Few studios recognise the increasing potential of undertaking work in the serious gaming space. Pitbull MD Robert Troughton offers an example of why it can work, and why your studio should consider the option
Serious Gaming is a sector of games development often overlooked by studios and individuals that have typically worked more in the triple-A space.
These developers are perhaps all too familiar with industry and public sectors frowning upon their work; even the fitness gaming specialty took a hit at first as fitness gurus claimed that it would stop people from doing ‘real’ exercise.
In some sectors, however, these worries are starting to fade. In fact, in the healthcare sector, many researchers are now considering gaming as a very real opportunity.
The problems facing the world’s health sectors are well documented. There are plenty of statistics to quantify this. For example, 50 per cent of total healthcare spending comes from five per cent of the population in the US, while in the UK, stroke patients occupy approximately 20 per cent of all acute hospital beds and 25 per cent of long term beds.
Some pretty worrying statistics, and as people live longer and as we live unhealthier lifestyles, those figures will only get worse. It’s due to the realisation of these facts that the NHS, and others worldwide, have recently begun looking at alternative ways to bring those costs down.
Limbs Alive is a company that was formed in 2010 and which has been working exclusively with ourselves, Pitbull Studio, in the rehabilitative health sector.
What we’re trying to do together is to create serious – but fun – games which can help hemiplegia sufferers to recover and regain independence. Hemiplegia is total paralysis of the arm, leg and trunk on the same side of the body. Properly treating hemiplegia sufferers is a costly thing for the health sector worldwide, especially for upper body movement. Lower body movement is typically easier to treat – the patient will help themselves here by their need to move around – but upper body movement can be more of an issue. Sufferers often learn to cope using just one arm.
In front of a pitch committee in late 2009, Pitbull presented their design and ideas for a game presently called Big Top to help in this sector. The brief from the soon-to-be-formed Limbs Alive was clear cut: create a game incorporating several defined movements in a fun game environment suitable for children and the elderly alike.
The idea was simple; we would bring the required movements into a PC-based circus game using Sixense motion controllers – featuring events such as juggling, knife throwing, high dive and trapeze. The controllers were a much better fit for the requirements posed by the committee as they afforded full six degrees of freedom – similar to what can now be achieved with Kinect, and much better than what can be pulled from a Wii-mote.
All major public sector spending needs to be ‘put out to tender’ – that is, a committee needs to be created and a tender needs to be sent out to the private sector for companies or individuals to pitch on. The committee can decide which pitch to accept – based mostly on quality of the bid and the cost involved.
A result of this is that it’s then very difficult to get additional funding – so that initial bid needs to be one which will definitely cover costs. If a less experienced team goes in with a lower bid than your own then they may end up winning the tender – even though, realistically, they can’t complete the work.
One definite pro is that with the right research, there’s a really good chance of winning a tender in this sector. If you find yourself presenting in front of the committee then, chances are, there won’t be too many companies pitching against you.
Decisions on who a tender is awarded to will also often be made in a very timely manner – the timetable for decisions is often laid out in advance. Another pro is that you won’t find yourself worrying that the fund source is going to go bankrupt before you complete.
The only real con that Pitbull has had with working with the NHS has been that, at times, their lack of experience in the gaming sector has shown through with concerns about milestone deliverables – one milestone deliverable was delayed by a week because we hadn’t chosen music tracks for one of the levels, for example.
That said, given the chance to work on such a fulfilling project again, we would absolutely jump at it – and we’d wholeheartedly recommend others to do the same. For us, it makes a nice change from ‘Test Drive 12’ and ‘Brighton Rush’.