If you were a teenager into gaming, what would be first on your Christmas list this year? PS 4? XBox One? PS Vita? iPad? Nexus? Or a Raspberry Pi? Thought so.
For me its a perennial problem with the Raspberry Pi. It’s just not desirable for its target market. The price apparently heralded its accessibility to the home and education, but in reality, you have to shell out a lump of cash before you get really start started, and for that kind of dough you are very close to the cost of a Vita or PS3/360/Nexus.
I always draw comparisons with the “golden age” of computer literacy, the early 80s – the period of time when I cut my teeth on an Acorn Electron. I was forced in a way (like many) to write games because the ones available for my machine were sub-standard, but this wasn’t true of all those kids who owned a BBC Micro, Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum. They sold shed-loads of units through their appeal as an “educational” asset, but in reality the kids wanted them for the games. Their strength was that they didn’t have a single competitor that just played games. They all came bundled with programming manuals, a variant of accessible BASIC, and a plethora of magazines, books and TV programmes to support and encourage computer literacy.
This meant that you could spend an equal amount of time playing the best games available with a spot of tinkering with code – on the same machine. Crucially for the Pi, you can’t. When a Pi comes out to code, it has to go away in order to play on something else.
I know a single child in over 1500 at my own school that has a Pi. There may be more, but in our community these kids stick out like a sore thumb. When I attend events with the Pi, or see photos from Raspberry Jamborees or other Maker events (as much as I personally love them) via social media – it’s the parents, or hobbyist numbers that seem to be in the ascendency. At this year’s Play Expo, for example, the kids gravitated towards the games machines, rather than the range of Pi-esque kit that was on display.
What can be done to enthuse kids about programming and exploring the workings of technology? Its a tough question. I’ve often thought that a branded version of the Pi could work, and work well. Adding a PiBow makes it a “thing”, but the games that you can create with the unit are limited to the assets bundled with the software. Scratch for example has a range of very poor assets. Having a professional library (preferable from a well-known franchise) of pose-able assets and sound effects ready to animate and play potentially could make the Pi something that a Game or a Tesco may stock. We’re seeing the GameStick take to some shelves, and I’d wager Ouya too eventually. How cool would it be to see these units, as well as Vita/PS4/XBox One bundled with the capability of being open to coders in a sandbox environment? Bundled with Game Maker or Unity and that all important “how to” book and asset library for when you’ve exhausted the game playing for another night.
It’d be a bold move by Raspberry Pi, SONY or Microsoft to do it. But what a move.