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There are only a few developers in the world that are good at combining learning and playing on the computer. One of the companies that has specialized in this field is in Vienna and is called Ovos. Its first creation, the
Three hours of free gameplay
The free game is available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices and is designed for professionals who can already speak German and corresponds to language level B1. “The target group is not traditional gamers, but adults who are learning German for professional purposes,” said Jörg Hofstätter, co-founder of Ovos. And the scenario was designed with them in mind. A young journalist is looking for her lost uncle and discovers an economic scandal. Over the course of the game’s three hours, she must solve puzzles, talk with people and complete various tasks such as writing an application letter.
Exciting story for greater motivation
“We decided on a young journalist because language is an essential part of her job. And the job requires interaction with people and following clues,” Hofstätter explained. The goal was to combine an exciting story with actions from everyday life in an office and at work, because “an office simulation would not make for a very exciting game.” So the developers chose the adventure genre, because it is a good way to tell a story. According to Hofstätter, there is simply no way to teach German with a game of skill.
While the programmers had free reign in designing the game, the institute monitored the educational content down to the smallest detail. “I have never worked on a game before where the proofreaders had so much leeway,” Hofstätter said. Every sentence was reviewed and revised by German philologists, some of whom have been researching language for 30 years, and instructors. The trick was striking the right balance between correct German and fun. The developers wanted to keep the dialogs funny, and did not want them to sound too artificial. And the Viennese company had to fight with its roots. “In the beginning, we often heard the sentence ‘It’s too Austrian,’” the second Ovos boss, Jochen Kranzer, related.
Another requirement was that the game had to teach German values. “The Goethe Institute is also a cultural institute. The app teaches how certain situations run in Germany,” Kranzer said. For this reason, a barometer was included that assigns plus and minus points for actions. “People react with a specific tone of voice when something was formulated correctly or incorrectly. This is designed to help avoid embarrassing situations in real life,” Kranzer said. As the Goethe Institute has roughly 200 branches around the world, the game also had to take account of cultural differences. For example, attention was paid to the clothing worn by the main character. “In China, it would be a problem if her skirt did not go past her knees, for example. The depiction of alcohol, for example after the end of work, was also an issue,” Hofstätter said.
According to Hofstätter, five employees worked on the game for six months. In addition to the programming and the graphics, Ovos also designed the story and the puzzles. The progress was discussed with the Goethe Institute regularly. The help texts that assist the user during the game are currently available in English, German and Spanish. According to Ovos, further languages are being prepared. The company is very interested in working with the institute again. But games are also currently being developed on subjects other than language and physics. Further learning games are to be released for smartphones and tablets this year.