Starting on June 15, UW-Madison hosts the seventh annual Games+Learning+Society Conference. Reflecting the trends that are reshaping the game-development field, this year's event has the broadest industry support ever. Microsoft, which is about to launch a significant educational games effort using the company's motion-sensing Kinect peripheral, is underwriting the event, and so is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Industry interest in the academic conference has "been a constant theme and challenge," says Kurt Squire, who helped co-found the group seven years ago and directs it today. "This year, we've doubled down. As the field of games and learning has grown from a hypothetical niche into an opportunity and blossoming sector, more industry than ever is into this."
As evidence Squire, an associate professor and games-in-learning researcher in the UW's School of Education, points to a developer group he'll be advising that was recently given a whopping $32 million to develop a math education game.
The rise of PDAs and the iPad has helped to open up possibilities for games and learning. In particular, the iPad is the first device to really show educators a possible platform and distribution forum that could facilitate using games to teach and communicate in the classroom.
Another factor: the success of smaller studios, like Madison's Perblue, and the rise of independent games on both major and minor platforms. "Now we can help educators understand that people can succeed making small titles, working with a smaller budget on emerging platforms," says Squire. "And that's probably a better model for them to be following anyway than what a company like Activision is doing."
Following the conference, Squire is taking a leave from teaching to head up a group working in the Morgridge Institute of Research in the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery. They'll be charged with finding ways to use games as a medium to educate and inform audiences about the science of stem cells and epigenetics.