Epic adventure for positive change.
Titanium Chef is a free Role-Playing Game (available in English and French) designed to impact people’s overall health and well-being through what they eat. It was an ambitious, complex, multi-year project that our team still manages and maintains on behalf of the BC Dairy Association.
The game offers between 8 to 10 hours of solid gameplay (a level of depth unheard-of in most educational games), and all the core educational concepts can be covered by a student within one 45-minute session. This flexibility gives the game value in a variety of educational situations, from one-off computer lab assignments to weeks-long modules. And kids actually finish it because they want to.
From Risk to Reward
To effect behavioural change, people need a solid understanding of how their own daily food intake choices affect their long-term health. Like teeth-brushing or exercise, a framework of ritual coupled with an understanding of importance can help connect the long-term benefits with seemingly-disconnected short-term actions. This learning begins at a young age, and BC Dairy identified a gap in educational resources for children aged 11 to 14 years.
The project posed lots of risks, but the three most significant challenges we faced led to some our best solutions:
- The technology didn’t exist. Many of the things we wanted to do with Titanium Chef had never been done before (or done well). To meet the project objectives, we developed a custom game engine and built specialized in-house tools for game creation, content management, and localization.
- Balancing education with fun is incredibly hard. It’s really hard to make a game fun, and it’s really hard to make an application that teaches well. Trying to do both is something few programs can pull off, but we knew it could be done. Bringing years of experience in creating award-winning designs, digital narratives, and technology solutions to the table, we’ve learned how to develop strategies and plans to make the success of our projects a greater likelihood.
- The audience was all over the place. The target audience covered an age range of 11 to 14, boys and girls. 11-year-olds still loved Disney and Neopets, while 14-year-olds… well, they just want to be 18. Creating a property which would capture and hold the attention of both ends of the spectrum was possibly the greatest challenge of this initiative. We worked on finding that sweet-spot of tone, subject matter, and style that resonated without being “dumbed-down” or “lowest common denominator”.
SAVING THE GALAXY… WITH COOKING
Instead of down-playing from the potentially-dry subject matter, we embraced it and made the learning integral to the DNA of the game. People are pattern-making machines. Games are ultimately about decoding patterns and optimizing the heuristics needed to succeed at the game’s objectives. So, by nature, games can tune human behaviour to succeed at specific processes, be it hand-eye coordination or planning a day of healthy meals. The trick in creating an effective educational game is in discovering which patterns might translate best across conceptual domains and also be conducive to fun gameplay. That’s where much of our testing and research was focused.
Titanium Chef lets players get immersed in a rich universe of kooky characters, exotic locations, and epic backstories that integrate educational content in a fun way. By developing a base cycle of acquire > train > practice, we were able to create an educational pattern that aligned well with a typical three-act narrative pattern—which could then be replicated at multiple scales and skill levels. Follow-up surveys have verified that the game really works to improve retention of the game’s core principles (serving sizes, foods classification, choosing healthy alternatives to snacks, and daily self-evaluation).
But if you ask kids (and adults) what they like most about the game, they’ll probably tell you it’s the great story. The story of a young Bot who overcomes adversity to transform from an unlikely nobody into the hero that saves the Galaxy… through cooking. You’ll just have to play it for yourself.
- 22,000 people viewed the game within a two week timeframe in the first month of the program’s launch. This was mainly done through word-of-mouth and inexpensive social network marketing.
- Users spend an average of 23 to 30 minutes per session with the program. This was true for the first year of the program’s launch, and is still true today, nearly 4 years later.
- Nearly 10% of all registered users (people that have created an account instead of playing as guest) have completed the game. And some have completed the game multiple times. Think about this: this is an educational game that takes at minimum 4 to 6 hours to finish (with up to 4 hours of optional gameplay and quests). This is a game that students have only a few dedicated hours in which to play at school. This metric tells us that the game was not just good at teaching, but it was actually a great game, worthy of someone’s time. Worthy to play through to the very end, even from home.
- Female players outnumber male players by 10%. For a tough demographic that’s picky about their gaming experiences, this not only tells us that girls like this action game as much as the boys, but that the story and content is accessible and fun for all genders.
- Played in 119 countries around the world. Certainly the largest percentage of players is in the target market of Canada (with a focus on British Columbia). But the fact that the game has taken the nutrition education message to unexpected places like France, Tunisia and Vietnam is testament to the accessibility of the core message and the design.
- Played in over 5,000 schools across Canada. This includes many teachers, who have used recent game updates to create private class accounts which allows them to track their students’ progress.
- Winner for “Best Kids Interactive” of Canada. The cherry on top was an underdog win at the Canadian New Media Awards in 2009, leading to more press coverage and increased traffic. The property has since won many other prestigious awards.