TeacherGaming, which was founded in 2011, creates add-ons, i.e. mods, for the popular games Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program. This is how it created the educational games MinecraftEdu and KerbalEdu. Its customers include schools and other education providers such as libraries, museums and youth organisations. Alongside physical space, they use 'virtual classrooms' as an aid in their work. MinecraftEdu is used by more than 10,000 schools in 45 countries.
"The key issues in our games are openness, freedom of action and, of course, the students' interest in the games. We have added lesson-management tools to the classroom, such as a button which temporarily freezes a game on everyone's screen. The Kerbal Space Program is a highly complex space simulator which keeps the invaluable, hard science that lies behind it half-hidden in the background. We have streamlined the games and made them more intuitive, adding tools that help pupils and teachers to analyse the subject matter behind the games," says CEO Santeri Koivisto.
Firms have been developing educational games for 30 years, but without major breakthroughs despite the interest by big companies like EA and Valve. However, the times are changing. At their best, games can be a great motivator by combining formal and informal learning, providing pupils with individual experiences and enhancing pupil-teacher interaction. This is particularly true now that virtual reality is on its way.
"Pedagogy is the key issue, the tools are only secondary. One of the greatest things about MinecraftEdu is that it forces teachers to come up with a totally different approach to teaching. In this case, it's the pupils who teach the teachers. Teachers gain an idea of how the game works and come up with ideas for using it in their teaching."
A thriving growth company
Microsoft bought Minecraft for EUR 2.5 billion last year. The educational component was not included but Microsoft bought the MinecraftEdu business from TeacherGaming in January for an undisclosed sum, a big one.
"The educational component was the key reason for buying us. Virtually all of the tools, buzz and community around the subject come from us. Even if we are 'just' a mod developer licensed to sell Minecraft, Microsoft wants to use a ready-made customer-base to ease its entry into the educational markets."
TeacherGaming has doubled its turnover – which is expected to reach two million euros in 2016 – with each year that has passed. The company has 13 employees. It has also made a seed capital investment in a startup of its own, 5 More Minutes.
How does the future look?
Santeri Koivisto is sure that educational games have a bright future. He regards old-fashioned attitudes and the dull reputation of learning as the main problem.
"This is absurd, because learning is one of the most important and coolest things that make us human. For example, the US and UK are investing astronomical sums in teaching technology and there is an acute shortage of suppliers in the sector. There's money out there to be made by those who come up with the right products, based on the right approach for a sufficiently large target group. I'd advise getting on board with trends such as e-sports, leagues, coding and maker/hackerspaces," he says.
"Tekes funding has been very important for us, especially as we have no business angel support. Of course, a small company has to demonstrate a revenue stream, but there's nothing wrong with that."
For further information, please contact
santeri (at) teachergaming.com
Photo: TeacherGaming LCC