During its heyday, Amplify touted its orange tablets as the tool that would transform digital learning experiences in school. Yet the company’s most impressive offering may have been its games. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company invested more than $25 million to partner with talented developers who built 30 learning games covering math, science and English Language Arts.
Unless you were a reporter or play tester, however, it was hard to get your hands on them. Only one title was available in the consumer market. The rest required a school license sold by Amplify.
The fate of the games seemed in limbo in Sept. 2015 after News Corporation sold Amplify. But now they have found a new home. Today, Amplify announced that it is merging its games division—the team and its assets—with StoryToys, an Irish developer of children’s learning apps, into a new company: Touch Press.
Executives from Amplify and StoryToys first entertained this deal in Oct. 2015. Conversations continued through early 2016, during which time StoryToys was also interested in buying the portfolio of educational apps from Touch Press, a London-based company. (More background about Touch Press’ decision to sell here.) All three parties decided to merge their assets under one new company that adopted the Touch Press brand. It will have offices in Brooklyn and Dublin.
Amplify’s 30 games, along with its team of 11, will move to Touch Press. “We’re excited to be a part of the new company and work with new colleagues in Dublin who have expertise in working with younger kids and getting into the non-school markets,” Justin Leites, former president of Amplify Games, tells EdSurge. Barry O’Neill, who was CEO of StoryToys, will retain that position at Touch Press.
Supporting the new company is a Series A investment from a group of private investors backed by Emerson Collective (which also led the buyout of Amplify from News Corporation). Neither the funding amount, nor the investors’ names, are being disclosed.
Since Amplify’s sale, products considered not core to the company’s focus on digital curriculum have been spun off as independent companies. These include Edhesive (K-12 computer science company), Fluence (assessment technology) and School by Design (school resource planning).
Across the gaming industry, educational titles have been panned for lacking visual polish, user-friendly mechanics and overall design. Many games resemble animated flashcards with points. James Paul Gee, an Arizona State University professor who researches and writes about game-based learning, recently told EdSurge “the vast majority of [educational games] are terrible.”
Amplify’s game division, which Leites started in 2011, sought to buck the trend. It forked out millions of dollars to work with renowned game developers such as Jesse Schell, who designed the company’s flagship English Language Arts game, Lexica. (Here are our early impressions of the game from last year.) Other game studios included Zachtronics and Bossa Studios, which created Twelve A Dozen, a math game that was the only one publicly available for purchase.
“When I started this division [of Amplify] nearly six years ago,” recalls Leites, “we made a commitment early on to have a portfolio of games with significant high-quality in terms of both educational rigor and engagement value—more than any educational game available at the time.” (Last year he offered EdSurge a comprehensive outline of Amplify’s vision for games.)
He says his team has continued to refine the games throughout Amplify’s sale and the conversations that ultimately led to its merger into Touch Press. “Games are never finished, they’re only published,” he quips, adding that “we’ve substantially improved the games since [EdSurge] last tried them out.”
Touch Press’s website currently offers five of Amplify’s 30 games: Twelve a Dozen, MasterSwords (vocabulary battling game), C0D3BR34K3RS (an algebra puzzler), Twisted Manor (vocabulary puzzler) and Habitactics (ecosystem game). Users can demo them for free, or purchase a $4.99 monthly subscription that offers full access. There will be no ads or in-app purchase options, and one additional game will be released each month (at no extra cost). Amplify will continue selling subscriptions to schools that are interested, Leites adds.
StoryToys and Touch Press apps can be purchased individually. Bundling these offerings into a subscription is under consideration.
Leites believes the educational game industry has turned the corner and will deliver learning games that can rival its mainstream counterparts. “Today there are more companies producing high-quality educational games than there were five to six years ago,” he observes. The next question, however, is whether they can create a sustainable business.