Tag Archives | LittleBigPlanet

Coming Soon: An Education in LittleBigPlanet

The Entertainment Software Association is jumping for joy today over President Barack Obama’s acceptance of video games as an educational tool. As part of a bigger plan to boost education in science, technology, engineering and math, two game design competitions were announced, and the results will be used in classrooms, libraries and community organizations.

One of the contests will challenge game designers to create levels in last year’s Playstation 3 exclusive LittleBigPlanet, stressing science and math. The winning levels will be distributed for free, as all LBP levels are, and Sony will also donate 1,000 PS3s, along with the game, to libraries and community groups in low-income areas.

The other contest is a straight-up math and science-themed game design competition. Speaking to Kotaku, ESA President and CEO Michael Gallagher said the games could reach school classrooms by next fall. He beamed that today is a “very, very good day” for the gaming industry and “a significant leap into maturity and toward acceptance.”

This might sound silly, but I’m hoping that whatever comes out of these contests isn’t overtly educational, because that concept is neither new nor exciting. I played Number Munchers in elementary school, and while I was happy to be gaming instead of solving problems on paper, deep down I’d rather have been playing Pac-Man, or better yet, Super Mario Bros. Fast forward 20 years, and you’ve got the “Heating Plastics” game at the Nobel Prize’s Web site, which I could barely sit through long enough to find out how to play. It’s like chloroform.

Games are certainly capable of hiding their educational qualities. If you play an RPG, you’ll pick up resource management skills. If you play a strategy game, you’ll deal with conflicting and complicated decisions. Play Portal or World of Goo and you’ll learn a thing or two about physics. I don’t think math and science skills are impossible to bake into game types that kids really want to be playing. The trick is to mask it, otherwise it’s just another educational game the kid will forget once he or she is back home with the Wii.

So yes, games industry, today is an important day. Don’t blow it.

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Sorry, Video Game Critics: Nobody’s Listening

Sony Little Big PlanetBad news for those of us who like unique video games: In its fourth week on the U.S. market, the Playstation 3 exclusive LittleBigPlanet has fallen out of the top 20 in weekly sales. This is despite a Metacritic score of 95 percent and quite a few perfect ratings from noteworthy review outlets.

Obviously, there’s going to be some trepidation over new game franchises, and it doesn’t help that the Playstation 3 has a relatively small install base compared to the Wii and Xbox 360. But a recent survey by Ad-Ology Media Influence on Consumer Choice suggests a  more surprising reason for LittleBigPlanet’s commercial failure: Compared to television advertisements and online videos, gamers just don’t listen to us critics that much.

The survey found that 70 percent of game and console purchasers based their decisions at least partly on TV ads, and 54 percent were influenced by online videos. Only 38 percent of those surveyed were significantly influenced by online reviews. In the golden 18-24 demographic, a staggering 84.9 percent said commercials and other information from TV affected their purchases. Our egos aside, seeing a fine game like LittleBigPlanet slip through the cracks is discouraging.

So how did LittleBigPlanet advertise itself? In Europe, TV spots focused on the game’s hallmark level creation tools. As cool as they are, I’ve got to wonder how many non-hardcore consumers will be sold on the idea in 30 seconds. On our side of the pond, we heard about how you could dress the characters up as heroes from another Playstation brand, and we got a spiel about the nature of fun while some gameplay in the background goes unexplained. It’s hardly the stuff that sends you running out to GameSpot.

Compare LittleBigPlanet’s ads to the delicate mix of guns, explosions and gallows humor in the Call of Duty: World at War commercials and you can see why the latter game is effortlessly stomping the charts this week, despite being a simple rehash of last year’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

An optimist might say original games aren’t necessarily doomed, they just needs better marketing. But I believe the advertising problem is inherent to these kinds of games. LittleBigPlanet, while simple in its evolved approach to the classic platforming genre, is tough to explain in a short TV spot. I actually had no idea what the game was about until I started reading reviews. The problem is, most people don’t do that.