Truth be told, this blog post is about a prototype we developed some time ago, but apart from mentioning it on our projects page and a nice quote from the client for our testimonials, we never found the time to describe it in detail. Time to change that and tell the tale of one man’s journey to help children battle test anxiety.
To give you a unique insight into the evolution of the project, we made some clips of the different prototype versions. In the first one we designed the running track and the obstacles players would have to overcome. As avatars, we used non-animated stickmen.
Identifying the Problem
School’s nearly out for summer. As Alice Cooper would have it: no more pencils, no more books and no more teacher’s dirty looks. A lot of students need the time off to cool down their mind. We easily forget that, by preparing them for our modern, hyper competitive society, we put a lot of stress on our children from a very early age, and not all kids are able to cope with that.
A few years ago, while education professional Rahul Mahna was working for one of the largest government certified after-school learning institutions in the United States, he noticed something peculiar. Even though students were educated in the exact same manner, test results still would highly differ. After thoroughly researching this, he managed to identify the main culprit: test anxiety.
Test anxiety is a specific type of atychiphobia, the abnormal and persistent fear of failure. According to research, over 40% of American children between six and thirteen years old have suffered from it. Afflicted kids experience test environments as highly uncomfortable, as they worry they won’t be able to produce great results. The lack of confidence generated by this irrational fear, results in overall lower grades. On average, their scores are 12% lower compared to children who don’t worry about performing badly.
In the second iteration we used animated stick men to get an idea about the cost of animating full characters. Players also needed to answer different types of questions to overcome different obstacles such as turns, jumps, and slides. Play tests showed this mechanic was too confusing, so we binned it in a later version.
Game Plan Without a Game
It’s the start of a closed feedback loop where the initial fear of not being able to succeed is reinforced by the negative test results, creating even more pressure. Identifying the problem is one thing, solving it is a whole other matter. Rahul and his team discovered anxious students would perform better if they could do the test with the help of a technological aid. Technology – video games in particular – plays a huge role in the lives of young people. By inviting a familiar part of their world into the test setting, students felt more at ease and attained better results.
The idea for what would become Class Compete was born. Rahul deduced that by simulating test conditions while playing a fun video game, students could be trained to better cope with their anxiety and, as a result, gain higher test scores. There was just one problem: he had a game plan, but no game.
In the third build we replaced animated stickmen by character models and made some improvements to the layout of the questions. To make the game more interactive, we added a speed boost meter players can manually activate.
That’s where we come in! PreviewLabs battled off five other companies to come up with a game idea that suited Class Compete’s goals. As Rahul reasoned the game rules should be simple enough to not interfere with the learning process, he wanted to build the game around the core mechanics of an endless runner like Temple Run. While the client came up with the main concept, we made lots of important contributions to the different iterations of the prototypes.
During a run, players get quizzed on different subjects in a way that’s similar to taking a standardized test. A correct answer grants them a speed boost and the faster the player answers a question, the longer it lasts. To encourage competition, we developed an asynchronous multiplayer mode where you always run against other players’ avatars. Early playtests showed kids enjoy the competition and truly want to do better when they get beaten by their peers.
Another thing playtests showed was youngsters loved to personalize their characters. To keep the game engaging in the long run, we added a layer of character customization to a later version of the prototype. Players can use coins they collect during their runs to deck out their avatar with different clothes, accessories or special victory animations. This way they are stimulated to keep competing, becoming better at taking tests with every run they make.
In the fourth and final build of the prototype we added character customization, using Unity3D assets and Vostopia Avatars, as well as the ability to play against other players’ highscores.
Since wrapping up this project – which took us through various prototype iterations fuelled by lively discussions and brain storms with the client – over two years ago, Class Compete has steadily found its way into elementary schools around the United States (and has even been used in International Schools in India) and the reception of both teachers and pupils is wonderful. New features, such as predefined question packs on a variety of subjects or new avatar items, are added on a regular basis and in the future the company is looking to expand Class Compete beyond the current age range and geographical locations, turning it into the go to e-learning platform.
We’re very pleased to have contributed to one of the core systems of the platform and we wish Rahul and his team all the best with the future of the project. Here’s hoping that, once the quiet holiday moments have turned into happy memories, many more battles against test anxiety can be won.
Can’t wait to try out Class Compete for yourself? Check out the official website for more details!