Age of Learning INC is an educational games company who is best known for creating the online learning program “ABCmouse” which is popular with children between the ages of 2 and 8. In the spring of 2019, they announced the release of “Adventure Academy,” a multiplayer educational game geared towards elementary-and-middle-school kids. Adventure Academy is a massive multiplayer online game that features thousands of learning activities in a fun and safe virtual world. Designed to resemble real life museums, the game will captivate players and teach them critical knowledge of essential curriculum topics in language arts, math, science, social studies, and more. The game also features many customizable features, such as the players ability to build unique characters with different body types, hairstyles, eye colors, and then dress them in any way that they choose.
“Adventure Academy” was created in response to a report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress which indicated alarmingly low levels of academic proficiency among children between the ages of 6 and 13. Reading, science and math were the most concerning areas and “Adventure Academy” aims to combat this by offering a games-based approach that gives youngsters the opportunity to explore hundreds of aspects of these topics—and more—in a highly engaging and effective.
According to the official press release, to make the game a reality:
Age of Learning assembled a world-class team of curriculum and instructional design experts, master teachers, game designers, artists, animators, and engineers. The curriculum team comprises experts with hundreds of years of combined classroom and curriculum development experience. The game development process is led by creators of some of the most successful titles in the history of online gaming, including Kevin Beardslee, one of the original creators of “World of Warcraft” and Alex Galvagni, former General Manager of leading game studio Turbine, creators of “The Lord of the Rings Online,” “Batman: Arkham Underworld,” “Dungeons and Dragons Online,” and “Game of Thrones Conquest.” The team also collaborated with practicing teachers across the United States to identify the highest priority curriculum topics that students have the most difficulty with in school. As a result, the Adventure Academy curriculum emphasizes key topics such as reading comprehension, vocabulary development, mathematical operations, fractions, world geography, American history, physical science, life science, earth science, and scientific inquiry.
Age of Learning hopes to experience the same level of success with “Adventure Academy” that they enjoyed with “ABCmouse” which has helped educate nearly 20 million children to date. A dozen research studies, including several randomized controlled trials, show that ABCmouse accelerates learning and drives significant gains in literacy and math with as little as 45 minutes of usage per week. They hope “Adventure Academy” can do the same and developed it after conducting in-depth research into national, and international educational standards, specifically for the 3rd to 6th grade range. Adventure Academy includes these key features:
- Thousands of learning activities across hundreds of topics, including curriculum-based games, books, a wide range of other types of reading materials, educational videos, and additional interactive experiences addressing all major academic domains.
- Builds critical knowledge and skills in language arts, math, science, social studies, and more.
- Hundreds of hours of educational interaction and gameplay, with hundreds of additional hours to be added in the near future.
- Learners create avatars to explore an ever-expanding world, complete learning quests to unlock new zones, and interact with other learners.
- The same engaging experience across all platforms—smartphones, tablets, and computers—with the ability for up to three children in the same household to play simultaneously within the same parent account with individual profiles.
- Subscription-based service, fully COPPA compliant with no advertising or in-app purchases.
- Safe social elements that enable players to interact with other learners in-game, including filtered chat functionality. Parents control the level of interaction their children have with other learners through this filtered chat and can block all in-game communication, if desired.
Kevin Beardslee, Game Director at Age of Learning, recently discussed this game and his hopes for its future via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in games and how did you break into the industry?
Kevin Beardslee (KB): I did some 3D modelling and animation as part of my engineering curriculum at UC Irvine and fell in love with it. Movies were already using CG to create special effects and I assumed that video games would make the jump as well. I had a friend working at Interplay Productions, so I submitted a demo reel and was hired as a 3D Artist in 1993.
MM: A major part of your career was working on “World of Warcraft” so how did you establish yourself and what did you most enjoy about building that world and those characters?
KB: I joined Blizzard Entertainment in 1998 to work on a new IP (Project Nomad) and help complete StarCraft Broodwar. The new IP was not shaping up well, so I pitched a new game which became the core design for “World of Warcraft.” I established myself by collaborating with design on the creation of the game systems and world design while also working with engineers to design and architect the content pipeline and tools to support game development. I moved into the position of Lead Animator to bring the characters of the Warcraft universe to life as well as create all the spell effects within the world.
MM: How did the success of “World of Warcraft” help propel you towards other projects?
KB: The success of “World of Warcraft” definitely helped me to find positions working on other multiplayer online games. My goal has always been to continue pushing the envelope of multiplayer online gaming.
MM: How did you get involved with educational games, especially those geared towards children?
KB: The prospect of working for a company that was making products that impacted children’s educational outcomes was really exciting for me, and the idea that I would be able to help in its mission through games also really appealed to me – both as a creator and as a dad. It was a unique opportunity to be able to work on games that he could play and learn from.
MM: What inspired the look of “Adventure Academy” and how different is the gameplay from something like “ABCMouse”?
KB: The guiding principle of wholesome, inviting, and friendly played a large part in how the team designed the look of Adventure Academy. It is aimed at elementary aged children (8-13), whereas ABCmouse is designed for younger children ages 2-8.
MM: Which aspects of “Adventure Academy” are you most proud of?
KB: I am amazed at the full featured MMO that we built, and that players can access it from almost any device: mobile, windows PC, or mac. We are able to stream content on demand to thousands of children across the world, and we are working hard to further reduce the hardware requirements so that even more children can have access to Adventure Academy. I am also proud of the successful fusion of curriculum with contemporary gaming elements. We continuously listen to our players’ feedback and track thousands of data points to steer our development roadmap – very modern game development!
MM: Are there any little Easter eggs hidden in the game that players should know to look for?
KB: The library holds many secrets, achieving level 30 may hold the key.
MM: How do you envision “Adventure Academy” evolving and expanding?
KB: We have many new zones planned that expand the world for kids to explore. Expect more quest content to be delivered in the fashion where dialogue and interaction with the NPC’s are part of the curriculum. And we are also working on many fun multiplayer games with an added a curriculum element so kids can challenge each other within the game.
MM: This game clearly has roots in Entertainment-Education and Games-Based Learning. So, have you conducted any academic studies into its effects on users yet?
KB: We know the equation is working based upon feedback from both kids and parents. The data corroborates this showing an increase in time spent within the app. Our user research team continually provides the development and curriculum teams with research findings that are used to shape and improve future development and player engagement.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
KB: Age of Learning has a beautiful mission, to provide fun and safe content to as many children as possible, improving their educational outcomes while fostering a love of learning. My goal is to continue pushing the envelope as a game developer while creating content that is not only fun, but that also contributes to the academic growth of children around the world.
The Adventure Academy app is available through the Apple App Store or Google Play and can also be accessed at www.adventureacademy.com. Families can purchase an annual subscription for less than $5 per month, or a month-to-month subscription for $9.99, both including up to three separate student profiles per household.