According to cofounder Vadim Polikov, team members have also been known to don capes and masks while working at the startup’s offices near Union Station.
While it’s a fun atmosphere now, the company started from frustration for Polikov as he talked to friends who are teachers.
“When I was asking them about what materials they use in class, they were telling me they use the same materials that I was using in public school 20 years ago,” said Polikov, who previously founded previously founded Astrum Solar and academic editing company American Journal Experts.
He thought about his own education, and how big a part video games like Oregon Trail and Civilization played.
“I’m a history buff today because I played those games, not because of any particular thing I learned in social studies class,” he said.
The company’s edtech platform, which launched earlier this year, looks to provide 5-25-minute games that teachers can assign. It provides a library of games for students and teachers. The content was designed by game studios, so there are plenty of characters and elements designed to make it fun. The interface is familiar to anyone who has browsed for apps or streaming videos.
Importantly, however, the games are also specifically aligned to curriculum. The first batch of games that debuted in March are all based around earth sciences, life sciences and physical sciences.
— Joshua M Goldberg (@OriginalJMG) June 21, 2017
The launch was the product of several years of testing. Polikov saw early promise, but he wanted to be able to back up the results. This week, the startup released the results of a study conducted with researchers from Vanderbilt University. Published in the Journal of Learning Sciences, teachers who participated in the study said video games helped increase student engagement.
The large edtech and video game development communities in the D.C. area also helped as the platform was being built.
“We got an enormous amount of feedback from the edtech community before we had the first game built or had the first line of code for our platform. That was something we could do only in this area,” Polikov said.
To create the 900 games now available, Polikov said the company worked with 300 game developers from studios around the world. There’s also feedback built into the process.
“Whenever teachers and students play games or interact with content, they instantly rate what they’ve just played and just used,” he said. Developers also get paid based on the feedback.
The platform is free for individual teachers. Polikov said the business model is based on selling into schools and school districts.
The startup raised a $9 million seed round, and currently has about 20 employees working out of the D.C. office. They’re willing to wear capes out of the office, like next week’s planned appearance at the ISTE Conference in San Antonio