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Elizabeth Swensen

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The Challenge of Platform

student_computer_challengeFor the First In The World challenge, the team at the USC Game Innovation Lab took Mission: Admission, a game that was developed several years ago for Facebook, and redesigned it to work on modern platforms and devices. We had already solved a lot of hard problems related to games in classrooms when we originally created Mission: Admission, but now we faced a whole new set of challenges. We knew that different schools would have vastly different hardware, software, internet, and device accessibility landscapes. As is often the case, we had to balance both the support of earlier generations of tech as well as creating something that would still be able to function into the future.

A lot went into the re-development of the game. First, we were able to fix some issues that the game has had since its Facebook days. We were also able to update the look and feel of the game to appeal more to modern gamers. And we took this opportunity to work in a modern, multiplatform game engine – a decision that paid off almost immediately when we decided to add an iPad version of the game to our project goals.

We were also able to bring forward lessons we had learned during the development of the Facebook edition of the game. One of those lessons was that technology moves quickly, and grant-funded projects generally don’t have the luxury of a similar updated schedule. We developed the original game with low-performance platforms in mind, in order to make it accessible to as many classrooms as possible, but the technology we used quickly became outdated and unsupported by newer platforms. When we began development for First in the World, we wanted to make sure we made a version of Mission: Admission that would still be relevant (at least for a time) after the study ended. This meant rebuilding the game in a way that would support several different platforms simultaneously, for older and more modern devices.

Of course, there were limits to our flexibility. Although, Mission: Admission doesn’t require high-bandwidth internet connectivity relative to typical modern games, many school networks are not built to support multiple simultaneous players. Internet connectivity is necessary for the game to report data needed in the study, and so it was not something we could compromise on. This limited some schools’ ability to engage with the game in the kind of large scale deployment we desired.

In taking a multi-platform approach to ensuring the game was as accessible to as many different sorts of classrooms as possible, we found ourselves in the situation of having to maintain multiple simultaneous versions of the game. In many ways, this worked better: we were successfully able to address needs in classrooms with varying versions of several different operating systems on laptops, desktops, and tablet computers. However, it ended up being expensive and time-consuming to run support and maintain each of these platforms individually.

Looking ahead, there are a number of other devices we would love to support in order to extend the reach of the intervention. While we are better prepared to tackle device fragmentation with our new game engine, it is critical to be mindful of the hidden costs of keeping so many different versions of a product running.

The contents of this publication were developed under grant # P116F140097 from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

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