25th November 2011, 9.47am:
My first proper blog post. The issue that’s really exercising the team right now is about Intellectual Property rights, licensing and so forth. The big question is how we ensure a life for the CLICK-EAST game after the current research grant runs out. In the short term, my principal goal is to make sure we complete our research project, and to that end I’m hoping to get a demo copy of the game up on the app store sooner rather than later. Then people can download it and hopefully we’ll get some comments from parents, not to mention some idea of how popular it might be. This will feed back in to the development process, making the final game even better. Putting the game up on the store requires us to sort out various licensing, copyright and IP issues – lots of different people have contributed to the game in different ways: ideas, programming, animations, graphics, sound effects and so on.
During the trial itself, participating families will be loaned an iPad with the game already loaded on, so that part is at least straightforward. But after the trial is where it really gets complicated. If the game proves effective, and alleviates some of the difficulties experienced by children with autism, then we have a moral responsibility as well as a strong desire to get the game to as many users as possible. I hope we might interest a commercial partner in this, as there’s no way we can invest the kind of money or time involved. I’d like versions of the game to be created for the iPhone and iPod Touch so more users can access it, and an online version that you can play on any desktop PC or Mac would be great. Hopefully, with commercial backing, we could also expand the game to have much more content too. I’d love to create versions for older and more able children, and introduce a way of playing together with friends or family. I’d also like to get more research funding so all of these new components can be properly evaluated and we’ll know whether they too are having a positive effect.
Another possibility is that we’ll run the trial and find that the game is useless and has no beneficial consequences for the targeted group (i.e. young children with autism). This would be a big disappointment, but also fairly straightforward. In order to salvage some good from all the effort that we’ve put in, I think our goal would be to open source all the code, and create an associated tutorial for programmers. The game might not benefit kids with autism or their families, but we could at least benefit the programming community.
The third possibility is also the most likely: the game has some limited positive effects – perhaps only on children who play it a lot, or only for children who are a bit more able already, or only for the older children. This kind of pattern is often seen in trials of interventions for autism. I doubt a commercial partner would jump to support a game that is only a little bit therapeutic, but I would hate to abandon it too. So here we’d be trying to get another grant from a reseach council, so we could analyse the flaws and develop a better game. This could be pretty slow and the game would probably languish in a virtual dusty corner for a while.
The final point to raise is the sad fact that it seems that some of these possible outcomes are mutually exclusive. In particular, I fear that getting a commercial partner involved to develop the game further and give it a long term life is not compatible with making the code freely available. I have heard many conflicting opinions on this topic but the bottom line seems to be that if we open source the code, we can’t really go back from that – it could jeopardise our presence in the app store and any future relationship with a commercial partner. So apologies to any programmers reading this, for the time being at least, we’re keeping our code to ourselves.