Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated the target age for the apps and misspelled Kevin Beardslee’s name.
GLENDALE, Calif. – Instead of spending hours in battle on “Fortnite,” kids could be learning languages, history and more in an adventure game that’s not only fun, but good for them.
That’s the sales pitch, anyway, for “Adventure Academy,” a new educational app and game that will cost parents either $9.99 monthly, or $5, if they commit to a full year of service.
The game is from the creators of “ABCmouse, Early Learning Academy,” the quiet hit that is used by 6 million kids yearly. ABC was aimed at the 2- to 8-year-old crowd, the new “Academy,” out May 1, is for older kids, ages 8 to 13.
“Billions of dollars are spent on educating kids, yet things don’t change,” says Doug Dohring, the company founder and CEO. “We want to create societal impact, and take kids from one level to another.”
Which begs the question about the haves and have-nots, and only people with the money to spend on the app having access to it.
“We donate and offer ‘ABCmouse’ free,” to libraries and schools, he says, adding that “Adventure Academy” will also be donated to schools and libraries later in the year.
Dohring, who has a long history in internet businesses, knows he has a challenge in selling parents on yet another subscription but says he’s up for the task.
He spent three years and $100 million to build the game, bringing on Kevin Beardslee, the original creator of the “World of Warcraft” game, to lead a team of more than 100 developers, curriculum experts, designers and animators.
The company says its curriculum team develops the academic programs based on “education and child development standards” with the goal of helping children “build a strong foundation for academic success.”
The “Academy Adventure” curriculum was developed with input from teachers across the country to ensure the app taps into the topics essential for kids to succeed in school. “As a result, the ‘Adventure Academy’ curriculum emphasizes key topics ranging from reading comprehension, fractions, and mathematical problem solving to world geography, American history, and a variety of sciences,” the company says.
Study time? Game on
Now whether they can convince kids to get with the program is an open question. We talked to four children brought in to evaluate the game at Age of Learning’s test facility.
Phoebe Navarro, 8, a third grader, said she enjoyed the game, but that it would be “kind of” hard to convince her mom to pay the subscription. She plans to tell her that she’ll “study real hard” and explain how the game “makes you help learn so I can convince her.”
King Exusdus, who is 10, and in the 4th grade, said that while he had fun playing, he didn’t think Adventure would help him in school. Yet, he said he’d rather play “Adventure” than “Fortnite,” “because this is more educational.”
The game itself opens on three levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced, offering speech, math, phonics, history, writing and science skills as the players advance from one level to another, in their quest to complete the journey.
The gurus behind the game
Dohring is the former CEO of Neopets, a popular early Internet hit, one that offered virtual goods to buy accessories for the pretend pets. He sold the company to Viacom for $160 million in 2005 and says he wanted to have for his next act, another massively popular game, but one with pro-social aspects where kids could walk away from their gameplay learning something.
ABCMouse was launched in 2011, and it’s still very popular today, despite the subscription hurdle, ranking No. 10 in the iTunes kids app category, and No. 6 on Google Play.
The Age offices here fill four floors of a busy office building, and is chock full of 600 artists, engineers, musicians, producers and support staff. Mice art is everywhere, on the wall, on pillows and posters, showcasing the company mascot.
The team at Age of Learning is very tied to Internet pioneers. Sky Dayton, the founder of Earthlink and Boingo Wireless is chairman., The late Dave Goldberg, husband of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who was the CEO of SurveyMonkey, was an early investor. Will Griffith, whose ICONIQ Capital has invested for Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and invested in Age, is a company director.
Outside of internet circles, Dohring himself has been very active in the Church of Scientology. He has talked about using Scientology principles in his approach to business in interviews with Scientology publications. The Age of Learning says that Scientology education methods, teachings and philosophies are not used in “ABCmouse” or “Adventure Academy.”
“Religion plays no role in our curriculum or products,” the company says.
Adventure Academy is available in the Apple iOS and Google Play app stores, and on the web at AdventureAcademy.com
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham