E-Line Scaling Learning Games and Impact

After working his way up the corporate ladder in the commercial game world, Alan Gershenfeld left to work on double bottom line games with scalable impact.
In 2007, he became chair of Games for Change and had the opportunity to travel the world considering new game-based learning strategies and deployments. Gershenfeld learned the importance of understanding objectives, knowing your audience and context, developing a theory of change, and building an impact-friendly business model.
With Michael Angst, Gershenfeld co-founded E-Line Media.  With foundation support, they resuscitated and redeveloped Gamestar Mechanic. They improved the learner experience for students and discoverability for teachers. The game-based platform and curriculum is used in more than 7000 schools.
The sponsored experiment helped Gershenfeld see the opportunity for a game publisher–one that could find, grow, optimise, and scale  impact-focused games
With Quest Atlantis developer Sasha Barab, Gershenfeld co-founded the ASU Center for Games and Impact to investigate, innovate, and cultivate “game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges” and “drive meaningful, sustainable learning, health and social impact.” (See May feature.)
Never Alone. Working with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, E-Line developed Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), its first consumer game to be released Fall 2014. Based on a traditional story  and the experiences of Alaska elders, storytellers and youth, Never Alone follows a young Inupiaq girl and an Arctic fox as they go on an adventure to save her village from a blizzard that never ends. E-Line calls this new category drawing upon the richness of unique cultures “World Games.”  (See featured on NPR Saturday Edition.)
In addition to mainstream coverage, it has been interesting to see how positively the hard-core gaming media has responded. Polygon said Never Alone is an opportunity to allow that native America is very much of the present, very much alive. It is an opportunity for the rest of us to enjoy a thing that could easily have been lost.” IGN said, “Never Alone has the potential to capture a rare mix of excitement, education, and beauty. Gamespot said, “Never Alone is fun. That’s important, because behind its intriguing design lies a cultural history that elevates this from a neat diversion to a (potentially) important communication tool.”
Backstory. Sean Vesce is the talent behind Never Alone. He runs the Seattle studio and is Creative Director of what Gershenfeld hopes will be “a growing World Games line of business – sharing, celebrating and extending world cultures through computer and video games.”
Alan and Sean go back to 1994 when Alan was head of production at Activision studios and Sean was lead designer on some of our biggest titles (Pitfall Mayan Adventure, Mechwarrior 2) and then went on to run Crystal/Eidos and the Tomb Raider franchise.
Larry Goldberg recently join E-Line as COO.  He was General Counsel at Activision when Alan was running the studio in LA and then he went on to run Activision’s World-Wide studios launching monster titles including Call of Duty).
“Activision really helped all of us to build design, development and publishing discipline in a complex, emerging and constantly shifting commercial game ecosystem – all skills we are applying to the impact game and game-based-learning sectors,” said Gershenfeld.
Over the last seven years E-Line has built a portfolio of new and rehabilitated sponsored impact-focused games, a unique publishing model that appears to have the potential for scalability. Gershenfeld thinks about a portfolio of gateways for meaningful entertainment, pathways for purposeful learning, and services to deepen and extend learning.
Learning games hold obvious promise but games are expensive to build and have been challenging to sell.  Building a viable business model has proven more difficult that building interesting games. With E-Line Media Alan may have cracked the code on combining education and entertainment and scaling game-based learning.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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