As a follow up to my last post on educational games , I wanted to provide an update on EVOKE  – nearly two weeks into the game. For those of you who missed my last post, Evoke is a social networking game that is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The "text book" for this course is an online graphic novel. Set in the year 2020, the graphic novel follows the efforts of a mysterious network of Africa’s best problem-solvers. Each week, as players unravel the mystery of the Evoke network, they will form their own innovation networks: brainstorming creative solutions to real-world development challenges, learning more about what it takes to be a successful social innovator, and finding ways to make a difference in the world.
Two weeks ago, I had a number of questions about what would happen after launching this initiative. Some basic questions have been answered.
Question 1 – Would they come?
As of the afternoon of March 16, over 9,800 participants from over 130 countries have registered to play. This figure is almost double what we had projected for the entire 10 weeks of the game. Just under 20% of total visitors to the site (50,457 unique visitors) have registered to play. The site has garnered 663,887 page views with an average time on site of 8 minutes and 9 seconds – very favorable compared to the average of 2 minutes and 20 seconds for most sites.
Question 2 – Would they participate?
One of the challenges in game design was to create a favorable balance between academic work and fun. Would participants engage in a serious game which asks them to think about big issues like food security and water and take the time to provide quality reflections on these issues?
The answer is YES.
One of the interesting early reflections on EVOKE is that it seems to be filling a niche for participants to engage and share ideas on the big questions and big issues which may not fit or be appropriate to discuss on other social networks such as Facebook. On average players are looking at 7.2 pages on the site. In just less than two weeks, 5,266 blog posts have been submitted (around 375 per day); 1,823 photos have been shared; and 555 videos have been posted. They quantity and more importantly the quality of the engagement has been impressive.
Questions 3 – Would participants in developing countries – particularly Africa – participate?
The participation numbers from Africa are right about where we anticipated with around 10% of total participants coming from Africa. The team has been trying to boost these numbers however through targeted outreach to players in the developing world. It is still unclear how many are using cell phones to engage with the site, but one strategy to boost participating is the development of a much lighter version the site – stripping the home page down to 7k and 2 server requests, compared to 500k and 73 requests. Access to the site is a large focus of our evaluation and we hope to learn how players in countries with poor Internet connectivity, engage with the game.
Question 4 – What happens when you bring 10,000 players together in an open innovation platform?
A lot! There have been many highlights these past 14 days and below are some of the more outstanding unexpected outcomes of how the game has taken on a life of its own:
- Players are forming their own networks 
Player initiated guilds have formed (people with similar interests or goals) in education, makers, librarians, etc.
- An Evoke Wiki has been started by players 
- Daily challenges have been initiated 
One idea is to “ plant from seed (or grocery refuse) and grow something edible in the 68 days left until the end of the first season of Evoke”.
- Food Security survival kits have been proposed 
- Librarians have emerged to donate time to do research for other players 
- A map of all players/agents was created by a player to map where others live 
- A reading group/book club has been formed by the players 
- Collaborative projects have begun among players 
- Avatar development ideas have been shared 
- Incredible interpretations of the graphic novel story have taken place 
- Great response to the African proverb used as the story headline 
These answers have spawned new questions: Will this pace and interest be maintained over 10 weeks? What ideas for concrete projects will emerge? How will collaborative networks between players in the north and south be formed? What new innovations will emerge?
Stay tuned for the answers.
A reminder: It's not to late to get involved -- visit EVOKE  to register and start playing!