimum viable product) as early as possible, and how this was influenced by software design principles. Great discussions were had on the day as to how this could fit into the needs of a higher education project, given the need for confidence in the aforementioned academic funders. Communication with teams and funders was thus a central concern that we emphasise especially in the building phase of the course, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and able to understand the needs of both team-members, and the game itself.

On that subject, the degree of testing required was something that I wasn’t aware was done so early on- especially on industry projects. Our stakeholders highlighted to us how testing can even begin when you have sketches and scrap paper, and any other objects to hand, and test your game out with the cheapest tools available. It hadn’t occurred to me that testing even internally would start so early, and thus be almost integrated into planning. Subsequently, we recommend our course’s users to consider the three central building modules (the iterative spiral; implementing game contents; and testing your game) to be considered all at the same time, rather than in linear order, to inform a healthy, well-informed and productive game development cycle. While all courses of course have a linear structure as modules need to be done one-after-the-other, we felt that being honest with our users and outlining to them clearly how game development differs, was the best way to approach this.

Throughout the creation of the Games Development and Commercialisation Pathway, we were supported through numerous KE/Knowledge Exchange events which we did in collaboration with our project Partner Mark Wong and his own fantastic work on INASSEM (Innovators Assemble). These took the form of fireside chats with internal and external academics, as well as industry partners, whether through direct interviews (and audience Q&As), or panels. Our partners offered views on their experiences with games and academia, especially SHAPE subjects, and what support higher education can give to smaller scale games projects, and how games can communicate effective messages concerning climate crisis. These chats were deeply informative, especially when witnessing the determination amongst so many members of the games research community to pair academia with external partnerships and prevent siloing, and the confidence we all have in the good games can do for education.

In pulling together all of this feedback and insight from our collaborators and partners, as well as the fantastic multimedia works by our partners, we come to our fully completed Games Development and Commercialisation Pathway. The modules may be linear, but we have communicated where needed where they converge on each other. Fundamentally, the organisation of creating any kind of game is up to you, and what your team needs; I hope that in this course I communicate that equally as well. Pertaining to those commercialisation sections, while commercialising should be thought of from the very beginning especially when it comes to audience testing and external partners, there will be advice in the modules as well if commercialising your project is something that comes about organically mid-project as well.

It’s been a fantastic journey to make this pathway, and I would like to offer again a huge thank you to all our generous contacts for their time and insight throughout the building process. I hope that you all find it as useful and informative to use the pathway as I did to make it, and if you do find it informs your project, we would love to hear from you!

The Aspect Games Hub Pathway Course can be found on the Aspect Members Platform here:

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