A natural decline.

I read an article which suggested that Minecraft Edu was out of new ideas with declining sales. Initially, as I was around at the time, this application was simply a series of mods The actual game was modded in such a way that main power was given to teacher along with tool which made it easier for them to regulate children and giving them Prêt-àPorter content and designs. Most of the videos posted about this educational version saw a teacher as the locus of control and the students as actors in the scene created.

I totally understand the potential business model here, and of course, with the buyout by Microsoft, the Edu Edition became a well rounded, promoted and supported product (as long as you also had Windows 10). Now, it is apparently stalled. There is no obvious replacement game to be modded and no new ideas in the Edu game it seems.

I never saw any value in the Edu edition, but plenty of people did. When Edu conferences talk about games, 99% of that is Minecraft Ed. So it’s been a rousing success for the developers so far. At the same time, games have expanded rapidly in children’s culture – yet classrooms remain barren. E-Sports, which is well regarded as a fast-growing, multi-billion dollar industry remains ignored by education as a valid pathway for learning or as a career, despite numerous traditional sports being over-saturated with potential players (those with a probable pathway to a career) and other sports which have no real career pathway due to a lack of national and international take-up. Yet children are still presented with these things as being more valid than E-Sports in their early teens. I’m sure if you love a particular sport, you don’t care if it’s a minority sport that won’t allow you to do it full time later in life. In many ways, established sports are, like Minecraft Edu, out of ideas when it comes to attracting children to take them up over the long term, but there’s often no alternative that appeals to schools.

I read some recent research on children’s digital life. It argued that children routinely break the suggested 2-hour use rule that is claimed to be the healthy limit. It also said that adults are aware of the rule, but don’t insist on applying it to children. In teenage years, there’s a split in what children choose to do with their media-time. Girls are four times more likely to be engaged in social media (esp Instagram) than boys, who by the age of 12 are well and truly more interesting in gaming – across multiple devices and platforms. It also suggested that boys were far more likely to be communicating in-game than girls and dominate the voice-channel – which stacks up in my experience.

So the question right now is not which games are good for children (and learning) as Gee said a decade ago, but at what point in children’s development do we acknowledge their preferences and create avenues for them to explore in a meaningful way – accounting for the growing research which argues gender differences play a massive role in screen-time choices and how they then activate that screen time experience into something that provides a positive, useful and meaningful pathway through the teenage years.

I don’t believe the ‘waiting for Superman’ behaviour is healthy. There is not going to be a new edu-game that appeals equally to girls and boys – and placates teacher belief or understanding of games and game cultures. Historically, all edu-games have been short-lived and commercial failures. Perhaps Minecraft Edu has simply ridden the ‘game wave’ at the right time — but is now failing to attract new teachers as the adoption curve predicts.

Why not engage kids based on their interests. If you have a few kids who are actually good at a game, then encourage it – as you do with a kid who’s half decent at cricket or rugby. For those who just like to play the game, well, there’s plenty of reasons (evidence) to suggest that games foster the core-values most people want – such as sportsmanship, communication, critical thinking and teamwork. What makes the material output of the game more important than that?

History shows that single-ideas decay in the face of new ideas and competition. Unique propositions are fraught with problems if they cannot re-invent themselves or alienate their first-adopter audiences. It’s also very hard to retreat to the ‘glory days’ if the audience and consumers have moved on. Right now, this is Minecraft Edu’s core problem – children have moved on in terms of what they are interested in, what parents allow and how family systems work. Teens are not playing Minecraft because parents allowed that, but banned something else. Teens are playing Fornite, Overwatch, COD, GTA, LOL, CSGO and are tuned into Twitch. This cultural shift presents Minecraft Edu with the age-old problem in gaming — how to remain relevant in shifting media landscape.

Why are schools still playing Minecraft Edu – because that is the extent of their investment and belief about games and E-Sports. It’s often the sole game allowed – which is perhaps better than nothing to a bored-teenager. Like many minor sports, Minecraft Edu has no obvious pathway – and yet the belief is that it’s good for children, whereas Fornite is bad. It will be interesting to see how Minecraft Edu overcomes the reported decline … and whether or not schools start to think about something more.