“Students have a choice. They can either use the text book or play our game. They have to do one or the other. Our game is so much better than the text book that kids will play our game.”

This is the logic of many top executives in the educational games industry. Only problem is, if you’ve ever taught in a classroom, you know this is absolutely not true. It’s a false dichotomy. Kids have the choice to be distracted, to quit, and not do any of the above.

A more subtle reaction to poor educational games is that kids may be playing it, but they certainly aren’t learning from it. Just look at the game data. Not all levels are being played. Expert status isn’t being attained. Levels aren’t being replayed to achieve higher scores (how many times have you heard your game must be “replayable”?!!). Kids know how to waste time and look busy. They’ll use your really bad game to hide out in class.

If your game sucks, kids will ignore it and look for a way to find other games online they can play. Or they just won’t even bother to log on and will talk with each other about anything distracting them at the moment.

Unfortunately, this perspective that kids “have to play” dilutes emphasis on quality content and game design. This is reinforced by flawed beta testing where a classroom of motivated and observed students in very controlled environments “must” play the game. Of course when they really have no other choice, because they are being observed by 5x the number of people they usually are. Or, they feel special because this is a “new technology” and “we want your feedback” and actually try to play the game.

This never happens at scale though where a teacher doesn’t have all the support to implement the game. Instead, the game will fall under its own weight as kid’s find other more interesting things to do.

The reality is kids don’t have to play your game.