Click here for all of GamesBeat’s coverage of the 2015 DICE Summit.
LAS VEGAS — Mark DeLoura just spend an amazing 18 months at the White House, where he worked alongside brilliant people, worked crazy hours, and did it all for a government paycheck. What may surprise all of those House of Cards and West Wing fans is that he’s a game developer.
DeLoura was the White House’s expert on video games for 18 months of President Barack Obama’s tenure. In that job, he was the President’s eyes and ears in the game business and a link for game and tech companies to grab the attention of the federal government. DeLoura, who was perhaps the most visible White House gaming expert in years, recently left the job to return to Seattle.
Officially, he was senior advisor for digital media at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a group of 90 experts who advise the government.
Surprisingly, most off DeLoura’s job wasn’t dealing with the federal government’s concerns with violence in video games — a matter that flared up before DeLoura started. Rather, DeLoura explored the links between making fun games and making education more engaging and interactive.
“We figured out how to do games for entertainment really well,” DeLoura said in a talk at the DICE Summit, the elite game industry event in Las Vegas. “You have to wonder if there is more we can do. Games are an art more. Isn’t there more? The world is a big place.”
“Even in mobile, team sizes are going up. User acquisition is tough. You make a great game. Everybody copies you,” DeLoura said. “It makes me wonder. Are there other things game developers can focus on too?”
To explore the opportunity, DeLoura participated in the Federal Gaming Guild, a group of 70 government people who wanted to get government agencies to use games. That group was created by his predecessor, Constance Steinkuehler.
One example was Budget Hero, a game where the challenge was to balance the $3.7 trillion federal budget. Another one: NASA’s Moonbase Alpha, which challenged players how to keep a base on the moon operational. That game was downloaded more than a million times.
Agencies such as NASA, the Department of Education, the Smithsonian, and others were represented.
“There is this feeling of the promise of games,” DeLoura said. “Games are going to be capable of something amazing.”
He pointed to Fold It, a University of Washington project where a community of volunteer gamers helped solve a protein-folding problem in three weeks, after scientists had failed to solve it for a decade. DeLoura considered that community effort to be an example of “citizen science.”
DeLoura also said that Dragon Box Adaptive was funded with Defense Advanced Research Agency Grant. In that game, University of Washington educators took Dragon Box Algebra, a commercial game by We Want to Know, and adapted it so that it adjusted the difficulty of lessons to how well a person was performing. DeLoura said that 93 percent of the kids who played the game were able to solve three algebraic problems afterward.
Another title is Reach For the Sun, from Filament Games, also funded by a Department of Education grant. It teaches kids about plant biology. Trace Effects, meanwhile, is a State Department-backed game, built by Super Group, that teaches American English language and culture.
DeLoura also highlighted a game by Tracy Fullerton and others at the University of Southern California. The game Walden reproduced life at Walden Pond and was funded by federal grants.
And DeLoura pointed out Minecraft Edu, a project to use Mojang’s (now owned by Microsoft) Minecraft game for education. That project was created by Joel Levin of Teacher Gaming.
As his time at the White House was coming to an end, DeLoura got 100 game developers to hang out at the White House over a weekend and make games for education. The developers made 23 educational games over that weekend.
“What made me feel so good is the developers had so much fun over the weekend,” DeLoura said.