E3 2018: Interview with André Thomas, CEO of Triseum

In the world of triple A games with budgets as big as movies, educational games have taken a step back. Long gone are the days of JumpStart and Carmen San Diego for math and geography lessons. But a new partnership between Triseum, a U.S. game-based learning company, and Tencent, a Chinese conglomerate, is breaking new ground for students worldwide. Together, they are widening the access to and understanding of applied math through Triseum’s Variant: Limits, an academic calculus game that brings in popular video game elements and natural learning.

China’s huge gaming population is unrivaled, and this collaboration between Tencent and Triseum hopes to push Calculus Adventure, the name of the game in China, to students and make challenging school subjects more accessible through gameplay. That way, students are empowered to use critical thinking skills and would be more likely to retain content long-term. Asia Pacific Arts sat down with André Thomas, CEO of Triseum, at E3 to talk more about the collaboration.

APA: How did you and Triseum get involved with Tencent? They’re most well known as the owners of Riot and Epic Games.

Thomas: I looked at the original game and it really wasn’t that good. We launched three and a half years ago and simultaneously our first game in 2016. Calculus is a really tough subject for students to master, and you can’t get a degree in a STEM major. Tencent found us and started a new initiative: to bring high quality educational games to China. They said they were impressed because it looked like an “EA quality” game. Everything we do is backed by university research. 

APA: Who’s the audience for this game?

Thomas: It’s designed for people who play this game in conjunction with their classes. We’ve seen children as young as six years old pick up this game. Calculus is taught at different times in a student’s life, depending on the country. Some students are two years ahead of their peers because of the game.

APA: In the trailer, there’s a parabola and several equations for the player to figure out in order to advance in their journey. Can you tell me more about that?

Thomas: Most people think of equations when they think of math, but solving the equation isn’t a very useful skill because all you’d need is a calculator. Understanding the concepts and knowing which equations to use and apply to a real life situation is what most students lack. The game is a 3D puzzle game, which uses real world examples and allows students to think critically.

APA: Applied calculus in the truest sense. Plenty of students probably think of equations as mindless regurgitation if they don’t have any situation to use it. When will this game launch in China?

Thomas: Possibly in the next couple of months. Every game has to be approved by the Chinese government, but even we may run into unforeseen delays.

APA: There’s not a lot of dialogue in the story. Who is the main character and what is the story?

Thomas: You take on the role of Equa, an explorer on an alien world. You’ll figure out what happened to an ancient civilization through puzzles. There’s only two characters on screen, but the math is the main focus of the game. No matter what country you’re in, the concepts will still be the same.  

APA: What’s been the feedback from students who have play tested the game in the US?

Thomas: Overwhelmingly positive. We had a high school girl who paid a lot of money to keep up with her class because her teacher doesn’t have the time to slow down. 90% of students who use the game for their classes, they say that they better understand their lessons and improve their test scores because you have to get 100% in order to clear the game.

APA: How is Tencent distributing this game in China?

Thomas: They’re taking the game to the consumer and they believe it should be part of their portfolio. Coincidentally, the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing invited us to see a game show in September and to showcase both of our games.   

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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