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Classcraft makes the classroom a giant role-playing game — with freemium pricing

Seeing results

Young doesn’t have any quantitative results to share yet, but many teachers using Classcraft are reporting success. “We have some really surprising statistics,” says Young. “We have teachers saying their class averages have gone up 20, 25 percent in the months following implementing Classcraft.”

He puts that down to an increase in engagement due to three factors: offering significant rewards, providing a continuous feedback cycle, and encouraging a classroom dynamic rooted in collaboration.

“The first year I did this, I started it mid-year,” says Young. “I had two guys that hadn’t been working at all; they were seriously failing. The second Classcraft got into the class, they started working like crazy. Like a lot — abnormally a lot — because they wanted to level up. That was surprising because grades weren’t an incentive for them, but performing in a game was.”

Despite their terrible start, those two kids actually passed the year.

“I have kids who would never have talked to each other who are helping each other out after school,” says Young, emphasizing the teamwork that Classcraft encourages. “The game is built to reinforce what makes you a good learner. Participating well in class, doing your work, collaborating. It really rewards that. That’s how you level up in the game.”

Classcraft permeates every aspect of school for Young’s students. They get XP for doing well in sports or helping each other after school. They even tidy the classroom in the hope of levelling up quicker. “They become obsessed with becoming a better learner,” says Young. “They just don’t know about it.”

Classcraft has improved pupil grades and attitude to learning in many schools.

Above: Classcraft has improved pupil grades and attitude to learning in many schools.

Image Credit: Classcraft

Carrot on a stick

Not everyone is fully convinced of Classcraft’s merits as an educational motivator. I spoke to Frank Noschese, a high school physics teacher from Cross River, N.Y., who has a different take on gamifying the classroom.

“I don’t really look at competition as a good thing in the classroom,” Noschese told me over Skype. At least, he believes, not when kids are striving to earn rewards in a game. “You do the work to do better at the game rather than do the work to learn the material,” he said. “It sends the wrong message that it’s not the learning that’s important but the game aspect.”

“It’s very behaviourist. Training the kids to do what they’re doing because they get a reward.”

On the kids that aren’t intrinsically motivated by getting good grades, Noschese says that “there’s something else going on. And I don’t think that laying a game over the classroom is really going to fix that scenario.

“There’s some kids that just can’t be in building, shifting through nine different classes for six hours a day, sitting in their seats. They need a different schooling experience.”

Noschese thinks that teachers can make class “way more engaging” without turning it into a game. He says that his subject, physics, is “really cool just of itself,” and describes using a video of NBA star Kobe Bryant jumping over a pool of snakes [embedded below] to spark a lab-based session where students try to answer the question, “Is it real or is it fake?”

Despite his reservations about Classcraft, Noschese says he doesn’t want to fault Young for trying something new: “Any teacher that’s willing to try something new or change their craft is great.”

The freemium model

“At this moment were having our team of illustrators draw a thousand pieces of gear,” says Young, outlining the freemium model that is one of three options the game is adopting this fall. “Boots, magic, shields, potions.” As students level up, they’ll get gold coins as part of their reward. They can use these to customize their character’s look.

And interestingly, they’ll also be able to buy these coins through the iOS app and on iTunes.

Young knows this is a huge move for an educational product. “It’s very, very innovative,” he says. “I don’t know any products that do that for education.”

I asked Young whether there would be a cap on the amount of money that students could spend. “They cant spend that much money,” he said. “After $5 or $6 it doesn’t make sense to spend money.”

But the very idea of kids paying for an educational product may raise eyebrows. “That poses, for some teachers, a certain ethical dilemma of do they want to bring a product into their class that is soliciting kids to spend money?” admits Young.

So, for teachers and schools who aren’t happy with that principle, Classcraft will have a premium version charged at a rate of $4 per student per year. That way, pupils can still access the customizable features, but it will be the teachers who hold the keys to the gold.

There will still be a free version of Classcraft without microtransactions available come September, but this will be miss out certain features. It won’t have customizable avatars, pets, iOS app support, or interactive class forums. However, the base game will still be fully functional.

The idea of offering a freemium pay model is, at its core, a challenge to the school budgeting system and a way of making Classcraft available to all, according to Young.

“I’ve been teaching for seven years,” he says, “and for me, one of the main annoyances is this bureaucratic stopper on innovation that comes from, ‘Oh, sure, we’ll put that in the budget for next year,’ even though you have your great idea right now.”

“For me, it was important that teachers hop on and just start playing whenever they wanted. That’s when that freemium model was born. We have teachers [playing Classcraft] in China and India and Namibia. A lot of these premium education products are only available in the U.S. and Canada. It was really important that we were available for these poorer countries. That a teacher who wanted to start playing just could.”

The freemium reality

For Higuera, the free-to-play or freemium pay models are the only way his class can keep using Classcraft.

“I would love to say my principal would purchase the premium access for us,” he told me, “but he won’t. Not enough of our teachers would use it to make it viable. And I doubt I could afford to pay out of my own pocket.”

Higuera thinks his students will love the opportunity to customize their characters, but doubts whether many will actually do it. “Some will, but not many,” he told me. “And I worry that some who would like to won’t be able to because of the stark economic reality of poverty.”

“Classcraft is cool, though,” said Higuera, “and I hope to continue using it next year and in the years to come. So long as I, no, we can afford it.”

A big September

A Classcraft iOS app is due out this fall.

Above: A Classcraft iOS app is due out this fall.

Image Credit: Classcraft

This fall is a big deal for Young and Classcraft. The game originally launched in February — not the best time of year to embark on a new educational initiative.

The iOS app due in September will enable the whole system to run on a teacher’s iPad and will give students more immediate ownership of the game. German and Spanish translation will add global appeal to a system which Young says he always intended being an international concern.

Students as young as 8 and as old as 20 are already playing the game, their number only looks set to increase with Classcraft’s streamlining efforts. And the free-to-play business model will permit any teacher, in any country, to jump into the game, regardless of school budgets.

While it doesn’t offer an across the board solution to engaging kids in education, it does provide an innovative and unique way of capturing those pupils that might otherwise shrug their way through school.

“Video games, in a very short time, have become this common cultural reference point that everybody knows,” says Young. “Everybody plays games; everybody likes games.

“For students whose grades are suffering because they’re not engaged or they’re not motivated. I think that Classcraft can really make a difference.”

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27 comments
`Brian caruso
`Brian caruso

I like Noschese's comment against gaming in the classroom; “It’s very behaviourist. Training the kids to do what they’re doing because they get a reward.”


If that is his thinking, I assume he doesn't give the ultimate school reward:  grades?


I would be shocked that kids are in his class simply for the joy of learning physics. The "modern" industrialized education system simply isn't  built to promote a joy of learning.

Alan Bronstein
Alan Bronstein

I'm still trying to figure out where the content comes in.  Did I miss that in the article?  Where are they learning, e.g., F=ma?  Where do the gas laws come in?  How is the curriculum brought into the game?

Sandy Morley
Sandy Morley

Does Noschese appreciate that traditional teaching is also behaviourist? It teaches kids to learn to pass tests; it doesn't teach kids to learn. Actively wanting to engage is a massive step forward for many students... it sure beats revising for exams.

Dallas Literal Johnston
Dallas Literal Johnston

And...I have problems with Common Core, too. My daughter is fairly advanced for her age, and she is forced to hold the hands of other students, who, according to her, have zero interest in the material or succeeding in anything other than gaining popularity through SnapChat. Why punish the smartest and most-motivated students?

Dallas Literal Johnston
Dallas Literal Johnston

Completely in agreement. I have never endorsed lecture-based impartation if knowledge. Engagement is key, just not sure WoW-esque gamification is the most effective means for all parties involved.

Derrick Dixon
Derrick Dixon

My biggest problem with American public education (and I now have a high school son and elementary aged daughter) is the fact that the students are still "taught at", and not "engaged in". Lectures may work for the college level environment (although I'm still not a fan), but a move toward interactive classrooms where student work together and are involved in tracing along with learning builds more long term skills and sparks more interest. We have a new push for "common core" which does de-emphasize the lectern and lecturer and focus on groups of students working through the material together. It has done hour if it is embraced.

Derrick Dixon
Derrick Dixon

Dallas Literal Johnston, school was tedious, laborious and boring for you....And you all but checked out, (so did I, not judging) however you have succeeded very well in the real working environment. I'm surprised you would be against a more engaging school environment. I think the younger Dallas may have been more active in school.

John Baker
John Baker

Now this is the way to get them engaged and motivated!

Gwen Macpherson
Gwen Macpherson

Here's the key: "Currently a free service, Classcraft will introduce a pay structure this fall…." Let's see--the at risk kids are probably mostly economically disadvantaged, going to economically disadvantaged schools, and they are the target of this game. How will they pay for this?

Michael Donovan
Michael Donovan

The deadening of education, and I agree with Mr. Johnston.

Dallas Literal Johnston
Dallas Literal Johnston

Why are we increasingly conforming education to the seemingly ever-growing ADHD, patience of a feral cat crowd, as this is simply *not* how the real world operates! There are activities, projects, etc. that will be boring and laborious at times, and if you are not willing to push through because it is not as fun or exciting as WoW, you will be worthless to employers.

Cristian Garcia
Cristian Garcia

Nice....but then it's just the SAME educational system, only more Pavlovian. This guy should adapt it so there is no need for a teacher, because learning is not about doing what the teachers says (or else), it about exploring possibilities.

Eric Heilman
Eric Heilman

This would be way better than having to administer the spreadsheets I have for the game I have been running my algebra 2 class.

Dave Meeker
Dave Meeker

That's more like making a game than gamification, but interesting.

Stephanie  at Classcraft
Stephanie at Classcraft

Kristie's spot on. Gwen, we'll also be continuing to support our basic Free version so that schools, regardless of their financial situation, can play.

Kristie Lauborough
Kristie Lauborough

If you read further, you'll see it's going to a standard free-to-play model. What that means is the game is still free, but non-essential equipment which is optional can be purchased. Usually this is an aesthetic item or an object that doesn't severely impact the game mechanics.

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