The website just published a report by Sande Chen, a serious-games consultant and author. In the article, “Is the School Market Still Just a Mirage?” Chen tackles the question of whether educational-game developers are making headway in the U.S. education market. Unfortunately, the answer is…not so much.

Although international revenues of game-based and simulation-based “learning products” (basically games and apps) amounted to more than $5.9 billion in 2014, game-based learning has been slow to gain a foothold in classrooms, especially in the U.S.

Chen points out that “…teachers don’t tend to use the more effective immersive games, preferring bite-sized nuggets of interactivity.” The structure of our educational system hasn’t changed enough to accommodate game-based learning, in spite of encouraging research confirming its value.

According to Chen, most of the traction in the educational-games market is in preschool apps, language-learning tools, and brain trainers (such as Lumosity).

Chen surveyed educational-game developers to get their take on what’s happening in the learning-game market. Here’s a quick summary of what she found out:

  • Companies need to aim for developing products that will sell a lot—upwards of 10,000 copies—in order to get a reliable return on their investment.
  • Parents are more likely to pay for apps for preschoolers than apps for older kids. Grade-school kids tend to want to pick their own apps and go for entertainment over education.
  • Developers have had some good results developing games and apps that can be sold into a lot of different markets, from the military to museums to schools. (Virtual Heroes is an example.)
    Educational games

    Virtual Heroes makes the Race to Mars simulation.

  • One strategy for edtech developers is to give their products away free to cash-strapped schools and agencies in the hope that they will prove themselves. They hope the schools will find the money to pay later. It’s not true that schools have no money—they pay plenty for textbooks—but they seem to be risk-averse when it comes to laying out large sums for games-based learning.
  • Teachers have been conditioned to expect educational apps and games to be free, and often they don’t know how to tell the difference between good learning tools and mediocre ones. “There seems to exist a serious disconnect between costs, value, and what is a quality product.”
  • All the emphasis on testing and measuring learning should encourage the use of games in education because games are inherently good at measuring learning results. But, says Chen, “There is no standard platform for learner analytics.” Games not only need to measure learning, they need to measure it in a way that the system recognizes. Teachers tend to avoid the hassle of implementing anything that doesn’t fit perfectly into the existing system (and its standardized tests and common-core standards).
  • Games have to fit the devices that are already being used in particular schools.
  • While Australia has a standardized distribution platform for edtech, Australia’s National Digital Learning Resources Network, the U.S. system of decentralized school districts is localized and fragmented. Selling to U.S. schools is a long and complicated process.

While the results of Chen’s survey are not so encouraging for educational-game developers, there are bright spots here and there. Future articles on will explore the possibilities.



This article was written by

Linda learned to play video games as a way to connect with her teenaged kids, and then she learned to love video games for their own sake. At Pixelkin she wrangles the business & management side of things, writes posts as often as she can, reaches out on the social media, and does the occasional panel or talk. She lives in Seattle, where she writes, studies, plays video games, spends time with her family, consumes vast quantities of science fiction, and looks after her small cockapoo. She loves to hear from people out there. You can read more about her at her website, Linda or her family foundation's website,