Serious game development: eight common challenges



Serious games are an effective way to achieve your business goals. However, developing a serious game is not easy.  From the idea to the final serious game, you may encounter all kinds of complex challenges. In this article, we share eight common challenges you may encounter when developing a serious game.

Eight challenges in serious game development we will discuss are:

  1. Determining the right goal
  2. Keeping the serious game fun and engaging
  3. Choosing the right genre and platform
  4. Listening to the opinions of the players
  5. Not developing more than necessary
  6. Collecting the right data
  7. Convincing the target audience about the game
  8. Reaching the target audience

We also tell you how to deal with these challenges. In this way, you will be optimally prepared for any problems in the development process and achieve the best results. Let’s get started!

1. Determine the right goal

Serious games are fun. But, that’s probably not the reason you want to develop one. You have a particular problem you want to solve. Before you start developing, it is wise to set a clear objective. During development, for example, it is prudent to run a pilot among the target group.  You can then immediately measure whether the game does what it should do. It is often a challenge to be objective when determining the goal. Therefore it is good to involve the relevant parties in determining your objective. Think of someone from your target audience,  your colleagues or external stakeholders.

Make your objective as specific as possible, and make it measurable. Suppose you want to speed up the orientation process of your new employees and use a serious game for that purpose, then an example of such an objective could be: “Reduce the familiarization period for new employees at company X from 4 to 2 weeks, without compromising on the quality in the knowledge transfer process”.

2. Keep the serious game fun and interesting

Serious games are games with a purpose other than pure entertainment. Often the goal is to transfer knowledge, change behavior or teach a skill. Games are entertaining, but if the player constantly has to perform the same action to pass a level,  you will quickly lose their attention. So it is a challenge for game developers to keep the game fun and engaging.

There are numerous game design techniques to keep a serious game fun and engaging. One example is ‘pacing or flow’. This principle is clearly seen in racing games, where the player experiences a constant wave of intensity. For example, after driving a quiet, straight stretch, the player enters a sea of curves and complicated manoeuvres and suddenly has to drive the car with full focus. This cycle gives the player the feeling that they are on a roller coaster. The difficulty constantly changes. Because the player is constantly challenged, the game remains engaging.

Want to know what other techniques are used to keep serious games engaging? We’ll go into them in detail in this article.

3. Choosing the right genre and platform

Serious games are for everyone! However, not all game genres are suitable for all target groups and objectives. There are different types of game genres. Think of action, adventure, simulation, sports, shooter, storytelling, board game, or puzzle. Which genre(s) do you choose?

First, you should know your target audience. In Actief op Jacht, a serious game designed for elderly people living at home and interested in group activities during the day. The game developers incorporated well-known board games from the past for their target players. As a result, the elderly connect more with the game. That is an example of a smart choice of genre.

The goal of the game can also be decisive. For instance, if the goal is to create awareness, a storytelling genre is a good choice. To instruct new staff in the use of complicated machinery, a simulation or management game can be used.

You can see the same principle in the choice of platform. One of the goals of Actief op Jacht was to get the elderly to enjoy quality time together.  However, they are less likely to have a smartphone. Therefore, the choice was made to play the serious game on-location via a Kinect camera on a game console.

4. Listening to the opinions of the players

During the development of a serious game, you can sometimes get lost in your own enthusiasm and belief. For instance, you think you have an incredibly good idea for a new addition to the game. Go ahead and do something with it, but make sure you also ask the players for their opinion. It may be that the target group is not waiting for this at all.

It is wise to appoint someone within the project who ensures that functionalities are tested with the players and shares this information with the development team.

5. Not developing more than necessary

The fifth challenge is somewhat similar to the previous one. Serious games can consist of countless features. You can continue to develop them indefinitely. Yet that does not mean that the game will actually get better. Therefore, first develop the basis. In other words: a minimal version of the game that is of value to the player and can be built as quickly as possible.

Grendel Games works according to the Scrum method in sprints of 2 weeks. At the beginning of each sprint, it is decided together with the customer which development will add the most value for the end-user at that moment and how much time it will take to implement. This method ensures that only what is necessary is developed.

6. Collect the right data

In the first paragraph, we talked about determining your objective. To find out if you are achieving your objective, you need to collect data. The challenge is to collect only the right data and to respect the privacy of the players.

The second step is to interpret the data correctly. How you do this, of course, depends on the project and your objective. We have previously written an article on how to prove that serious games work. In it, we give some examples of issues and validation.

7. Convince the target group of the game

Once your serious game is ready, the goal is of course to get your target audience to play it. As annoying as it may sound, there is a chance that the target group is not waiting for serious games right away. This is actually quite logical. People need to know why they are playing it, what the point of the game is, and what they can gain from it. Also, the players sometimes have to learn how the serious game intervention works.

Our best tip is to make sure the game is not forced on the target group. This can be counterproductive. It is especially necessary to calmly introduce the target group to the game, guide them and, for example, use ambassadors who know how to convince that target group.

But, there is another important part in the implementation process: reaching the target group.

8. Reaching the target group

Serious games can be difficult to market because the target group does not know what it is and what they can gain from it. This is especially a challenge for games that are available to a wide audience.  To provide more information about the serious game and reach the target audience, you may need to use different marketing tools. Think of:

  • A website: on which the player can find information about the game, why it is interesting to play and how you can play it.
  • Design: an appropriate logo and consistent color palette for all marketing communications.
  • Advertising: maybe you want to use the serious game on a large scale, and you need to set up ads for social media, Google or, for example, in bus shelters.
  • Presentations: sometimes it also helps to present the game to the target audience or organize a workshop where players learn to play together with professionals the first time.

It is wise to draw up a plan in which you describe what needs to be done in terms of marketing. If necessary, call in professionals who can help you with this.

Can we help you any further?

As you have read, it can be difficult to create a successful serious game.  Besides the game development, issues such as involving the target group and different choices before you start developing are also important. Do you still have questions about serious games development or do you need help?


Please contact Tim Laning for an informal meeting. We are happy to think along with you:

Tim Laning

Business developer

Do you want to know more about the possibilities of serious games? Let’s discuss what serious games can do for you.


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