By Blake Montgomery (2/7/2016). Re-posted from Edsurge
Carmen Sandiego has reappeared.
Last November, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released “Carmen Sandiego Returns,” the first iPad and iPhone version of the classic game in which players use their geography knowledge to track Carmen and her goons across the world.
Her re-emergence coincides with a resurgence in the popularity of educational games. The Apple App Store, for instance, boasts 80,000 apps in its “Educational” category. Teachers increasingly blog and write about using game-based learning in their classrooms. And the market for educational games may be worth $2.3 billion by next year.
Carmen may be in plain sight now, but things aren’t the same as when she last appeared. Once an icon of the educational gaming software in the mid-90’s—also known as the “edutainment” era—Carmen hasn’t been hiding as much as trying to claw her way back from obscurity. Her disappearance was less intentional and more reflective of the collapse of the edutainment industry.
Aftershocks of the collapse of the edutainment industry still trouble today’s teeming edtech market. Many of the key players from back then see history repeating itself: A crowded market doomed the majority of edutainment companies, just as the App Store’s . What can today’s educational game developers learn from that boom-and-bust period?
The Heyday of Edutainment
To many, the embodiment of the edutainment industry was The Learning Company, the maker of such classics as “Reader Rabbit,” “Zoombinis,” “The Oregon Trail” and “Carmen Sandiego,” and several others that were popular in classrooms in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The company exploded soon after its inception. Sales reached $1 million in 1983, the first year it incorporated, and doubled each subsequent year, according to founder Ann McCormick’s blog. She and her team built a number of acclaimed titles in their early years like Rocky’s Boots, which won Software of the Year awards from several magazines. IBM contracted the company to create games for the PCjr. The games came prepackaged with Apple II computers as the desktop soared in popularity in schools.
The Learning Company was not without its troubles, though; it cycled through a number of executives between 1980 and 1985, with McCormick leaving in 1985. Nevertheless, the company continued to…