The digital games industry is both larger and more profitable than the music and film industries combined. Yet, games are also increasingly being used for serious purposes, such as education and training, known as applied games. This sector is not nearly so mature, and needs help becoming established. Applied gaming faces a problem of limited flexibility. This imposes barriers to software reuse, and locks vendors into single platforms. The lack of flexibility means redundant reinventions of the same technologies, high costs and long times to market. The EU-funded RAGE project fostered an “innovation ecosystem” in applied gaming. The new cooperative environment allows developers to connect, and share or trade game software and knowledge resources, particularly tuned to applied gaming. This helps sector newcomers become established.
Introducing module compatibility
Researchers developed a lightweight, component-based architecture that overcomes most of the incompatibilities. The new architecture allows developers to create software components that are easily interchangeable across multiple game engines and platforms. The team created over 40 such units. The newly developed modules include advanced AI technologies that game companies would be unable to develop themselves. The components cover a wide range of functions, tuned to the educational aspect of gaming, such as player data analytics, procedural animations, language analysis and synthesis, and interactive storytelling. “For instance,” says Prof. Wim Westera, project coordinator, “we have used natural language technologies to analyse the CVs of players of a job application training game. We also created a component that models emotional states and behaviours of in-game characters.” A further application is a dedicated difficulty adaptation algorithm that helps provide players with the quickest learning curves, given player capabilities. The team also developed a full open-source gamification suite, allowing games to be extended with multiplayer features. But there are many more examples. Module commonality does not mean that all games developed using the tools will end up looking the same. This is avoided as the modules operate at a subsurface level.
A selected group of game companies in RAGE were first to try the new modules, with an additional purpose of integrating third-party software components into the games. “All results come together in our marketplace portal,” adds Westera, “which is the central transfer platform of software and other resources, now allowing anyone to publish and sell their software components for reuse.” Participants in the field reacted enthusiastically to the platform, which has seen growing numbers of visitors and downloads. The platform has been handed over to the RAGE Foundation, established to ensure continuity after the project’s official end. The team also established a gaming fieldlab, in cooperation with the Dutch Games Association, which provides funding for the development of additional software components. RAGE has helped enable the applied gaming sector. Software development teams are now using the advanced game modules to create complete educational packages for corporate and other training. In many cases, such games target the teaching of so-called 21st century skills, helping to foster social innovation.
RAGE, applied gaming, software components, innovation ecosystem, module compatibility, AI, training game, open-source gamification