It’s Going to be a Great Year for Math Games (& how I know that from judo)

Stowe, Vt ski slopeI’m working on the latest two proposals for federal funding for our computer games while sitting by the fire in a ski resort in Vermont, which is funny because I have never skied in my life and don’t intend to start now. I’m meeting with two people who we would like to have begin working with us this year. In fact, I think one will start as our new marketing and social media person next week. THEY like to snowboard so here we are meeting in Vermont.

I have a meeting in Boston on Saturday with another group of people before heading home.

In both the proposals I’m writing and the meetings I’ve been having, I’ve been telling people over and over –

“We’re going to make millions on this.”

Sometimes they look at me a little funny –  this isn’t the sort of things people in education normally say, and half the purpose of our games is to be educational. The other half is to be fun games or no one will get to the educational part.

It reminds me a lot of when I was competing in judo and told people I was going to win the world championships. They looked at me funny, then, too, because no American had ever done it.

On the other hand, other people have made millions of dollars writing games. Yes, lots of people have not made much money, but one reason lots of them haven’t is the great majority of apps being cranked out are crap. Someone told me it makes me sound arrogant when I say that and who do I think I am that ours will be better  – which makes me think of judo again, because I heard the exact same thing when I said I was going to win a gold medal. It really is true, though, that there is a HUGE amount in the educational game space – apps, online games and desktop games – that is just plain garbage. The world is full of people hoping to get rich quick, who use some drag and drop program or learn a very little bit of coding and then upload some piece of schlock waiting for the money to roll in. I learned from judo that the old “let’s all pretend we are equal and get along” bit didn’t cut it. I don’t want to be equal. I want to be better.

That’s another thing I learned from judo – hard work pays off and harder work pays off more. Between Christmas and January 5th, I’ll have had four meetings in three states with potential customers, employees and collaborators. While I’m working on proposals, the Rocket Scientist is hitting the list of fixes, revisions, and improvements.

One more judo lesson – sometimes you have to put in a lot of work before you see the pay off. I can’t exactly say we are betting the farm on this – come on, I’m blogging from a ski resort – but we will certainly be taking a cut in income as we put almost all of our hours that could be billable into the games we are writing instead.

The main lesson I learned from competing for 14 years is that if you keep focused on your goal and keep hacking* away, you eventually reach it. A lot of people say they want to win a gold medal ,because it sounds good. Not too many people are willing to put in the work for the long haul and I understand that. They have other goals. They want a more balanced life.

For me, I want to make these games. There are a few reasons. Making a lot of money is not the primary one, but having started out with very little, I can tell you money is nothing to sneeze at – it makes life easier, more convenient, more comfortable. Wanting to do it is about half because I am just plain interested for the technical challenge of making something that really teaches math to kids who aren’t the type who usually learn it very well. The other half is that it can make a difference in people’s lives. If you do well enough in school to graduate high school, go on to college, or even just know enough math skills to stay continuously employed – all of that makes a huge difference compared to dropping out of high school, not graduating from college or not being able to get any kind of job.

Why not just do it and give the game away? That’s really not practical. We need artwork, music , editing, testing, documentation, marketing – people aren’t willing to work for no money and we can only do so much ourselves. That is why so much stuff available is garbage – it takes a lot of time and money to make a good game. If you are talking about one to teach math, on top of time, money, talented artists, excellent developers and everything else that goes into a game, you also need people who understand not just math but how to teach it.

I’m not sure if this counts as a New Year’s resolution or more of a prediction, but it’s going to be a great year for math games.

* The Rocket Scientist told me I shouldn’t use the words “hacking” or “programmer” because they are low-level. Consequently, I use them both as much as possible to show that he is not the boss of me and word chooser of the house.

P.S. If you’re going to be at the workshop with JMM next week on Using Games to teach Statistics, say hey.


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