Fantage recruits schools one by one for kids online virtual learning world

With more than 16 million registered users, Fantage is one of the rare successes among startups focusing on kids virtual worlds.

The Fort Lee, N.J.-based company has created a world where kids can chat, play mini games, and engage in activities such as virtual fashion shows. Now the company is shifting more explicitly into education, launching a new Fantage School Challenge on a school by school basis. This kind of intense focus on one school is a way that Fantage can improve the adoption of its virtual world, which has 2million monthly active users.

There used to be a ton of competition in kids virtual worlds from 2009 to 2011, with many of the worlds trying to copy the success of Club Penguin, which was acquired for $350 million (plus a $350 million earn out) in 2007. Moshi Monsters has also appeared on the scene as real competition. But most of the rivals have fallen by the way side.

Fantage targets a wide range of of ages, from 6 to 16, and its classroom-focused material focuses on math and language skills through mini games.

“Teachers like it because we enable students to learn while playing,” said David Hwang, chief executive of the company, in an interview.

Last year, the company invited a fifth grade class at the Christ the King school in Los Angeles to play Fantage educational games every day at school for an hour. The pilot program involved both online and offline competitions, and the winning team got a cash prize and an Amazon Kindle. It turned out to be a success and now the company is invited even more schools to participate in the Fantage Challenges.

Veronica Castillo, fifth grade teacher at the school, said, “Everyone in the classroom was excited to participate, and the School Challenge provided extra motivation for my students to focus on important subjects like math and geography.”

The company will roll out a new school each quarter. Two or three schools can compete with each other via the virtual classroom. The winning classroom gets a cash prize for the school. The goal is to enable schools to adopt the challenges by themselves, Hwang said. As word spreads among schools, they can organize their own challenges. Fantage has set up a challenge page for teachers.

“The pilot we ran showed children can get engaged because of the competition,” Hwang said. “We hope schools can use our site to do this indpendently.”

Fantage is also extending into separate sites for German and French speakers.

“We are very excited and have been preparing this for a few months,” Hwang said.

Fantage also plans to launch about one new app a month for mobile devices.

It also launched three apps on the iPhone and one app on Android last year. The Bullseye app in November had 100,000-plus downloads with no spending on marketing. The company is creating the apps in-house and is tailoring them for kids who are the same age as the players on the web site. Fantage was formed in 2007 and it has a few dozen employees. Investors include Nexon, but Fantage has not disclosed how much money it has raised.

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