The update helps kids study for the big test without knowing it by embedding lessons in a game that is fun. It also helps students deal with the stress of the SAT at the same time. It’s part of Pixelberry’s mission to create positive digital entertainment that improves the lives of its players while also building a profitable business. To date, Pixelberry’s High School Story has been downloaded more than 12 million times, and it has generated $9.7 million this year, up four-fold from a year ago.
“We’ve been working on this update for eight months, and it’s the biggest update we’ve ever had for High School story,” said Oliver Miao, the chief executive and co-founder of Pixelberry, in an interview with GamesBeat. “The plans for this started when we started the company. When we first started working on High School Story, our vision was to create a fun game first. Then, after we had a lot of players, we could start layering elements of education.”
This might be just the right way to get kids to eat their spinach, or do something that’s good for them. In this case, the new update has minigames that teach vocabulary.
“We hope that players will be very excited about this feature,” Miao said. “We are nervous about it because we do realize we are taking a big risk turning a fun, premium game into something that is educational. But we think it is worth the risk.”
Mountain View, Calif.-based Pixelberry has had good luck making enjoyable sub-narratives within its game, teaching kids about issues such as cyberbullying and eating disorders. And if anything has high school students worried, it’s the SAT. The American Psychological Association says that American teenagers are more stressed out than ever. Between rocky social lives, nonstop testing, and the college admissions process, teens are under a lot of pressure to be perfect. That is making them anxious, nervous, and unhappy.
Pixelberry’s game is a story-based, cartoon-like interactive novel. It has narratives that show kids what it’s like to be a high school student. My own kids have played it as a kind of simulation because they’re curious about what high school is like. The Pixelberry team includes a number of former teachers, and they appreciate the kind of impression they can make on kids. Now they’re taking on the SATs, which often dominate the lives of teens.
“Since we are a high school game, putting academics into it is a natural part of the story,” Miao said.
The game rewards students who run through the 31 minigames. They can unlock new characters, new parts of the story, and take a journey through a map. The player can see their progress compared to their friends’, and they can also earn premium currency that they can use in the game.
“This is part of a brand and game that you already trust,” Miao said. “We plan to be upfront with players about it. We are letting them know that this is a way to increase their vocabulary and study for the SAT at the same time.”
If the new update is successful, the company will introduce other topics too in a matter of months.
“We think we can level the playing field,” Miao said. “For players who come from socio-economic backgrounds where their parents can’t send them through $1,000-plus test-prep courses, this is a way to get a head start on SAT prep.”
The game might also generate extra revenue as it could prompt more spending in the free-to-play game. Parents might be very willing to let their kids spend money in a title that is educational.
The game is available on both iOS and Android. Pixelberry Studios was founded in 2012 by Electronic Arts veterans Miao, Keith Emnett, and Winston She. They first launched High School Story in 2013. Their anti-cyberbullying prevention campaign raised more than $300,000 for the anti-bullying charity Cybersmile. Pixelberry also partnered this summer with the National Eating Disorders Association to offer resources and support to the 20.2 million American teenagers who struggle with body image issues.