Halo 3 was released this week. For those of you who don’t play video games or have kids who play them, this was a big event. Actually, that’s an understatement, it was THE event of the year for gamers. In 24 hours, the sales of Halo 3 topped 170 million dollars in the US alone. Projections for lifetime sales of this game are 700 million US dollars.
OK, so that’s a lot of money and game players. What does this have to do with educational games?
Putting aside any discussion of the merits of games in education, these Halo 3 sales figures shine the harsh light of reality on games developed for schools. Here are the facts:
- $170 million in one day sales at an average of $70 per game translates to 2.5 million games sold in one day
- $700 million estimated revenue translates to an anticipated 10 million games sold worldwide
- $30 million spent on the development of the game; artists, programmers, designers, testers, and others
- $30 million spent on marketing and promotion
- Halo 3 is the result of 3 years of effort by 300 artists and programmers
School Facts (US data – 2003/04 National Center for Education Statistics) (I’m using US public schools data because private school data is not collected as often and international data is not tabulated the same way.)
- 3 million American public school teachers
- 48 million public school students
- 96,000 public school buildings
- In one week, more people will purchase a copy of Halo 3 than there are teachers in the United States.
- Every public school in the U.S. would have to purchase 100 copies of a game to match the sales of Halo 3
- There will be one Halo 3 game purchased for every 5 students, or about 3 games per class (US kindergarten to high school.)
I know what you are thinking–every game can’t be Halo 3! You are making wild estimates! Surely there is room for developers and publishers to create games that are educational!
But here’s the reality. Let’s make the wildly optimistic estimate that 10% of schools will purchase any one educational game. This completely ignores the fact that a single game will likely not meet the needs of both elementary and secondary schools, satisfy state standards, or actually appeal to all children.
Let’s be really optimistic and toss in private schools too. That raises the number of US school buildings (potential customers) to around 125,000. If 10% of all US schools purchase the same game, your estimated sales are 12,500 games. Say you make a game that is so good you can charge $100 each. That gives you projected sales of $1.2 million.
A million dollars! That’s a lot of money, right Dr. Evil?
Well, not in the world of gaming.
A game development budget can start at a million dollars. For top-tier games, $3 million dollars is a low budget. Most marketing experts believe that in order to sell the game you need to spend at least as much for marketing as you invest in developing the game. Incredibly, marketing to schools is actually expensive compared to reaching a hard core gamer. In schools, you can’t count on the word of mouth or the intense interest that gamers have for their games. Producing and selling a game that will, at best, sell 10,000 units just doesn’t make economic sense. You’d be better off putting your development team to work on something more lucrative.
So, is this hopeless?
Are educational games doomed? No, of course not. But it does imply that educational games will not be developed or marketed the same way as other video games.
Could someone donate the money? Sure, a charity, the government, or some unknown benefactor could decide to put a couple of million dollars into this effort. Don’t forget, after you make a game, you have to make people aware that it exists. That costs money too. Knowing how slowly technology is adopted in schools, they had better have a high tolerance for pain.
The good news is that when you realize that following the well-trod path of traditional game publishing won’t work, it frees you up to concentrate on what will. Liberated from constraints of the market, someone might come up something innovative that will blow everyone away.
Think you’ve got what it takes to make the Halo 3 of educational games? The MacArthur Foundation has announced a 2 million dollar competition to find emerging leaders, communicators, and innovators shaping the field of digital media and learning. This is part of their 50 million dollar, 5 year initiative to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.
The deadline is October 15, 2007. Go for it!