Our Most Popular Educational Game Isn’t What I expected


Making educational software is full of surprises, some good, some bad and some just, well, surprising.

Rabbit, next to tree
I hope I don’t become rabbit stew

The Making Camp series has turned out to be our most popular games, hands down, something I certainly did not expect. Making Camp Bilingual is our most popular bilingual game. Making Camp Ojibwe is our most popular free game. Making Camp Premium, just released, may overtake Spirit Lake: The Game as our most popular paid game.

All teach multiplication, division and Ojibwe culture. Making Camp Premium has a language component, teaching things like synonyms, antonyms and parts of speech.

IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW, NOW YOU KNOW

The start of Making Camp was me being bored in a hotel room on the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, where, coincidentally, I am right now. It’s really nice to go hiking in the woods, as you can see, but in the winter, there is !@^ing nothing to do unless you are into ice fishing or deer hunting, which I am not.

So, I got to thinking about how I wanted a puppy when I was a kid and I made a game with a “multiplication dog” where for every answer you earned something else for your dog. It was a simple little thing I did in one evening. I showed it to kids at a school the next day and they loved it. End of story, right?

dog
The multiplication dog’s friend

THEN THIS THING WITH GOOGLE HAPPENED

A little while later, Google sponsored an educational software event in the southwest , somewhere near the Navajo Nation, I think. We were invited to showcase our technology, but there was a catch – it had to be an Android app. At the time, we had games that ran on Mac, Windows and Chromebooks but nothing for mobile.

I told Maria that it was flat impossible in the short time available to modify one of our 3D games. All the mouse and keyboard controls would have to be converted to touch controls. There were a lot of technical issues. However, I told her …

I’ve got this multiplication dog thing ….

So, me, Maria and Jose, who was the lead developer on the first Making Camp brainstormed what we could do in the time allotted. We talked to my daughter, Julia, who was a fan of The Sims and my other daughter, Ronda, who played just about every kind of game, from World of Warcraft to Dragonvale. 

We thought, why not have a collector/ evolution type game but instead of bothering your friends (I’m looking at YOU, Farmville) or begging your parents for money you could do math problems to earn points. 

Since I mostly think of gaming as things like World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed or even Donkey Kong (don’t judge me, I’m old), I was surprised when the Making Camp games started to outshine our other 3D adventure games in popularity.

Did you ever play Candy Crush?

And here is where I was wrong …. I was reading an article in ad week that hit it right on the head. There are 200 MILLION “casual gamers”. That is, not teenagers racing cars and shooting zombies in mom’s basement but kids who play Minecraft or Club Penguin, teachers who play Candy Crush, project administrators who play Farmville. These casual games are actually the most popular games. So, while I think our game Fish Lake, which was voted on to the Steam platform by actual gamers, is awesome, in retrospect, the success of Making Camp is perfectly obvious.

As my mother always said, hindsight vision is 20-20.

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