Beyond hasbara, improving the video game industry in Israel would have positive economic benefits. As mentioned above, the video game industry contributed more than $6 billion to America’s GDP in 2012, with the industry employing around 146,000 workers across 36 states.21 Employees earn an average salary of $90,000 a year.
According to Israel Advanced Technology Industries, Israel’s largest umbrella organization for the high-tech and life sciences industries, Israel’s video game industry comprises roughly 150 companies generating close to $500 million in annual revenue.22 Israel has a lot of companies creating games for the mobile application market, but there are no major game studios in Israel producing blockbuster video games. While it is relatively inexpensive to create mobile applications, this is not the case for producing and marketing AAA* video games. The 2013 video game, Grand Theft Auto 5, cost around $265 million dollars to create and market.23 That investment was quickly recouped in its first day on the market with a record crushing $800 million in sales, and over a billion dollars in the following days. Israeli video game companies are not presently capitalized to spend the necessary funds to produce AAA games.
In order to compete in the video game market, Israel will need to increase the size and abilities of its game industry. Many states in the U.S. have taken great efforts to increase the size of their video game industry to create jobs and boost their economies.
The state of Washington, which has smaller population than Israel, is home to the third largest number of video game industry employees in the United States. Between 2009 and 2012 the video game industry in Washington grew by 7.5 percent, five times as much as their overall economy during that period. Over 12,800 game industry related jobs there added $600 million to the state’s economy in 2012.24 Washington is home to approximately 330 interactive media companies, with revenues of $19 billion.25
Some of the success of Washington’s interactive entertainment industry can be attributed to the Washington Interactive Network (WIN), a nonprofit organization created a decade ago “to promote, nurture, and grow the Interactive Media industry cluster in Washington State.”
Washington is also able to attract interactive entertainment companies through the following tax incentives:
- No state income tax for individuals
- No state corporate income tax
- No capital gains tax
- Advanced Computing R&D Business & Occupation Tax Credit
While Israel may not be prepared to broadly adopt such aggressive tax incentives, it should consider the creation of specific industry zones or hubs that offer some tax incentives to encourage the growth of the interactive entertainment industry.
Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana have all passed legislation offering incentives to the video game industry.26 Some states have also used partnerships with universities as a way to grow the interactive media industry.
Within Europe, Germany, through its federal economic development agency, actively seeks to attract international gaming companies. With a gaming industry of 10,000 employees, it attributes its success to the 40 education facilities, both private and public, that offer video game related courses.27
One of the challenges faced by Israel’s gaming industry is an inexperienced work force. Because there are no major game studios in Israel, Israeli game programmers and computer animators seek employment abroad. Once the relevant experience is gained, it is unlikely that Israelis could find comparable employment in Israel.
In order to improve the quality and experience of Israel’s gaming industry, the government of Israel should encourage institutes of higher education to offer more programs and courses in video game design and production. Special attention should be paid to provide students in these programs internship opportunities in major game studios abroad to gain practical job experience that they can bring back to Israel.
Edutainment and Gamification
Today’s youth, for better or worse, expect instant gratification from activities they undertake. Many teachers are challenged by the need to be both good educators and entertainers in order to have real impact in the classroom. Because video games are a very familiar medium among youth today, there has been a natural attempt to use games and game properties in the classroom. This is done primarily in two ways.
The first is through games whose direct purpose is teaching or improving a skill. Games designed for Jewish education already exist. Jewish Interactive is a South Africa based game studio that “uses educational technology to create accessible, affordable and engaging Jewish education for any child, anywhere.” They claim to have reached over 83,000 children.28 Educational games, like those made by Jewish Interactive, should be invested in and utilized by the Jewish world.
The second way that games have been used as educational aids is through adopting the fundamental aspects and techniques of games to help motivate and engage students in learning new concepts or accomplish specific tasks. This is known as gamification, turning something into a game by using game like properties such as goals, rewards, and ascending levels.
The popular, free website Khan Academy (khanacademy.com) is one of the best examples of effective gamification. It uses instructional videos and interactive self-paced exercises to teach various subjects. Khan’s math section, for example, uses a very elaborate game-based approach. The site breaks down the world of mathematics, as taught from first grade through university level, into over 1,000 specific skills. Each skill reflects a single concept, from counting and measuring lines, all the way through the complex operations of differential and integral calculus.
Khan Academy screenshot
For each skill there is a least one 5-10 minute video lecture between followed by an interactive test. In order to successfully pass the test, five questions in a row must be answered correctly. To demonstrate that one has mastered a skill, s/he must pass three additional segments of three questions each. These questions do not vary in levels of difficulty, but each segment can only be passed after 16 hours have elapsed between segments. This helps commit skills to memory and also provides an incentive to return to the website the following day.
The website has an elaborate system of rewards: Points are rewarded for watching videos and answering questions correctly, as well as for speed and winning streaks. Like scouting, the site offers a variety of patches and badges rewarded for achieving “mastery” in various topics.
Using Khan Academy’s gamification model, Jewish educational institutions could improve Jewish literacy across all ages by enhancing the learning process. For this reason, Jewish educational institutions should invest in creating and building gamified platforms.
Besides using gamification for educational purposes, it can also be used to help motivate and persuade individuals to perform specific tasks. A good example in Israel was “IDF Ranks,” a system deployed by the Israel Defense Forces in 2012 and active during Operation Pillar of Defense in November of 2012. According to the IDF Blog:
IDF Ranks is an interactive game, directly implemented into all of the IDF’s social platforms allowing YOU to be a virtual part of the IDF. Every action you take – reading, commenting, liking, sharing or even just visiting – will earn you points and help you climb the ladder of IDF Ranks. Specific actions will win you beautiful badges, and one day you might even become the Chief of Staff to IDF Ranks.29
In this case, the goal of the gamification was to help disseminate information released by the spokesperson’s unit. Turning the process of dissemination into a game assumingly provided individuals with added incentive, gratification, and a sense of belonging.
IDF Ranks Promotional Page
Although IDF Ranks was predictably controversial, receiving some negative publicity – Jeffrey Goldberg called it “disgraceful”30 – its success ought to be measured according to whether it improved the IDF’s overall ability to disseminate information. As of yet, no such information has been released.
Leaving the controversy aside, “IDF Ranks” does demonstrate the potential of gamification and should serve as an example for social platforms. Jewish organizations and Israeli government institutions should consider how to employ gamification to motivate and engage individuals in achieving institutional goals, such as fundraising and raising awareness about important issues.