While the vast majority of journalists think news games can be positive additions to the toolset that online media companies use, most have not attempted to create a news game because of the perceived learning curve that comes with it, a new survey shows.
The June 2015 survey conducted by Playable Media Creative shows that even members of the Online News Association, whose members rank in the vanguard of digital innovation among news producers and directors, were stymied by their lack of knowledge on how to create news games and the fear that such an undertaking would be prohibitively resource intensive. They were also concerned that they would have to spend too much time making a news game “fun” or engaging with potential players.
There is a “lack of expertise in the newsroom in developing a truly interactive game with the same game mechanics used by game designers and developers” one respondent said.
“Too many news games lack input from professional game designers and, as a result, suck,” another said.
Playable Media Creative founders Retha Hill, executive director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at the Cronkite School of Journalism, and Juli James, an instructor of digital media at UNT-Mayborn and former coordinator at the Center for Games & Impact at ASU, conducted the survey in June.
Respondents ranged from members of ONA, the Diverse Social Media Facebook Group, AEJMC and News Geist/News Foo. While 57.5 percent of the respondents said they had a positive or extremely positive view of news games and 10 percent had a negative view of them, more than 44 percent of them had never attempted to make one. Only nine percent had ever created a news game.
The Playable Media team won a Knight Foundation Prototype Fund grant in May 2015 to build a tool that will make it easier for content producers to create news games. With the tool, journalists can concentrate on the narrative and the content – dialogue, photos or animation – instead of the mechanics that power the game. Hill and James, along with Playable Stories engineer and the third founder of the Playable Media team, Adam Ingram-Goble, will have the prototype ready to demonstrate in Fall 2015.
Respondents overwhelmingly said news games help journalism and storytelling (62.7 percent); only 9.3 percent said they hurt journalism. More than 23 percent worried that news games could trivialize the news. Nearly a third of the respondents were neutral on whether news games would hurt or help journalism.
The vast majority said it is important that news games be engaging but more importantly that they are based on sound research, reporting and data.
While the respondents seem interested in experimenting with news games, the chief worries were the amount of money (46 percent) and other resources (46 percent) it would take to make a good news game. More than 30 percent of them fretted that journalists would be under pressure to make a “fun” game.
The survey data show that a story builder tool could help plug the gap between interest in making a game and the lack of know-how among news producers or programming teams at news organizations. In the survey, more than 81 percent said they would need to know programming for games before they would attempt to create one and nearly 74 percent said they would first need to know more about the elements of game design. Costs, art and design issues and the writing for games also were hurdles for newsrooms to create games even if they had a good idea.