We have the privilege of working with clients with important stories to tell. Often times, those clients want to reach their audience using online games. Games can be a powerful tool in connecting users of all ages with educational content, and we're convinced that games will continue to grow as an important means to educate.
However, as browser-based game developers, it is easy to loose sight of what we are really after when it comes to creating meaningful games. No matter how much valuable information is packed into a game, it can't really succeed if it is not fun to play.
Simply mimicking educational concepts in a game environment quickly leads off the "fun" path. In our experience, educational content should follow a concept bent on achieving compelling game play. As Justin covered in his post, The Fun of Making Games Fun, we've found that fine-tuning the details that make a game concept into a really fun game comes late in the development process, but developers must work for opportunities from the beginning.
For meaningful games, the key is to evaluate the subject matter and devise simple game concepts ripe with opportunities for fun and engaging interactions. Often this means picking a single aspect of a complex issue to develop the game around, rather than trying to replicate the entire, multi-faceted reality of the situation common to educational or advocacy content.
As important as the educational component is, it is lost if the game isn't fun enough to play more than once. In order to be meaningful, games must first be fun.