Note: This column appears in the March-April issue of Forbes China, the Chinese-language edition of Forbes. Click here for the Chinese version. Robert Daugherty is the co-founder and executive director of Forbes Global Education.
With nearly one billion users worldwide and over 460 million active users in China, online gaming is one of the largest and fastest growing business sectors in the world. China ranks first with $27.5 billion revenues. The U.S. and Japan are second and third with revenues of $25.1 billion and $12.5 billion, respectively. The most notable rise in the ranking last year was India, which climbed from #20 to #17 with expected revenues of $818 million. The vast majority of India’s revenues, 78%, came from smartphone gaming.
In countries around the world, education is being deeply impacted by gaming. While historically a tough market to enter, technology and advances in learning sciences is forever changing this. Teachers have always had trouble striking the right balance between education and entertainment. The former is focused on improved learning outcomes while the latter is focused on making business profits. The complexity lies in some of the fundamental aspects of education and entertainment. Education can be time-consuming and can require patience to see the results. Entertainment typically requires near instantaneous stimulation. This is the case now more than ever with the exponential proliferation of entertainment choices. Thus, the trick shot in gaming is getting students to achieve learning outcomes without shorting the fun and making profits through it all.
The lynchpin of any training effort is engagement which is a learning game excels. The benefits that games can bring include developing strategic thinking, communication skills, strengthening social ties, making people happier, more creative, more resilient, and being able to lead others in world-changing efforts. Researchers have also proved that games can improve hand-eye coordination, social skills, and cross-cultural sensitivity, as well as better multitasking and teamwork skills in environments with constrained communication. These are all qualities that are important in today’s world.
Storytelling is usually applied to the games. Through narrations, the learning content is delivered in the game-based environment. As opposed to some traditional education tactics that could feel passive or dull, game-based learning engages and motivates students, allowing them to actively learn, acquire skills and build thought processes. Games draw students into virtual environments and make the connection between coursework and real-life work for students, preparing them for the real world once they graduate. Students learn the facts, but also the underlying course concepts, giving them a deeper understanding of the material and allowing them to see the realistic and unrealistic aspects of various topics.
Game-based learning in online courses enables instructors to introduce new concepts to students in an easily understood manner that gives them a “hands-on” type of experience. By exploring course concepts firsthand through games, students are forced to think critically and make decisions based on what they’ve learned.
In essence, “serious games” can be applied as an umbrella term for any game-based initiative that has an additional “serious” agenda. Serious games are designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. The “serious” adjective is generally prepended to refer to video games used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, and politics, and among which, education accounts for 43% of the total.
China is home to some of the largest gaming companies in the world, including Tencent and Netease. These and other Chinese companies are developing and acquiring games around the world. As the dominant player in the game industry in 2017 in China, it seems Tencent’s ambition is to take the lead in China’s serious games. It has also declared its determination to transform and upgrade Chinese gaming industry. So far, Tencent has decided to release five categories of functional games, which include traditional culture, frontier exploration, science and technology training, scientific popularization and parent-child interaction. Among them are both works of independent research and development, and outstanding serious games made by the domestic and foreign development teams.
Below are leading gaming companies around the world to keep an eye on.
Shanda Games, China
Perfect World, China
Tianrun Digital Entertainment, China
Activision Blizzard, U.S.
Valve Corporation, U.S.
Electronic Arts, U.S.
Rockstar Games, U.S.
One other Chinese company to watch is Tianrun Digital Entertainment, which declared recently that they are planning asset acquisitions in the culture and education industries. The leader of the company claims their hope to break the existing business pattern and build the “game + education” business model through acquiring the industry. By doing that Tianrun hopes to seize the chance in the evolution of the education.
Game-based learning has a number of serious benefits to students and as a result, you should expect to see leading companies developing innovative solutions and offerings in the future.