Trip Hawkins, who founded gaming pioneer Electronic Arts and has spent the past 30 years exploring game development, announced today that his latest start-up has received $6.5 million in Series A funding to develop new kinds of games aimed at helping kids develop social and emotional skills.
Those are life skills that seem to be sorely lacking in today’s adults, says Hawkins. And that’s why he’s focused his efforts on using interactive games to teach 6 to 12 year-old’s.
“I’d like to quote [abolitionist] Frederick Douglass, who said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men,’” Hawkins says. “While adults need these skills too, we thought it made sense to start with children.”
The “we” is If You Can Company, a startup that borrows its name from the opening line of “If,” a poem by Rudyard Kipling that starts “If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” Greylock Partners led the Series A funding round for the San Mateo, California-based company, which had already raised $2.8 million from seed and angel funds including Andreessen Horowitz and Founder’s Fund.
Its first iPad game, “IF,” is now available through App Store. The first chapter of the adventure-based game is free, with Parents and teachers able to buy a subscription (likely $5 a month) to receive new chapters that will be released each month, Hawkins said. The games are built around a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum that’s intended to teach them how to “manage difficult emotions, persevere through challenges [such as bullying], make healthy decisions and show empathy and compassion.”
Hawkins, the father of four, said his children have helped serve as the test audience for many of his ideas. He was informed by the SEL curriculum taught at The Nuevea School in Silicon Valley, which they attended, as well as SEL programs developed by the State of Illinois and others. IF is set in the imaginary town of Greenberry. Kids create a personalized avatar and then go on a “hero’s journey” to help bring peace to two rival factions, dogs and cats, as they interact with other members of the Greenberry community.
Hawkins said he’s using what he learned developing the successful Madden football game franchise at EA to bring together a team of veteran educators and game developers, including Stewart Boon, who served as general manager of EA Studios. “With Madden, we had to create an experience for football fans that combined their love of the game with all the things we could with technology, like bringing in stats and interactive plays,” he says. “It’s that combination of storytelling and game-play mechanics that we can deliver.”
Hawkins laughs when I ask him why his new start up is centered around education when so many other tech entrepreneur seems focused on delivering mobile and social apps. He acknowledges that this isn’t a typical tech startup, but notes that he’s raised almost $10 million in backing — a sign that he’s not the only one who believes in the business model. “I’ve definitely been ahead of my time on some things, and been behind on others. This time, though, I think the timing is just right,” Hawkins says. “Who wouldn’t want their kids to have a game that teaches them how to be compassionate?”