A good friend and fellow PROMYS supporter recently asked me to take a look at an online math game: Prodigy. The background sounded great: play, math, monsters, magic, adventure. What could be better? I spent a couple hours going through it and came away very disappointed.
Tracy Zager Big 3
Top 3 non-negotiable criteria, from this post:
- Time pressure: none (Prodigy Game passes this hurdle)
- Conceptual basis: none (PG fails this hurdle)
- Mistakes handled productively: no (PG fails this hurdle)
So Prodigy Game score 1/3 against Tracy's Big 3. In case you don't want to bother to read her post, passing grade is 3/3.
Clearly, the team has spent a lot of time and effort on development. There are some aspects that reflect this:
- Teacher back-end: this is where they put in their effort. Decent reports about student activity and teacher ability to pick focus questions (assignments) is nice. This functionality seemed on par with other edtech products I've used.
- Look and feel/animation: pretty good, clearly another area they prioritized. The standard is well below a popular commercial/non-education game, but I would say their work here is only slightly below the cutting edge in edtech products. It is much better than the huge crowd of flash animated drill and kill games.
Game theme: weak.
I think one reason I was so disappointed is that the premise starts out rather promising. We are going to explore a new world, gain experience, learn new spells, rather loot.
Unfortunately, each of these turns to disappointment. Most game play is driven by railroaded mini-storylines where we follow a guiding pointer along a linear path to retread locations we've seen before. There is limited opportunity or in-game reason to explore the world.
Gaining experience gives us extra hearts (capacity to take damage in magical duels), but this just makes the inserted mini-math quizzes longer. More experience feels like it makes the game less fun. Also, the way we gain experience is dueling random forest creatures, an activity that quickly seems pretty uninteresting and unmotivated (the forest creatures are just hanging out, they aren't bad/evil or doing anything wrong per se).
For each new spell, there is a cute animation showing the effects of that spell. However, they all have exactly the same in-game effects, so we never have a reason to care about the extra spells (though we do have to waste time and clicks choosing one each time).
Finally, they make two mistakes with the loot. First, we don't have a counter to keep track of how much gold we've collected, so it becomes hard to pay attention to that. Second, the vast majority of items you can collect or buy are only available for paid users.
There is no math integration with game and theme. During each magic duel, we are forced to answer a math question as the hurdle to casting a spell successfully. That's right, doing math in this game is a cost that you have to pay!
This mechanic forces \math questions into the game play, but doesn't create any relationship relate to anything else about the game. The same format could be used for spelling, history, driver's ed, etc questions just as easily as math.
The math content itself is very weak. Unfortunately, the material included is pure drill, and even includes a lot that is really recall rather than skills practice. The questions had no context, no conceptual framework, were tedious. I literally found myself forming an active dislike of the material. Imagine what damage that could do for a kid who thinks this is a good representation of what math is!
Don't even get me started about the name "prodigy." Did the name bias me against the game from the start? Maybe, but I felt that my enthusiasm for games and the promised theme were stronger biases, so I still feel I gave the product a good chance.
This is a math "game" that I will never show to the three J's and I suggest you avoid it. Play Lure of the Labyrinth instead!