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Fostering A Love For Learning Through Game Mechanics [Future Of Gaming]

PSFK spoke about the Future Of Gaming with the founder of DimensionU, an interactive online gaming platform and learning resource intended to help...

Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs
Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs on December 8, 2011. @timjamesryan

The PSFK consulting team has noticed that educators are building game experiences as way to create an intuitive and engaging environment for players of any skill to deepen both their knowledge and understanding of a wide-range of social and academic topics.

One company operating in this space is Dimension U- a web-based, interactive gaming platform and learning resource intended to help students in grades K-12 hone their math and literacy skills. Students use the platform to access 3D multi-player educational video games which connect them with friends and allow them to compete in games and collaborate while learning. Leader boards track individual performance, and tokens can be earned for correct answers, which can be used by students to purchase virtual assets to enhance their in-game characters. Periodically, the platform will host contests which offer real rewards. Students may elect to challenge other students around the world, form online study groups, or play individually. PSFK spoke with Nt Etuk, Founder and CEO of DimensionU.

Please provide a brief introduction about yourself and your company.

My name is Nt Etuk. For a while I had been searching for the right idea and right time to start my own company. That idea came when I was mentoring a young man as a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer program. As I struggled to teach him algebra I realized the problem in education wasn’t necessarily class size or teacher proficiency or any of the typical maladies blamed for poor performance. The problem is that learning wasn’t fun, engaging, or relevant to today’s kids, and it wasn’t presented to them in a way that the benefit, or reward, of learning was one they could understand. Math, in particular, wasn’t presented in a fun format to engage students. This realization propelled me to found DimensionU. The idea was simple: develop a video game platform that made learning fun and social, while incorporating a set of reward mechanisms (playing with friends, in-game power- ups, badges for achievement) that would keep them coming back for more.For the first four years of sales, the company focused on the public school market. We developed games and sold them directly to school districts through a direct sales model. And, we were successful, landing deals with some of the nation’s largest school districts including New York City, Chicago, Broward County, Dallas – Ft. Worth, and others and, in the process, got over two million hours of play-time in the system. This close relationship with teachers and school districts was very helpful as we honed the curriculum in our product to improve performance outcomes for students.

Most importantly, kids, teachers, parents, and administrators loved the product. It worked. Kids’ grades improved and their desire for knowledgeblossomed.In 2011 we began the process of going after the consumer market to make our games available to every kid with an Internet connection. We have some exciting announcements coming soon. Our consumer site is currently in beta at (https://preview.dimensionu.com) where we’ve already seen some very positive consumer acquisition trends. We’re also launching a very exciting product called Educational Allowance (Ed Allowance), a way for parents to reward their kids for practicing and improving core math skills. Ed Allowance allows parents to pledge an amount of their choice for the completion of weekly academic tasks. This gives kids a powerful motivator to play and learn – essentially allowing them to save money and gaining a sense of independence. This may seem slightly controversial, but the truth is that parents are either inclined to do this, or not. It’s their choice. Many parents already give their kids rewards for doing chores or accomplishing academic tasks – this allows them to do that but for a very concrete, tangible result that they can monitor, while also teaching their kids key lessons about saving and earning. All in all, it was simply one more step along the path of providing relevant rewards that kids might value to hook them on a love of learning, and hopefully turn them into lifelong students.

Anyway, in many ways DimensionU is becoming a new company focused on the consumer market. We have the technology and the experience to do it right and we’re extremely excited about our future.

What has been the audience reaction? Can you share any stats around user engagement?

Teachers, parents, and most importantly kids like the game. Based on our direct- to-school business we have over two million hours of game-play on the system. There are over 850,000 profiles in the system, 250,000 of which were added in the last year. We’re taking this strong momentum into the consumer market where we expect to see these numbers rise rapidly in the coming year.

We have been noticing that collaborative, online platforms aimed at solving problems are incorporating gaming mechanics and challenges as a way to encourage people to participate and continue contributing over time, what are your thoughts on this? Do you see this trend manifesting on a larger scale?

Games are fun. Games create an environment in which it’s safe to fail and fun to collaborate. That’s why they’re such powerful tools for solving problems and also for educating. Look, gaming is extremely popular; humans spend over 3 billion hours a week playing online games. If we can put some of that time to good use the world will be a better place. If some of that time is used to solve real world problems or help kids learn the world will be a better place. To be honest, the popularity of “productive games” is still paltry compared to traditional online games. But that’s ok. Online gaming is a relatively new phenomena also, and there is plenty of space for creative developers to redeem the industry. The key is making it fun. Make a game with the potential to solve a problem that’s not fun and the problem will remain unsolved. Make a game that’s as fun or more fun than traditional games and your problem is solved. At DimensionU the kid is our consumer. If they don’t want to play we don’t succeed. That’s got to be the bottom line for developers: consider the consumer and keep it fun. If developers can do that, expect to see the trend of “productive games” rise tremendously.

Knowledge-DimensionU-learning-education

What other trends within or around gaming have you noticed?

Games have been trending towards the more and more simple. This is partially in an effort to reach a broader audience than the hard core gamer who is going to buy ‘Call of Duty’ or ‘Halo.’ We first really recognized this trend with the rise of the so-called “casual” game. Then we saw that extended with the emergence of “social” games (a la Farmville, etc). The emergence of these types of games has given us considerable heart. It has allowed us to also create simpler games, while offering us a model for how to engage consumers with simple hooks into the psyche of the average person. Since educational games are, by definition, more of a niche – the ability to create less expensive, simpler games that still have strong motivational mechanisms has allowed us to dramatically revise our development model while improving our economics.

DimensionU

To learn more about what’s going on in the gaming space today, order a copy of PSFK’s Future of Gaming report.
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