Educational Social Games Spread on Social Platforms
The addictive nature of video games has often led educators to try adapting them for the classroom. Add in the virality of social gaming, and you’ve got a potent mix in which players may not even realize they’re learning. We’re seeing an ever-increasing number of educational games hit Facebook, the web and mobile platforms like the iPhone, all trying to discover the magic combination that will make traditional schooling passe.
What defines these educational games, or “edutainment” for short? It’s not necessarily teaching specific subjects like psychology or geometry, but rather the intention of expanding and enhancing the mind — meanwhile conquering the educational stigma of being boring. Here’s a look at what a few developers have done in the first half of 2010:
FreshPlanet – FreshPlanet first came to our attention early this month when its Facebook application Crazy Cow Music Quiz appeared at #8 on our emerging Facebook games list. Crazy Cow is quite successful at this point, with over a million monthly active users and a clever trivia design that exposes users to new music.
That’s not directly educational, but it turns out that FreshPlanet also has a quartet of “RedFish” iPad learning apps for young children: RedFish 4 Kids, RedFish Piano 4 Kids, RedFish Puzzle – The RedFish, and Redfish – Balloon Bursting. The first is basically a compilation of the others, but it’s a great game for young kids. Filled with vibrant colors, the title works with numbers, counting, music, colors, shapes, and so on. If you’ve got an iPad, Redfish may be a good introduction for your tot to learning games.
Tiny Planets — The most common type of educational game is tailored to small children. However, the folks over at Tiny Planets focus on a bit older crowd, kids aged six to 14.
Based on the Tiny Planets animated TV series, this game offers six “planets” for users to visit consisting of simple games, web videos, social networking, a virtual world, goods, and currency, and, of course, learning opportunities.
The biggest attention getter for us, however, was the virtual world in which players can create and decorate their very own planet, buying new avatars and items for their terrestrial inhabitance with the virtual currency (KEYs). KEYs can also be used to buy more videos and games.
Tiny Planets is rich with both entertaining and educational activities that focus on space, conservation, science, creativity, and critical thinking skills, which can be accessed via quizzes, puzzles, and even interactive books for home schooling.
Mind Candy – Although we covered it earlier this year, Mind Candy also warrants another mention. Their Pet Society’esque virtual world for kids, Moshi Monsters, is a wonderful and safe place for kids of virtually all ages to interact and enjoy. Beyond its attractive style, Mind Candy cleverly masks the learning aspects as mini-games focusing on subjects like math or spelling and granting an in-game currency, Rox, as a reward. Players may not even realize they’re learning something, as the primary focus is on getting extra cash so they can buy bigger and better stuff in the virtual overworld.
As it stands, Moshi Monsters looks small on Facebook, floating between 18,000 and 20,000 MAUs according to AppData. However, just this month, Mind Candy reported that the game had reached 20 million registered users and has even signed a book deal about the game with the Penguin Group.
Gameloft – Not all learning is for kids. Another good pick that teaches a bit about American history is fantastic for all ages. It’s the iPhone title remake, Gameloft‘s The Oregon Trail. Originally created by MECC, Oregon Trail was one of the best-selling educational games of all time (right up there with Carmen Sandiego). Now with cleaned up visuals and a new presentation, it’s ready to share the hardships of the Trail with a whole new generation.
ADS Software Group – Here’s another interesting iPhone app if you’re interested in geography. Updated and refreshed in April, ADS’ app, World Countries, contains maps from around the world. Beyond direct information and flash cards, the game also has various geographic quizzes about capitals, flags, maps, and so on. Granted, quizzes aren’t always the most extravagant way to learn, but with OpenFeint leaderboard integration, friend challenges, and achievement postings to both Facebook and Twitter, there’s an added level of competition and immersion.
On5 - Frankly, quizzes are an excellent way to teach people new things, but as suggested above, they can also be a bit dull. So On5 decided to take a game show approach with their iPhone app Quizarium; also updated in April. Based around subjects such as nature, science, sports, and so on, players compete against one another in one minute rounds for each question. Every 12 seconds that no correct answer is given, a hint is issued (e.g. the number of letters).
What makes this game even better, however, is that in addition to playing with other people synchronously, it also has Plus+ integration so that users can share achievements through the social platform and even compete via the various leaderboard systems.
Between past reviewed titles and newer ones, there is one lesson to take home: when it comes to educational games, the they mask their educational aspects, the better they seem to do. Simply look at Wooga’s Brain Buddies app from last year: currently, it’s just shy of 3 million MAUs, with around 212,000 daily active users.
Regardless, each of these titles have something to offer. And what we’ve listed above is merely the tip of the iceberg as any number of educational social games litter the networks of Facebook, OpenFeint, Plus+, Scoreloop and can be found on any of the iDevices as well.
A few more worthy mentions include the iPhone title, Brain Balance Pro from Orangefish that takes an approach reminiscent of “Who Has the Biggest Brain?” to design and is part of the OpenFeint network; Place Map HD on the iPad from Voon; and our previously reviewed user-generated quiz game, Sporcle from Sporcle Inc. It may not be a text book, but with thousands of fun quizzes from thousands of users, it’s unlikely you won’t learn something.
We still have yet to see anything challenge the legacy of the original Oregon Trail or Carmen Sandiego (even the new Oregon Trail). Nevertheless, inch by inch, developers are getting there.