The Department of Transport spent over £2.7m creating and running an online game called Code of Everand designed to teach 9-13 year olds how to cross the road -- even though very few children ever played it.
A Freedom of Information request by the e-government blogger Simon Dickson revealed the government spent £2,785,695, in the period from the browser-based game's inception in 2007 until the end of the current financial year, ending March 2011.
At its peak in March last year, 50,000 new users signed up to play Code of Everand, but by June that rate had petered out to almost nothing. Google Analytics puts its unique visitors somewhere under 10,000 per month between June and November, according to Dickson.
In spite of the fact it was attracting almost no new players, the game still cost £697,000 to maintain in the latest financial year. In total, some 170,000 people signed up to play the game, which is free to play and features cute Studio Ghibli-style graphics. Each player cost the government over £16.
Code of Everand is an MMORPG-style exploration game where players have to cross 'spirit channels' that have different traffic-light style colours depending on the difficulty of crossing them. It thereby rewards players for finding the safest route -- there's even an element of combat that involves looking left and right.
"If the arrow you click on is red," says the online game guide, "it means you're attempting to cross at an undesignated crossing, which is much harder and will boost the monsters' HP and damage without providing any greater reward, so always make sure to cross at a designated crossing when available."
The game includes the ability to name and customise your character and chat to other users, but only using pre-approved names and messages, to eliminate the risk of abuse.
The game was created by New York-based area/code, which has created promotional games for TV shows such as The Sopranos and CSI, and a Facebook version of for EA. The Code of Everand site credits 27 members of the area/code team.
Some 1,660 child pedestrians were killed or seriously injured on the roads in 2009, according to the Department of Transport, "7 per cent down on 2008".
In its response to the FoI request, the DoT said, "A contract to evaluate the game was let to the Transport Research Laboratory in March 2010... We are currently in the planning stage and do not yet have a date for publishing the work and final report."
It's possible that the game reached a large section of the intended audience and was effective enough to have ingrained good road-crossing habits in thousands of children -- we await the evaluation with bated breath. We can't fault the game's professional look, but it does seem a rather expensive way of teaching the lesson, don't you think?