Amplify, which has already pushed a line of elaborate curriculum products and devices into the K-12 technology market, is taking a different tack with a new educational game unveiled today—by selling it directly to consumers.
The company’s decision to market the new game, “Twelve a Dozen,” to consumer audiences—most likely parents—after focusing its work to date on school buyers, appears to represent an unusual move by the norms of the educational technology community.
While there is crossover between those two markets, it’s more typical for companies to branch out in the opposite direction—from consumer to ed-tech, one observer of that space told Education Week.
Officials at Amplify, based in New York City, say the strategy around the new, math-focused game is meant to supplement their line of devices, curriculum, and other products being sold into K-12 schools—and does not represent a departure from their focus on district-based sales.
At least initially, “Twelve a Dozen” will be marketed to parents and families of children in elementary and middle school who are seeking a fun and aesthetically enticing way to hook children on math outside of the classroom, Amplify officials say. After testing the game and getting feedback, company officials became convinced that parents were hungry for that kind of tool, Amplify CEO Joel Klein said in an interview.
“We’re putting a toe in the water,” Klein said of selling games in the consumer space. “It’s early, we’re learning, we’re exploring. That always happens when you go into a new market.”
“Twelve a Dozen,” which is available only on iPad devices through Apple’s App Store, is likely to be used almost exclusively in homes, at least at first, Klein said. But the company is not ruling out the possibility that it will reach the K-12 market if teachers and others take it up after becoming convinced of its educational value, he added.
The K-12 market is widely regarded as an insular, highly competitive space that can frustrate large and small companies alike. But it would be a mistake to think that Amplify is shifting away from that market, according to Klein, who said selling directly to school systems remains “at the top of the agenda” for the company.
In the new game, players guide the actions of a heroine,Twelve, who roves a landscape called Dozenopolis, looking for her family members who have vanished after a “cataclysmic” world event. She solves puzzles—which require her to manipulate numbers through addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication—as a way of rescuing her loved ones.
The game’s creators say those operations will help provide the building blocks for students’ entry into algebra—a major hurdle students typically encounter in late middle school or early high school. (See a clip of a trailer for the game, below)
Since its founding a few years ago, Amplify has established a presence in several corners of the education space, through the sales of devices to schools, aggressive marketing of new products, and in the world of assessment, where it has secured lucrative work associated with developing common-core tests.
The company is the education arm of the media conglomerate News Corp., led by Rupert Murdoch, and the media titan’s association with the company has drawn skeptism, from some quarters of the K-12 community. (An Amplify executive, Larry Berger, serves on the board of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit that oversees Education Week. Berger is the chairman and co-founder of Wireless Generation, which is now part of Amplify.)
“Twelve a Dozen,” which will sell for $4.99, will also be one of six math games included in Amplify Math, a core, tech-based curriculum that will be available in schools next year, company officials said. It’s part of a larger group of 30 games being released to help students with English/language arts and science-, technology-, engineering-, and math-related subjects.
Going After New Buyers
It is relatively rare for companies that are established in the K-12 technology space to extend to the consumer market, said Shira Lee Katz, senior director of education content for Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based organization that seeks to provide parents, teachers, and others with objective information about technology, including games.
“The setup is different,” Katz said. “It’s hard to make a product for both markets.”
It’s more typical for companies to attempt to shift in the opposite direction, moving from the consumer space to direct-to-school sales, reasoning, correctly or incorrectly, that they can “retrofit a product” to education, Katz said. More companies are trying to make that transition now, because they see the K-12 market as one they can succeed in, she said, despite well-documented obstacles to companies breaking into that space.
“People thought they couldn’t make money [there],” Katz said, but now, some of them are willing to try it.
Other companies with a presenced in ed-tech that sell games directly to consumers include Pearson, the giant publisher and service provider. The Family Education Network, which is part of Pearson, offers a number of games designed to build learning skills, marketing them to parents and other out-of-school buyers, a Pearson spokeswoman said.
Ultimately, Common Sense Media believes education games should be judged on several factors—including whether they’re engaging enough to “hook a kid in,” as well as their pedagogical strengths, and the video and audio components, Katz said.
Officials from the company that helped Amplify develop the game, Bossa Studios, are betting they’ve found the right formula. Based in Britain, Bossa Studios has put a number of games into the market, some of which have an irreverant, entertainment-oriented spin, like Surgeon Simulator.
With “Twelve a Dozen,” the goal was to get beyond simply creating a “gamified app” that mimicked standard classroom lessons and technologies and embedded them inside a tool, said Imre Jele, a co-founder of Bossa Studios.
Bossa, in keeping with the goals of many educational game developers, was instead intent on engaging students so that they spent a sustained amount of time in the imaginary world and increased their understanding of numbers, Jele said. Tests of the game reinforced the developers’ conviction that Twelve a Dozen could produce those results, because players felt a connection with the main character and her mission.
“We wanted to create a universe,” Jele said, one “where we were giving personality to numbers.”