Learn to Play: Leveraging the Freemium Model in the Religious Educational Game Kerem B'Yavneh (The Vineyards of Yavneh)
Casey O'Donnell, Brian Winn and Reuven Margrett
Kerem B’Yavneh (meaning literally "A Vineyard in Yavneh") is a custom, collaboratively designed game between the Michigan State University Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab and the Frankel Jewish Academy. The goal of the collaboration was to create a game that motivates students to be more engaged in the Academy’s rabbinic curriculum and further make use of the Academy’s one-to-one tablet-based education technology initiative. Kerem B’Yavneh (KeBY) is a casual, social, religious education, homestead-simulation, world-building game. KeBY brings the fun and quirkiness of your favorite farming and city-building games to the richness and vibrancy of Jewish ritual, history, and thought. In the game, the player's goal is to manage their homestead, observe festivals, learn Torah, cook, and experience life and community in ancient Yavneh, the birthplace of modern Judaism. The story within the game unfolds in ancient Yavneh, a small agricultural community that was transformed into the center of Jewish life and learning after the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple by the Roman Empire in 70 CE (also the subject of a game collaboratively developed between the GEL Lab and Frankel Jewish Academy). The player is a budding scholar-farmer leading this transformation. In KeBY, players must adhere to traditional Rabbinic law, culture, and practice while raising a family, growing crops of increasing diversity and goodness, trading in the marketplace, and helping Yavneh flourish. Never before have there been Jewish games both so cutting-edge and so well adapted to use in an educational setting. KeBY makes history come alive, brings context to Rabbinic literature, and provides a deeply interactive vehicle for critical thinking, discussion, and classroom debate. The game, which can be played by each student concurrently as a classroom community, provides in-game rewards for out-of-game work in school. Instead of using a "free" to play, pay-to-play or "freemium" model (F2P), KeBY promotes learn-to-play, collaboration, and friendly competition amongst players. It enables the teacher to create customized content within the game to enhance and reinforce classroom learning and motivate players to truly engage in the material. Leveraging the freemium model, the game provides an opportunity for substantive Rabbinic educational content to be delivered both through the game's underlying mechanics, but also through content found in a "quiz" system that players can use to recharge aspects of the game's systems with "sparks" or what would typically be the abstracted "real" currency in a F2P game. This provides the opportunity for a player to progress without being required to interact with the quiz, but the player's progress in the game is dramatically simplified by engaging with this aspect of the game.