“Why are you working on a game that was done years ago? Why on earth would you be happy about that?”– Many people
This is a question I get asked by everyone from investors to teachers to random people sitting next to me on an airplane.
Why old games need new updates
A game may suddenly quit working because the browser it runs in or device it runs on has changed requirements. Initially, when you went to a screen in a Making Camp game, the video would play and, at the end, you’d see some questions on the video. Then, Chrome, Firefox and other browsers started blocking autoplay because of those annoying video ads that would start playing when you went to a web page. So, we had to create some user interaction before the video could play. Now, a title page shows up and you need to click the arrow to start the movie.
Four reasons I am happy to be fixing older games
- The fact that a game is around long enough to be no longer optimal for some browsers or devices is great news! A game that was released over four years ago could be considered old. Think how many times something is popular for a season and you forget about it.
- More users means more devices to support. We often start with a game that looks good on Chromebooks and iPads because that is where most educational games are used. With over 100,000 users now, though, we have players using an iPhone SE, Galaxy 5 and many, many more devices. If we only have 15,000 users and 10% of them want a smaller screen size, it might not make sense to spend time making sure the boxes that will be dragged into the baskets above fit on the screen. Once we have ten times that number of users, though, revising the games for smaller screens is more reasonable.
- More users means more time spent on the game can be justified. Many of our games were developed with very little early funding. We thought that students would want to play them and learn math and history from our games but not everyone agreed. So, we created on a shoestring budget and when we had evidence that teachers were using the games in classrooms and students were completing math problems, we were able to get more funding to make the games better.
- We’ve gotten better and so has technology. From four or seven years ago, both the capabilities of the technology we use has improved and so has our knowledge of various programming languages and engines. We have been able to make changes to make the games more stable – for example, to use a backup font if they don’t find the one they are expecting. Even though you can’t see the code, we have rewritten some of it so that, for example, animation is smoother. These are the kind of changes we make every day, and every six months or year, we release a new game update.
Okay, I’m convinced. So why aren’t you doing new releases all the time?
Once I answer this, it is going to be obvious. We work on bug fixes all the time but most educational institutions do the vast majority of their software updates in the summer. Teachers edit their lesson plans in August using the software on their device. Students get issued laptops or tablets in the fall. A much smaller number of updates will be done over Christmas or spring break.
That’s why we’ll have several updated releases from April through June, a few in November/ December and a few in March.
This isn’t to say that if there is a major bug – a game level the player can’t win, losing all the player’s points, not writing progress on math problems to the database – that we won’t drop everything, fix it and do a new release. We will, but, fortunately, since games like Making Camp Lakota have been around a while all of those major bugs were eliminated long ago – and that’s another thing to be happy about.