Gaming — not always as bad as you think

In fact, you can be considered ‘a hero’ if you stay home more to reduce any contact with others

By AZALEA AZUAR

THE year 2020 will forever be remembered as the year when no one would be faulted or judged for spending too much time playing video games.

In fact, you can be considered “a hero” if you stay home more to reduce any contact with others. After all, one innocent visit, especially for the elderly, might just be the last. A hug becomes a threat and a kiss could be a weapon!

Now, who would have thought that staying home and playing games would be useful during this crisis?

It’s Not Game Over Yet

As part of their CSR,
many companies have been donating gadgets and being involved in training sessions to school (pic: Bloomberg)

The anticipated sports event of the year, the Tokyo Olympics 2020, has been postponed until next year.

In the US, the National Basketball Association board of governors had also held discussions on whether to delay the start of the 2020-21 season until December.

On May 18, Premier League clubs had agreed to return to training protocols which enabled their football teams to start training in small groups beginning the following day.

As most of the major sporting events had to be cancelled due to Covid-19, sports fans and players now turn to eSports as the closest alternative.

According to analytics firm Stream Hatchet SL, online streaming platforms have recorded a 43% jump in viewership to nearly 465 million hours in the week beginning March 29.

Electronic Arts Inc’s competitive gaming division senior VP Todd Sitrin saw a dramatic increase in viewership for eSports broadcasts.

The free-to-play battle royale game “Apex Legends” saw an increase of two to three times its normal viewership in the first quarter of 2020.

“All the traditional sports have suspended their seasons and broadcasts, so what we’ve seen is that fans are really searching for a way to get their sports fix,” Sitrin said.

Professional gamers who compete in competitions win thousands and for a team, they can win up to millions.

For instance, a Malaysian gamer and his team earned more than US$4.1 million (RM16.8 million) after winning second place in The International 2018 “Dota 2” tournament in 2018.

In 2019, the global audience for eSports was around 443 million people, a 12% growth from the previous year.

With much of this coming from sponsorship and media rights, the eSports market is predicted to hit over US$1 billion this year.

Unfortunately, with the Covid-19 pandemic, many big gaming events such as the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and Tokyo Game Show had to be postponed and cancelled.

New releases this year have been delayed due to remote working conditions and shipping. One of them is “The Last of Us Part II”, which is ironically a game about a deadly virus which turns humans into cannibalistic zombies.

The game, which is Sony Corp’s biggest release for 2020, was originally scheduled for a May 29 launch. The date has been pushed back till further notice.

Square Enix Holdings Co Ltd’s most long-awaited game since E3 2005 “Final Fantasy VII Remake” has also been delayed from

March 3 to April 10.

To avoide potential release disruptions caused by Covid-19, the game had been shipped earlier to Europe and Australia.

Three days within its release, “Final Fantasy VII Remake” has sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide.

Pros and Cons

Malaysia is one of the biggest games markets in South-East Asia (in terms of absolute revenues) as 20.1 million Malaysians spend an impressive US$673 million on games in 2019.

Gaming is a popular form of escapism as it takes you to another world where you get immersed in the story and can control the protagonist.

Although gaming is fun and entertaining, it can also lead to health problems such as poor postures and eyesight issues.

Addiction to the game is also another matter that players need to be cautious of. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has already added “gaming disorder” into the International Classification of Diseases. This is why WHO recommends that gamers be aware of the number of hours they spend gaming.

From Production House to Edutech Company

Still, from another perspective, gaming has its own advantages too.

For instance, educational technology (edutech) company Pinheads Interactive Sdn Bhd has seen the benefits of gaming and how it can make learning more interesting.

“Although once seen as solely a source of entertainment, gaming trains the mind to prioritise productivity, making it a valuable addition to the learning process. This makes the gamification of the learning process an exciting prospect for education and the way knowledge is absorbed,” said Pinheads Interactive operations director Nikitha Karrai.

The company was formed in Singapore in 2007 by a group of individuals who are into making games and creating interactive experiences.

It was an interesting journey as the company began as a production house. Somehow, over the years, it has developed into a full-fledged edutech firm.

“Initially, the company was strongly driven by the passion to purely create games and fun experiences. Over the years, the team started translating this passion and their skill sets to create engaging, immersive and interactive learning opportunities for learners of all age groups,” Karrai.

In 2010, Pinheads opened its first Malaysian office in Johor. The company has since grown and built small teams, both locally and internationally.

The company aims to transform education through technology and serve education institutions with hands-on and technology-based solutions to promote active learning through the use of virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality.

Tackling Addiction

To prevent addiction, many successful manageable, bite-size resources that usually last between 15 and 20 minutes, which is also the average human attention span.

“The idea is to use these e-learning materials when your mind is ready to absorb information and solve problems effectively. They should not be used for prolonged periods of time,” said Karrai.

She said numerous studies have been conducted to determine the recommended hours of screen usage, be it for gaming or otherwise. There has not been an industry-wide consensus, though.

The content that Pinheads create is informative, fun, quick and concise. The idea is not for learners to spend hours on resources, but to learn quickly and effectively.

“Also, for younger audiences, we design time- outs in the game where we restrict access after a one to two hours of play session. To continue, they need to come back the next day,” Karrai explained.

She believes that a child needs to have a balanced lifestyle. They still need sufficient time to do homework, eat, exercise and get enough rest.

E-learning During MCO

The Movement Control Order (MCO) started on March 18 before it was changed to Conditional MCO and the current Recovery MCO that allows for more economic sectors to be reopened.

During the MCO and Conditional MCO, learning institutions such as schools, kindergartens and universities were closed throughout and educators had to resort to giving remote lessons to their students.

“Most of the content that we produce is in line with the Ministry of Education’s textbooks and content guidelines,” said Karrai.

The resources were not meant to replace current learning or teaching methods, but to assist students to reinforce learning, pick up theoretically complex topics and practices, or self-evaluate in a fun and engaging manner.

“The goal is not just to convey the information they need to learn, but also to encourage students to discover and learn beyond the theoretical knowledge.”

However, there are students, especially from rural areas and poor communities, who cannot afford the devices required to access remote learning.

“Bridging this digital divide is something that both the government and companies need to work together towards. We see a lot of initiatives on the part of the government and many government-owned institutions like Malaysia Digital Economy Corp in recent years to provide the necessary infrastructure to schools and training to teachers,” she said.

As part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), many companies have been donating gadgets and being involved in training sessions to school.

Karrai felt that it would take some time before a high percentage of students could have access to these facilities.

“As for us, we try to design the content to be as easily accessible as possible in terms of being device-independent, so you do not have to invest in high-end gadgets and could simply use a smartphone with basic specs,” she said.

Pinheads can also arrange for rental services for schools without having to pay huge sums of money to be digitally self-sufficient.

Currently, 37% of Malaysian parents have no devices for their children to access e-learning.

“Consoles in comparison to smartphones are much more expensive and would be more of a hindrance to adoption. So, at the current stage, the focus would be on using laptops, handphones, personal computers and tablets to reach out to the masses,” said Karrai.

She believes that the current situation has been a catalyst in a way to spur the digital revolution here.

“There are more people comfortable about the use of digital devices, e-commerce and other online platforms compared to two to three months ago. A lot of households have also tried to get better Internet infrastructure, allowing them to seamlessly access online content,” Karrai said.

Training Salespeople via Technology

It would take many months for onboarding sales representatives in any sector and organisation to master their skills and perform decently.

There’s a need for organisations to improve and innovate processes that could be fruitful to all.

“One of these areas is the process of training business development executives efficiently, harnessing and maximising their potential at a faster rate, resulting in better sales figures.

“The gamification of the sales training process is able to achieve this through carefully curated courses that test various aspects of a salesperson’s ability, providing an immersive yet interactive experience,” Karrai said.

She said the method also vanquishes the need to practise on prospective clients that could lead to potential losses.

“Pinheads achieves this through scenario-based learning where sales representatives are able to experience virtual scenes imitating real-life situations, enabling one to ensure effective sales conversions,” Karrai said.

Instant feedback is also provided upon the completion of simulations. This would allow analysis of performance by both the supervisors and salesperson.

“This level of detail will then enable self- reflection of one’s thought process, stimulating a self-improvement approach which speeds up the learning process.

“These processes can be replicated endlessly with varying scenarios and degrees of difficulty for use on multiple platforms like laptops, smartphones and tablets which enable endless remote learning,” Karrai said.

She said there’s no one-size-fits-all approach as the content and experience would need to be designed based on the products and/or services offered.

“Virtual tours can allow for ease of access without the need to visit the premises where augmented and e-commerce solutions can be used to conveniently view and buy products,” she said.

Other organisations can also benefit from going digital in terms of staff training, orientations and work supervisions.

The Future of Working at Home

Since the pandemic began, business has been slow for Pinheads, but the company plans to come out with a customer base that is more open and informed regarding digital solutions.

“The team continues to be busy reaching out to various potential clients and organisations. We do hope to help them tide through these difficult times too by proposing effective and viable solutions,” said Karrai.

She said working from home is also an opportunity for staff to spend time with their families while ensuring safety to everyone.

“It was also an interesting avenue to allow our younger team members to be self-disciplined and motivated despite the external factors around them.”

Karrai has also noticed that many of her clients use video conferencing tools to communicate with their workers.

“Let us look at Malaysia, a lot of time could be spent travelling across the states to conduct meetings and this may sometimes be a reason for resistance among clients.

“With the new acceptance of digital communication, we hope it allows us as companies to reach out to customers regionally without the hindrance of geographical borders,” she said.