At the UK eLearning Mission that happened last week, one of the US representatives was from a game development firm established to work in the Serious Games space after having been contacted about one of their pure games (very much like the ‘military squad’ games). They do full immersive games of a scale approaching that of commercial games, and with a similar quality. I assumed at a similar price point, but he jumped on that.
He said they worked out at about $18K per hour of training, but admitted that they couldn’t drop that down to $6K for 20 minutes. It was clear that there was some sort of minimum size before his numbers made sense, but he was cagey about the details. Ah, business…
So it’s not clear what the tipping point is between when you can and should make do with small games or when you want to go for full immersion game play. My natural reactions are to focus on the learning outcomes and keep the immersion for when it makes sense (as his initial example did), such as ambient contextualization, and otherwise situate the decisions you need with the minimal amount of production and tune to get the experience.
I also had a chance to talk to him about the processes they used to develop a game. Unlike the approach I use for small games (see the tools at the Engaging Learning resources page), where first we develop a concept document (audience, decisions, misconceptions, consequences, and a proposed storyline) and then a storyboard (all the screens, variables, initialization, draft visuals, prose, and rules) they develop a script without visual assets at all, and actually put that into the game engine and run it as a text adventure game until they have the play debugged. Then they do the visual assets.
This makes sense, I reckon, for his scale and production processes. An interesting lesson for me (still lusting after a chance to play with a larger size project than I have to date).