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Wolf Quest



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Tweens and teens learn critical thinking skills and form strong emotional bonds with a feared and misunderstood predator as they take a long walk in a wolf's footsteps in this zoo-supported immersive 3-D multiplayer game and community.


Hi, I'm Kate Haley Goldman, Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Learning Innovation. I recently completely the summative evaluation for NSF on the WolfQuest project, and am pleased to be able to have WolfQuest featured in NSF's Media & Informal Science Learning website, and hope this discussion will lead to useful feedback for us on both on this project and related gaming and informal science projects. We're very interested in hearing about related projects.

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Oct 20, 2009 06:58 am
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First, I want to say how stunning this service is, and what a great job of assessment has been done on it as well. I don't know anyone in this field who better combines research and development than Kate and David. Anyone not familiar with Eduweb, the research and development/production company David runs (and that ILI and Kate have partnered with on many projects) should really take a look at their full portfolio of work at: http://www.eduweb.com/ . The question I have is: are there plans to do more games of this type, and are you'all looking for partners? The reason I ask is that like many game geeks, I created a number of my own Avalon Hill style board games when I was a kid. The twist was that being a nature freak, my games were all about nature (e.g. "Migration," where each player chooses a flock of birds [of different species] and guides them from their summer to winter grounds [different species have different degrees of difficulty--you win based on degree of difficulty x % of your flock you guide through], or "Survival," where each player is a pair of eagles trying to raise a brace of young (and competing w/each other for resources) or "Savanna," where each player chooses a different species of animal to play on the Serengeti, and has different capabilities/ways to win. My friends all loved playing these games and in the back of my mind, I've always wanted to find a way to convert them into the kind of game formats we play today. WolfQuest is so far beyond anything I and my friends dreamed up, but could/should we be talking?

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Oct 22, 2009 09:51 am
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Hi Kate--I agree with Tom--this is beautiful and exciting work. A couple of practical questions that would help my thinking about it. It says on the site that it's a collaboration between Eduweb and the Minnesota Zoo, neither of which I would expect to have very deep pockets. Did you'all get other folks to pony up for funding, or were you just able to do it a lot more cheaply than it looks on the screen? I guess what I'm asking, in a round-about way, is what did it cost to develop? ;) Also how is it being distributed, and how many users does it have so far?

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Oct 22, 2009 11:20 am
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Hello again! As far as numbers: About 4,000 users downloaded the game in the first few hours after launch and over 350,000 people have downloaded the game in the 21 months since it launched. On average, players engage in over 100,000 multiplayer game sessions per month. The game's online community has over 80,000 registered members who have made over 850,000 posts to the forum, with a current average of 1,400 posts daily. While it is downloadable online and there are tie-ins at the partner zoos, the other main method of distribution was through forums for other games and sites, such as My Little Pony. The costs were certainly less than a commercial game, but there was definitely outside funding involved, as the game itself is free. The original game was supported by an NSF-ISE grant, albeit a small one, just over half a million dollars. EduWeb is getting ready to release the next version- this one with pups! See preview: at http://wolfquest.org/preview_video_ep2.php As far as interest in developing new games Tom, I'm not sure. I'm going to ask Dave to chime in with that. I just research them! ;) Certainly I think there is a much stronger market for casual educational games than was previously perceived, especially with mobile gaming and the app store becoming more prominent. I'm off the opinion that we as a society are beginning to see gaming as more of lens for all sorts of learning, so I'm interested in spending more time on research in that vein to leverage the overall societal trend. --kate

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Oct 27, 2009 08:19 am
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Hi all, this is Dave Schaller, WolfQuest game producer and co-PI on the NSF grant with Grant Spickelmier at the MN Zoo. Thanks for the comments about WolfQuest. As Kate says, the project is grant funded, primarily by NSF ISE, plus some small grants from Best Buy Children's Foundation and a couple other Minnesota foundations. We definitely squeezed as much out of the budget as we could. Episode 1's budget (game development only, not including evaluation or the zoo's WQ project coordinator who does local outreach programming and manages the online forum, a substantial task in itself) was roughly $350,000. I think Kate is right, that WQ demonstrates an appetite out there for "real games" with realworld, rather than fantasy, content. That is our main focus now, and we've released a handful of other 3D games, and have several more in the works, though primarily for history museums rather than science ed organizations. Not quite sure why. (Most of our work is for clients, WQ being the main exception as a partnership with the MN Zoo.) We are working on another NSF proposal for an ecology game that builds on what we learned from WQ, and are certainly interested in doing more, but funding is always the big issue. I think there is a potential for selling this type of game ($10 for a downloadable game) but that increases player expectations, support costs, and anti-piracy efforts, so currently we're sticking with free formula.

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Oct 30, 2009 09:23 am
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Dave--What you're saying here makes a lot of sense--thanks much for taking the time to post during what I know was a crazy month in the NSF grant cycle. I think you're right that there probably are things you'd have to do--like individual tech support--to start charging for WolfQuest or the other games you're building. In addition to the examples you mentioned, if you decided to charge a monthly subscription (as opposed to a one-time fee), you might also have to bundle multiple games you're working on into a single subscription service with a unified log in too, in order to "keep the beast fed." That said, based on the research I've done as principal analyst for Grunwald Associates, I agree with your belief that there may be real potential for you to start charging for at least some of this, if that's a model you'd actually want to pursue. I know some folks would not want to do so for philosophical reasons, which I respect as well, although I think they sometimes believe there's more harm done by charging for premium features than is actually the case (while tending to overlook the potential benefits of doing so). I hope to post more about this later in the week, since it does seem to be an issue online game developers wrestle with perennially, and therefore seems like something we ought to be discussing in our own context on the site. Thanks much for raising it!

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Nov 02, 2009 02:39 pm
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To elaborate on what Tom has said, what we know from our research is that:

  • Parents appear to have a much bigger role in what sites their children spend time in than is generally assumed (according to both parents *and* kids)
  • Parents say they expect sites to be both clearly fun *and* educational before they recommend them to their children (they want their kids to go online for educational reasons, but are realistic about the odds of getting their kids to stick with an educational site that's not entertaining as well).
  • Both parents and kids (including even a substantial number of teens) say they want more activities they can do online together (which could be accomplished in a game like WolfQuest's multi-player mode, especially given the number of computers/family household, which has increased dramatically over the last decade).
  • Families with children have been leaders in purchasing premium online services, and seem more inclined to do so when these services can be used by the whole family.

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Nov 04, 2009 01:57 pm
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I think this is a terrific sight and in particular found the WolfQuest game educational. Thanks

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Nov 09, 2009 03:07 pm
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--Meehan



this is brilliant! i look forward to exploring all of this.

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Nov 10, 2009 12:01 pm
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To add to what Peter has said, in my experience, there are at least some funders who are open to what's sometimes called the "freemium" model, where a critical mass of content is available free of charge, but some modules or features require a premium subscription. In fact, some funders actually find this attractive, because it opens up the possibility of funding something that becomes self-sustaining, sustainability becoming an increasingly popular buzzword these days. Some of your clients (and potential clients) might like it, too, since it potentially puts dollars back in their pockets during a difficult economic time (they'd each get a share of overall subscription revenues based on the usage of the games they funded, which could also make them more inclined to be helpful to you in development and distribution).

One other thing, it's not even clear to what extent premium elements would lock out at-risk populations, since African-American and Hispanic families both prioritize technology access as a playing field-leveler for their children (I'd argue that not having a mobile version of a game could be a bigger barrier to minority access than charging for it, since the cost of a desktop has always been the big-ticket cost barrier, and even now, with desktops available for less than $500, mobile devices are more ubiquitous in minority communities than desktops [for a variety of reasons]). Also, if you were to add the ability for schools to track student use of the games and see learning outcomes from them, you might be able to get schools (which accepted online premium services before consumers) to subscribe to a "school edition" of your portfolio, particularly if it were offered as part of a larger portfolio being sold into schools by one of the large educational content providers (though I would recommend keeping open your option to sell it separately on an individual classroom basis as well, since school adoptions can and do happen from the grassroots, too).

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Nov 10, 2009 02:04 pm
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This looks to be a great game -- fun and educational. Reminds me of the 'Ecco the Dolphin' games on Sega. Oscar F.

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Nov 10, 2009 02:22 pm
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--Oscar



This sounds like a fascinating game with particular educational value and appeal for its target age group.

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Nov 16, 2009 07:27 pm
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--B



We've enjoyed the discussion here about WolfQuest, and thought we'd share the latest on the project development. This past spring (2010) we received supplemental funding from NSF to expand the game with a modest set of new features, designed with the help of our player community. In April we announced the "WolfQuest 2.5 Design Contest," asking players to develop ideas for new game features which would make the game more fun and more educational. We received over 900 valid submissions to the contest, and from them, selected the finalists: five "Big Ideas" and a dozen "Game Enhancements"--and put them up for a vote on the WolfQuest Forum. The results were enlightening.

For the Big Idea (a significant new feature for the game), our finalists were:

  • Bison: Add herds of bison which require new hunting strategies
  • Cougars: Add this new predator to threaten pups
  • Improve Multiplayer: Create multiplayer missions and pack structures
  • Play as Pups and Adults: Players could choose to play as pups, young adult, adult, or elder (currently can only play as adults)
  • Weather and Time: Add rain, winds, floods, fog, and lighting, and day/night cycle.

The project team was rooting for Bison, but we figured that Multiplayer would likely win the vote. Multiplayer is hugely popular (about 4,000 multiplayer game sessions daily), but rather thin in terms of gameplay (we had just run out of money to build up a really full multiplayer component with the original grant).

So we were plenty surprised when the clear winner was Weather and Time, with 40% of the vote. These are mostly ambient "eye candy" effects that increase a sense of immersion but don't greatly affect wolf or elk behavior. (See all results and more here: http://www.wolfquest.org/bb/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=37310)

The results on the Game Enhancements (minor additions to the game) vote were even more surprising. Among the dozen finalists were some significant gameplay enhancements like modeling elk more realistically with their fatigue growing as they are chased by wolves, or adding calves to the elk herd. But what won? "I need a rest"--adding a key command to make one's wolf sit and rest, regaining health faster. (See all results in the main poll: http://www.wolfquest.org/bb/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=37313 and a runoff vote between three finalists: http://www.wolfquest.org/bb/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=37932)

What do these results tell us? I'm still not sure. The strong preference for ambient environmental effects over substantial additions or improvements in gameplay suggests, first, the power of the 3D world and the desire for greater immersion as a wolf in that world. I can see the appeal of those in a feature list to attract players to the game, but am surprised that it was so appealing to those who were already playing the game. I think it indicates how much our players want to BE a wolf, living out there in Yellowstone. But it's still surprising.

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Sep 08, 2010 02:00 pm
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