I. Context II. Objective III. Seminar IV. Workshop

Seminar 2011

"GamesforNature" Seminar & Workshop 2011

November 8th - 9th 2011, Cambridge, U.K.

By Bruno Monteferri, Lucy Erickson, Bill Adams and Chris Sandbrook

I. Background and Context

Video games have become a vast business (worth $29 billion worldwide in 2005, $42 billion in 2010), and gaming plays an important part of the lives of significant numbers of people across the world. The statistics show that:

500m people play online games for at least an hour a day, and the number is expected to grow to 1.5 billion in the next decade (McGonigal, 2010)

People spend 3 billion hours each week playing online games.

The average age of gamers is 35 (Perry, 2006)

By the age of 21 American children have spent 10,000 hours playing games, as much time as they have spent in class from fifth grade (McGonigal, 2010)

Farmville is played by 80 million people.

During the past years, new trends in the gaming industry have emerged. These include the development of a large industry of ‘serious games’ and the use of gamification strategies in various novel scenarios. Conservation organisations and game development companies have already started to use games as part of nature conservation strategies. Recently, Conservation International has launched Ecotopia, an online “game with a social conscience” on Facebook and through it 25,000 trees have been planted in Brazil, the same number of trees planted in the virtual world.Fate of the World, a game developed by Red Redemption has triggered debate about the implications of ‘games going green’.

Within this context, Bill Adams (Moran Professor at the Department of Geography), Chris Sandbrook (Lecturer in Conservation Leadership at Cambridge University/UNEP-WCMC) and Bruno Monteferri (recent graduate from the MPhil in Conservation Leadership from Cambridge University) applied for a grant from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative). The funding support provided by CCI allowed the team to undertake some preliminary research between September and October 2011 and organize two events in November to discuss the opportunities and implications of using games for nature conservation purposes.

II. Objective

While the implications of the expansion of gaming for society are widely discussed, the implications - both risks and opportunities - for nature conservation have been little explored. In this context, we decided to organize a public seminar on November 8th with the aim to provide a space to foster reflection on this issue among a large audience of potential interested people mainly based in Cambridge, and a full day workshop on November 9th with a smaller group of people to discuss the topic in more detail.

Some of the key questions that guided this research include the following:

  • How will games affect the way we think about and interact with nature (and conservation challenges) in the real world? Does immersion in virtual worlds (from Pokemon to Avatar’s planet of Pandora) erode engagement with real world nature and the threats to it? Will virtual nature start to outshine living nature in the eyes of a game-obsessed world? Or can games engage a generation who have already lost contact with wild nature?
  • What stories do online games tell about our relationship with nature? Can nature or conservation be represented in computer games in exciting and true ways? Can games help explain the complex ecological and political interactions as well as the forces that lead to the loss of species and habitats, and the impoverishment of local people?
  • Could skills and aptitudes developed in gaming contribute to conservation? Will the use of games for nature conservation result in more activism and philanthropy?
  • III. GamesforNature Seminar
         Summary and Notes

    8th November, 2011

    A Seminar was held on 8th November 2011 at Cripps Court, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. A series of talks by conservationists and game developers was followed by a panel discussion.

  • i) Games for nature conservation: An introduction, Bruno Monteferri and Chris Sandbrook, Geography Department, University of Cambridge.

    Bruno and Chris provided a snapshot of the current gaming universe and its potential for biodiversity conservation, and raised some questions about how conservation organisations are using (and could use) the medium and its positive and negative implications. Their presentation can be viewed by clicking here.

  • ii) The importance of games in contemporary society: Why should conservationists be talking about games? Tadhg Kelly, blog author (http://whatgamesare.com) and games consultant.

    Tadhg believes that the fact that games are a popular and growing industry is not necessarily reason enough for conservationists to try and create their own game. There may be other mediums more suitable to the transmission of conservation messages, and many people who play games do not consider themselves “gamers” and have many other hobbies. However, games deliver a level of interactivity different than other mediums, and it is this that conservationists should care about.

  • There are 5 common mistakes that conservationists might make when designing games:

  • 1. Earnestness

    A game must be fun and entertaining above all else. Otherwise, people are not going to pick it up, play it for any length of time or pass it on to their friends. Unfortunately, many concepts and messages in environmental games are not only boring to play and disrupted by forced elements of learning but their messages make people feel guilty and unlikely to play again. An example of this is Conservation International’s game Ecotopia, which was very well marketed but saw a rapid fall in its users so that currently only 4,000 members are active.

  • 2. “The Media Bubble”

    Some games are great ideas, very engaging, and insightful. However, if they are only played by people who are already part of the “games for good” community they will not go any further. Games may not market themselves by going viral, and the old ways of marketing (press releases by gaming magazines, etc.) are no longer the top ways to market. It is important to have a marketing strategy for any conservation game, and be prepared to compete in a professional game market.

  • 3. “Behaviourism gone wild”

    Games that simply add points to every possible action (“gamification”) gets boring vey quickly. This is not a sustainable way to create a game. People will quickly be able to identify the fastest way to gain points and ‘game the system.’

  • 4. “Secret Sauces”

    A ‘secret sauce’ is the magical ingredient that makes a game fun and popular. The secret is that secret sauces do not exist. Game elements that appeal to some people will not appeal to others. For example, only 4% of people who start using the Foursquare “checking-in” application will continue to use it more than a handful of times.

  • 5. “Vanity Metrics”

    It is incredibly important to identify a measurable set of objectives and metrics for evaluating the success of a game. Beware of vanity metrics which measure success in an irrelevant category that doesn’t actually reflect the true success of a game in terms of uptake, continued play, financial success, and outreach success.

  • So, it is important to talk about games on games terms. What does this mean? It means paying attention to the following categories:

  • 1. “The Play Brain”

    The brain may be divided into two halves, but no matter how beautiful a game is, players will stop playing it when they stop being engaged with it as a fun puzzle.

  • 2. “The Roles”

    It is important to have clear role for players to identify with from the start. Having a game where you play a bin man is straightforward – a game where you play a conservationist trying to identify the correct people to talk to about global warming becomes too convoluted and people will lose interest.

  • 3. “Extensibility”

    Can people play your game forever? Angry Birds might seem really simple, but it has 500 levels and counting.

  • 4. “Winning”

    The joy of winning and of mastering game components are incredibly important. You need to make your players have the following train of thought, “I understood the problem, I figured out the best solution, I beat it, and I won!”

  • 5. “Synchrony”

    Most people play single player because it is hard to fit a multiplayer game into a busy schedule. Also, live multiplayer games that are constantly playable need to have many participants online at all hours.

    Considering that entertainment must come first, learning will soak in and be picked up accidently. Messages do not need to be extremely overt and earnest, and good games are hard and expensive to create, so ¨the way forward may be to insert subtle conservation themes into pre-existing games¨.

  • Tadhg Kelly´s full presentation can be viewed here.
  • iii) The emergence of serious games and the case of Fate of the World. Ian Roberts, game developer with Red Redemption.

    Ian believes ¨the best strategy is to expand pre-existing games to add serious topics so that people come away with some extra learning instead of creating games focused solely on the conservation message¨. Players should be able to discover – they do not want to be lectured or preached at. Innovative games take a long time and can be challenging to create and perfect. However, finding an unlikely audience can be much more valuable for a cause than preaching to the choir. Based on his experience with Fate of the World, he said that forums are an amazing place to watch your players discuss the game content, especially if that game content is relevant to real-world challenges. For example, the forum for Fate of the World has people talking about issues, getting familiar with terms and talking about solving real-world problems. This generated some audience discussion about the potential for games to be used to simulate real-world situations and allow gamers to explore sofisticated strategies to resolve problems or improve our understanding of other actors behaviours, such as hunters.

    Ian Robert´s full presentation can be viewed here.
  • iv) Panel discussion moderated by Andy Clements (Executive Director from the British Trust for Ornithology) with three panelists: Andrew Balmford (Zoology Department, Cambridge University), Chris Greenwood (Director of Development, Flora and Fauna International) and Jude Ower (Executive Director, Playmob).

    The panel allowed participants to draw some initial reactions and raise relevant questions that continued to be analyzed more in depth during the full day workshop on the following day.

    The panellists considered that video games do have a potential for conservation purposes. Jude Ower suggested that games have a potential as a fundraising mechanism for conservation, could help reach a new audience and provide them with an easy way to donate to a cause. This is a step beyond “slacktivism”, although there is the danger that people who donate a dollar through games will never do anything for conservation again. Based on his experience in Flora & Fauna International, Chris Greenwood noted that few people do actually donate to conservation organizations.

    Andrew Balmford argued that it is mainly naturalists who become conservationists, so we should explore how games can contribute to making people interested in nature. He also suggested looking at the possibility of using games/models as simulators and training for conservationists before they go out into the field.

    A game designer in the audience pointed out that environmental messages were often convoluted and not an intuitive, so that players get a little freaked out. The panel reflected on the diversity of conservation messages and the fact that ¨conservationists¨, like ¨gamers¨, are not a homogeneous group.

  • IV. GamesforNature Workshop
         Summary and Notes

    9th November,2011

    On November 9th a full day workshop was held with 25 specialists from different disciplines, in Cripps Court, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. Its aim was to discuss in more detail the potential use and implications of video games for nature conservation, learn from previous experiences and foster collaborative projects. We started the day with roundtable introductions and continued with a series of talks mixed with chaired discussion.

  • Bill Adams

    University of Cambridge

    Biodiversity, conservation and connection with nature

    Bill Adams talked about what biodiversity conservation is, and the challenges conservationists currently face in the 21st century and the anthropocene era. Bill defined conservation as basically “choices about the relations between humans and nature, and actions to implement them”. Bill argued that people are (dis)connected with nature. In Technological Nature, Peter Kahn explores the potential negative effects of allowing our interactions with nature to be constantly mediated by technology. For example, does watching BBC’s Frozen Planet and seeing close-up shots of whales make the actual experience of standing out in the rain and seeing a tiny flipper in the distance even less amazing? Bill identified some key conservation messages that might be relevant to potential game narratives1) Loss 2) Wilderness and exploring 3) People (should they be included or excluded) 4) Killing 5) Conflict 6) Sustainability.

  • Caroline Howes

    PlayMob

    The case for social impact games. A review of serious games and their potential.

    When do games work and when do they not? Caroline argued that the best serious games bring attention to a topic, but learning happens accidentally or incidentally. She said that ¨it is very hard to get a game to change an attitude or behaviour, and it is almost impossible to track or quantify that change anyway¨. There may however be interesting studies coming out in the future that look at the impact of games on the generation of kids growing up with them. Some environmental games have had positive impacts. For example, although Ecotopia doesn’t have a lot of active players now, it was able to plant 25,000 trees by challenging the players to plant virtual trees to pay for the live trees. PlayMob uses the same strategy of buying virtual goods to pay for real-life goods but instead of doing so within a conservation game, it drops certain items into a pre-existing game that people can purchase and 50% of the proceeds go to a charity cause. They also encourage people to donate through the use of “giverboards.”

  • Caroline Howe`s presentation can be viewed by clicking here.
  • Bruno Monteferri

    Games for Nature Symposium Coordinator

    A Review of Nature Conservation Games

    Bruno provided a snapshot of conservation related games that have been developed by conservation organisations with specific conservation purposes or by other groups, but also relevant for nature conservation. He argued that conservation groups and thus, their messages are heterogeneous: ¨there isn’t just one conservation message that conservationists and conservation organization wants to get across¨. There are sometimes different narratives for the same discourse. He illustrated his argument by showing different hunting games, some of them focused on the act of killing (such as Predator) and other focusing on hunting as a sustainable activity that contributes to conservation (eg. The Hunter). Zoos and aquariums are a very active group in developing video games, for instance, Zoo-tycoon, a very popular game based on running your own zoo.

    Following a previous conversation with Ian Roberts and Rich Metson, Bruno mentioned that guilt seems to feature heavily in conservation games and asked whether this a positive way to move forward? He emphasised that games are a way of seeing, defining and propagating our relationship with nature. Thus, it is important to think about how nature is portrayed and which values become explicit in games. A list of games relevant for conservation can be viewed in the GamesforNature Games Section.

    During the discussion that followed Bruno´s talk, Ade Long from BirdLife International shared his experience working with Angry Birds, the most successful mobile game with already 500 million downloads. Their ultimate hope was to increase awareness and explore the possibility of using the game for fundraising. However, at present Apple’s rules will not allow this. Caroline Howes from PlayMob confirmed such limitations and mentioned that they are now developing games trying to work around such issues.

  • Open Discussion

    The Potential Opportunities and Implications of using Games for Nature Conservation
  • Using game mechanics in citizen science projects:

    Christel Scheske argued that there is an interesting potential to use game mechanics as a way to encourage participation in citizen science projects and initiatives. Some of the initiatives mentioned include: fold.it, eteRNA, Phylo, Zooniverse. UNEP-WCMC for instance, is using these strategies to look at and improve park boundaries through Protected Planet. Other participants mentioned Eye on Earth, a citizen science project used to track information about the environment with feedback and observations of millions of people. Reflecting on the issue of human motivation, Mo Syed said there are conscious and unconscious processes of motivation and that those have to be considered when thinking about designing these strategies. For instance, the uniqueness of a contribution, social motivations (competition), etc. Tadhg Kelly talked about the need to think about “optimal flow” when designing citizen science strategies and conservation games – the idea that happiness comes when you are always raising your level of skill just a little bit to meet a new challenge. This happens in games, and explains why they are so engaging.

  • Narrative and messages embedded in video games:

    Gayle Burguess noted that Sim City-type games rely on a moral code that people have to learn and internalize in order to win. Thus Sim City contains core assumptions about which cities thrive and which not. This can be problematic if the assumptions are wrong. In any case, this can be a powerful way of sharing a specific message. Following this comment, Nigel Leader-Williams observed that hunting and zoo games might also be reinforcing a message that is actually very controversial and contested within conservation. Maureen Thomas suggested participants read Torben Grodal's book Embodied Visions:Evolution, Emotion, Culture, and Film, as it draws on the idea that we are genetically pre-programmed to like certain kinds of stories. Maureen Thomas noted that hunting is such a basic story that it has a huge potential. As noted during Bruno Monteferri´s talk, different narratives exist in hunting games; some of them are focused on the promotion of more sustainable practices (e.g. over-hunting, lack of habitat). Bill Adams added that the idea of gameplay that has consequences and rewards and links to sense of consequence in the real world has real potential (e.g. shoot wolf and cubs die).

    The question of the potential for including conservation messages and narratives into mainstream games was also discussed. From the perspective of a game developer, Scott Sturrock said that consequences and repercussions are important in games, and conservation sounds like actually it is ripe for some mainstream gaming to draw stories from. Shaun Hurrel added that the way forward is to be subtle, using almost subliminal messages. At this stage we screened a Fox News video about the evils of environmental gaming: http://video.foxnews.com/v/1141465232001/video-games-go-green/. This fostered an interesting debate about what conservation messages are out there and are shared by conservationists. Current thinking that conservationists know the product and just need to sell it through games is an example of the "information deficit" model of decision making, and needs to be rethought. Toby Gardner pointed out that there might be a need to split conservation up into different idea/stories. The conservation community should be cautious, especially as it tends to get excited with new ideas/toys. Despite how sexy new tools seem to be, we must remember to stick with what we are good at and what proves to be effective.

  • Using games as a tool for nature conservation purposes (awareness, fundraising, training, behavioural change, etc):

    Both Tadhg Kelly and Caroline Howes emphasized that it is very hard to use games as a tool to change behaviour. It would be much easier to use them to fundraise, or even better, just drop some conservation fundraising into pre-existing games. However, barriers exist in the use of games as a fundraising strategy because Facebook and Apple both take 30% of any donation that happens within their systems. Google+ is apparently only going to take 5%. Tadhg argued that games are probably about fantasy fulfilment, not about changing behaviour in real life. However, you might be able to get people to take one action (e.g. donate) through games.

    Genaro Rebolledo, shared research insights, confirming that specific behavioural changes are difficult to achieve and track, and that games to change people’s minds are problematic. It is important to mark a difference between awareness-raising and behavioural change, as it is quite difficult if to achieve both goals at the same time. Genaro suggests developing awareness-raising games with behavioural change as an add-on. Bruno Monteferri, suggested looking at games created for health purposes, such as those developed for kids facing diabetes, which have allowed kids to be better prepared to deal with medicaments and procedures. He suggested reading a report written by Pamela Kato on the use of video games for health and reflecting on how those experiences can provoke reflection on how to use them for nature conservation purposes.

    Regarding the use of serious games as a medium to increase awareness over specific issues a question is ¨who plays serious games?¨ Some people play and forget, those who stay are interested for other reasons. Tadhg Kelly added that serious games usually attract the already converted. Games such as A World Without Oil or Evoke don´t yet draw massive audiences: the main participants are people who are already thinking about these issues. Regular players are usually turned off by an eco-label (guilt?), or fear of having their mind influenced. This interrupts flow. Tadhg suggested that games should not be used to preach to the audience, but for getting message out to wider audience. There was partial agreement with this statement as engaging the already converted or specific conservation people for training people and to foster the participation of other people, can be also part of the strategy.

  • The opportunities of a cross-media context:

    Maureen Thomas suggested not thinking about games as stand-alone, but to think about trans-media projects. She said that the definition of gaming is changing as we live in a cross-media world with links between formats growing. Bill Oddie’s Springwatch changed the way people thought about nature in UK – for example in ordinary nature in city gardens or owls feeding babies. That could easily be attached to a games associated with such programmes. An important question: what is it that makes people happy? Arguably, all life is about challenge and skill: if too much or too little challenge people are unhappy – if skills grow as new challenges are met, you have the basis for a good game. So borrow from media studies and other media rather than just existing games. In 2007 the Swedish production The Truth about Marika mixed fiction and documentary in a ‘participation drama’: drama, online content, online debate. It used TV, blogs, books and flash mobs to tell an interactive story and create a game-like experience that took people outside the game into the real world. This linked to work undertaken by John Ribbins, from Roll7, where students played a game, but then discussed their choices in class. The key point was not to forget about the larger context in which games are embedded and how they can linkages be established between them.

  • About the process of developing a game:

    John Ribbins said that collaboration is key. You need industry, private and public cooperation if you are going to have an effective game that can reach a big audience and get the funding it needs. Tadhg Kelly added that conservationists need to think of exactly what they want their message to be, and who they want to reach. Then they need to pick the correct format and medium for these goals. To cut costs, you can usually transfer your idea over many platforms. For instance, 2D, single player games will be much less expensive to create. Also, if you make a 3D live game, you have to compete with giants like World of Warcraft. Hence, manage your expectations: if you make a really good game with simpler technology requirements, people don’t expect it to have amazing graphics etc. But if you try to make a game with amazing graphics and fall short, you are going to disappoint people’s expectations. There was a general consensus between game developers, that conservationists should do the research, but game developers should make the game.

  • Reaching the masses and target audiences:

    Conservationists asked how difficult it was to get your game discovered? Ribbins, Kelly, Metson and Ower agreed that game discovery is a huge problem for big commercial game companies too: nobody has really figured it out yet. Traditional networking and marketing is good but new approaches (like blogs) are also starting to play a major role. These strategies include social networking advertising, minigames and 2-D games to get people to join the community. ¨Play, create, share” is a new genre of gaming with a big emphasis on dialogues, forums, social media links and creation. This has shown that to develop and keep an audience you have to build a relationship with them, in this case based on feedback, content and experiences.

    Moreover, John Ribbins added that conservationists needed somehow fit into an established genre for customers to recognise what the game was about. For example, if people recognise shoot-em-up or strategy games, they may not understand a game ‘about deforestation….’, John noted that totally novel game that does not create familiarity links with other genres is likely to face more entrance barriers. Scott Sturrock raised the point that it is important to love the game you are making, but we need to remember, it’s not for us. It’s for other people who are going to buy it and play it. So think of them while you make it. Furthermore, different audiences (segments) will expect different things. Thus, a different approach is required to engage a new sector than an established one.

  • The potential of using games for nature in developing countries:

    When reflecting about the potential of these tools for developing countries and rural areas, Toby Gardner suggested looking at the Ushahidi platform crowdmap developed for Kenyan elections. He added that Kenya is an interesting place to consider, as there are lots of mobile phones and Kenyans are keen on the novelty of digital technologies. This issue raised the point of developing games for different countries and cultures. For instance, how does the player fit into the conservation story? The behavioural change of developed country players may not be relevant to developed country contexts.

    There is a potential to think of new games for phones in countries like India and some African countries where the number of mobile devices in rural areas is increasing exponentially, especially as it is quite likely that kids will play games on them. Chris Sandbrook suggested looking at the work undertaken by Ken Banks from Kiwanja.net in rural Afica (Ken is co-author of a report on the opportunities of using mobile technologies for wildlife conservation). Ken Banks has developed mobile technologies to help bridge to digital divide in some rural areas: rural mobile applicatons are growing rapidly e.g. in microfinance. Rich Metson noted that simple games for simple phones are relatively cheap to produce.

    The importance of the politics of knowledge was discussed: English language is hegemonic in gaming. In the case of media studies, Maureen Thomas mentioned analysis of the introduction of different kinds of stories into games. However, media embeds western models. So maybe game design should not flow down from ‘us’ to ‘them’. Maybe it is needed to review the aesthetic, currently characterized by those from Japanese and Disney.

  • (Dis)connection from Nature:

    Lucy Erickson shared some thoughts about the virtual ecotourism project in which she is involved. Through this project, people from all over the world could take part in a virtual eco-tour that is supported by an interactive map and a real time connection. This allows a guide to speak to a group of people connected to their devices in different parts of the world, while sharing together a walk through different places of a conservation site. This project prompted a discussion about whether virtual worlds, virtual communities and virtual interactions will erode our engagement with nature. It was pointed that in the past, people used to worry about television corrupting the young and that gaming can just become the new fear, especially in a context in which every part of our existence is being turned into a consumption experience.

    There is a trend of using augmented reality games and mixed-reality games to deal with this issue. The idea is to create interactive experiences that require people to carry specific activities in the virtual and the real world. Artists are also exploring these new avenues. Matt Watkins shared his experience with A conversation between trees. The aim of this art project is to contribute to the understanding of climate change in a macro and micro way. In order to do this they are using an art installation and mobile app, connected with sensors in trees supplying data. This allows people to go out into a forest and interact in some way with the trees. This interaction is mapped. This opened a new set of discussions related to ‘human sensing’ (such as e.g. mapping happiness) and the implications of encouraging interacting with nature based on digital devices and screens.

  • John Ribbins

    Serious games developer with Roll 7

    Learning through games and virtual worlds. New Frontiers to be explored for nature conservation purposes.

    John considers the term “serious” games to be problematic. Fun is the most important thing, and at the same time very fragile. The fact that you are developing or creating a serious game "should not be used as an excuse or an apology". Fun games have learning outcomes, they just aren’t direct, and often the learning outcomes aren’t thought through beforehand (for example: The World of Temasek). It’s a great, fun strategy game but everything is based on four years of research into ancient Singapore. It is used in history classes in Singapore, and different curriculum goals can have different quests. However, kids go and play at home too. Another game, Focus Pocus, is based on tasks for kids with ADHD to help them to reduce their symptom frequency. At first parents had to force kids to “play” because it was so horrible and focused on learning and outcomes. However, it became more successful when the game was transformed into a fun game that did not mention of ADHD, but included a separate mechanism for parents to track progress (also linked to tasks they could complete in the real world to promote their child's interactivity and behaviour change). To get behaviour change you have to engage people within a game and outside of it. Other games described by John include Dead Ends (created entirely by at-risk youth and used as a tool to get kids to talk about knife and gang crime in the context of a game, avoiding the pressure of talking about the real thing) and Tower Hamlets College Future Facebook (when you sign up for college, you get a profile that shows what you could be if you stay in school. As a result of the game, completion of enrolment went up 15%).

  • Chris Swain

    CEO of Talkie, Inc.

    Nature Conservation Games in Social Networks: Opportunities and Challenges

    Chris focused his presentation on how to achieve measurable impacts on games with social causes. To achieve this, he suggested identifying impact metrics. “Average Impact per Daily Active User” is a metric designed by Chris to measure the real-world impact of games. One thing he has learned is that having a good cause does not impact on game engagement or uptake.

    Chris identified five ways to achieve mass take-up. A game must be: 1) Entertaining; 2) Distributed online; 3) Leveraging social graphs; 4) Free to play (A “freemium” model can work well – it is free to play but then buying extra stuff or unlocking levels costs money); 5) Marketed through real, old-fashioned methods.

    Marketing can include 1) Viral features (but beware, because hardly anything actually goes viral); 2) Public relations; 3) Cross-promotions; 4) Media buy for money (buying advertising is effective: that is how Mafia Wars had so much success on Facebook. However, you need to understand the most effective way to spend your money. If you can show that you will spend less attracting your players than they will pay to play the game, you have hit on a winning strategy: 92% of people will only play for free, 6% will spend a little bit of money, and 2% of people will spend a lot of money. If you had two identical games, people might be influenced to play the game with a cause, but only if all other things were equal.

    Within Ecotopia, during the 25,000 tree challenge the game developers saw a spike in game playing, the charity saw a spike in website traffic, and the forum became more engaged and positive. Caroline Howes commented that similar results have also been seen in the PlayMob Games. When a new charity item is available for a short time, there is a spike in play, website visits, donations and positive attitudes.

  • Chris Swain´s presentation can be viewed here.
  • Paul Steinberg

    Harvey Mudd College, California

    Academic, Activist or Entertainer? Balancing Objectives in the Design of Environmental Games for Adults.

    Paul is a policy specialist and academic political scientist. At Harvey Mudd College, his students are putting together a game as part of a much bigger project, the Social Rules project. This project trying to educate the public about the concept of social rules and how they govern our actions. The project includes a video and a book. Paul’ suggests that when you are creating a game for use in schools, you have a captive audience and you can put a lot more conservation messages and direct learning into your game. However, he sees the value of a storyline and narrative that is separate from the learning outcomes and objectives in order to keep people interested in the game.

  • Paul´s presentation can be viewed here

    End remarks and ideas to take home

    The event closed with remarks provided by Steven Harris and Maureen Thomas. Steven Harris made emphasis on the importance of putting fun first, and making games for players and not for game designers. We have learned that fun and accidental learning is more effective than earnest, boring messages. Having a clear message and role is also very important. One idea might be for conservation organizations to get together and organize a ‘game jam’ at Anglia Ruskin University to encourage students creating some potential games for nature conservation. Maureen Thomas mentioned the potential of using trans-media and multi-platform games for conservation purposes and challenged us to think how far stories can be used to draw people into a discussion about conservation. She also reflected on to the extent to which educational games can change behaviour: "interactivity and gaming is not necessarily a better way of teaching kids, it’s just different". She believes that after playing games for fun and being constantly bombarded with that type of interaction, it is just what kids expect; therefore it might be a more effective tool for reaching and engaging them.

    The organising team then proposed some ideas to maintain collaboration and move ideas forward. Looking back, we ask ourselves today: Did we answer all our questions? Unsurprisingly, we did not. Did we conclude that they were important? Absolutely: gaming is a deadly serious industry whose businesses depends on the pleasure it gives its customers, but it also has a vital role to play in shaping the way decisions are made about human use of nature. As Tom Bissell argues in Extra Lives, video games are a powerful way of telling stories and ‘we’re going to change the world and entertain in a way that nothing else ever has’. That’s a promise no conservationist can afford to ignore.

    The main ideas discussed during the event to be taken home were captured by Lucy Erickson (with support from Tadhg Kelly). Lucy developed what she thought to be 'The Top Ten Tips' which will also be available on the University of Oxford Conservation Governance Lab Website. We hope you find them useful and look forward to hear what you think about them.

    These are:

  • 10. Choose your goal first. Are you trying to promote a cause? Educate the public? Fundraise? Each goal will need a different strategy and type of game. Second, identify your audience. “Gamers” are as homogenous a group as “film-goers,”, and you won’t be able to reach them all the same way.
  • 9. Some conservation goals are not readily met by the creation of a game. For example, behavioural changes in the real world are especially difficult to inspire through via gaming. Fundraising, on the other hand, may be much easier to do.
  • 8. If you do want to use your game for outreach and education, remember that fun, accidental learning is more effective than earnest, boring messages. People do not want to feel guilty during their down time, and they will be frustrated if their gameplay is interrupted by forced learning.
  • 7. Education and outreach are not the only potential uses of games: they can also be an amazing tool for fundraising. The virtual goods market is worth £1.6 billion dollars, and organizations like PlayMob are starting to tap into this by dropping purchasable goods into popular games and donating the resulting funds to charities.
  • 6. It is also possible to use your game for citizen science research purposes, as has been done by protein folding game Fold It. To maximize the impact of your project on communication outreach make sure you include mechanisms such as well-moderated forums to facilitate dialogue.
  • 5. It might be possible to harness the community of people who play online games without creating a game at all. Jane McGonigal believes that hard-core gamers have learned four key personality qualities: urgent optimism, strong sense of social fabric, blissful productivity and epic meaning. Is there a way for your conservation organization to tap into these traits?
  • 4. Consider the time and cost involved in making a game. Some very well-financed and supported games for nature have still had very limited success – Facebook game Ecotopia, for instance, has only retained 4,000 monthly players as opposed to the more mainstream Farmville which boasts 63 million active users. Because of the risk involved with creating a game from scratch, consider partnering with a previously successful franchise. For example, BirdLife International has partnered with Ruvio, the game developers behind hugely successful mobile phone app Angry Birds, in order to create awareness around bird extinctions.
  • 3. Conservationists are rarely also game developers. The gaming industry is worth $68 billion dollars worldwide and games for nature will be competing within a tough industry. Use expert and professional advice to make sure your ideas are feasible and have a good chance of success.
  • 2. When you create your game, build in ways to evaluate its success and traction. Be careful to focus on key metrics such as uptake, continued play and financial success as opposed to vanity metrics such as number of press releases sent.
  • 1. For any game, entertainment must be the number one priority. There is no point in making an amazingly educational and scientifically sound game that no-one plays. Fun games need a clear role for the player and must inspire a sense of “winning”, and they often benefit from a light storyline that doesn’t berate a cause. For more tips on making a fun game, there are many resources within professional and amateur game development communities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!