In Amplify's "Twelve A Dozen," zombies are zeroes who multiply themselves by other characters, turning them into zombies too.
The education company Amplify's first direct-to-consumer product, released in the Apple app store Wednesday, allows the public to get a glimpse at the growing classroom trend of richly imagined educational games, developed in partnerships between curriculum companies and professional gaming firms.
Amplify's game, "Twelve a Dozen," teaches math skills through an intricate adventure plot as part of a partnership with a gaming company, Bossa. In the game, a character named Twelve makes her way through a decrepit landscape inside a calculator, solving increasingly difficult number puzzles in the hopes of saving the world from a tyrannical prime-number dictator. There are even zombies that represent a mathematical concept: As the number zero, they multiply themselves by other numbers, turning those numbers into zeroes too.
Amplify has touted itself as a hybrid of an education and technology company, producing both classroom curriculum and its own device, a durable orange tablet. Its games are created in partnership with a handful of gaming companies like Bossa, whose last game was the popular "Surgeon Simulator." Amplify is hoping that partnership with Bossa will set its games apart, making them engaging and visually appealing as well as instructional.
"Twelve" was initially part of a raft of games integrated into Amplify curriculum, which is sold directly to schools. But Amplify's CEO, Joel Klein, said demos of the game generated enough excitement and interest from parents and students for the company to decide to release it to the general public.
Many "educational games" are developed by gaming companies with only vague education-related themes, or by curriculum companies who struggle with graphics and gaming elements. But education companies are increasingly realizing that they'll need to align themselves with professional gaming companies if they want to succeed in the space.
Other companies have made moves into educational games that combine the technology of gaming experts with curriculum from traditional education companies. A nonprofit called GlassLab released SimCityEDU, with partners EA Games and Pearson. In "SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge," students act as the mayor of a town that must balance preserving the environment with keeping its population employed and happy. The company says the game is aligned with Common Core standards relating to comprehension of nonfiction texts, as well as environmental science and critical-thinking standards.
And just last week, the Department of Education and the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy hosted a 48-hour hackathon that it said was intended to "ignite interest in the creation of the next generation of educational games." The event included education companies as well as major gaming studios like Rovio and Ubisoft.
Amplify's core business, selling directly to school districts, is a laborious and complicated one, dominated by much larger companies like curriculum-creator Pearson and Apple, whose iPad tablet has so far dominated the education market. The release of "Twelve a Dozen," which will be priced at $4.99, is Amplify's first attempt to sell directly to parents.
Releasing the game is a "toe in the water" for the company, said Klein. "We're moving into the [direct-to-consumer] space in a way that we think is prudent," he said. "We have a culture that's built on selling to schools, so we want to make sure we're doing this right." Klein said the company plans to wait to gauge the game's success to decide whether to release more consumer content.