Of all the games I saw at Toy Fair this week the Jacabee Code was the most interesting. In this new-to-market print/game hybrid for 7 to 12 year olds, the player starts by reading a story which contains clues needed to succeed in an online game/virtual world. You could think of it as an age-appropriate novel doubling as game cheat book, an approach I’ve advocated to educational publishers trying to reach Millenials on their own terms.

As you complete the quests in level one, the game keeps a chronology of your efforts. Then (for a slight additional cost) you’re rewarded with a follow-on book customized with your character staring in a story of the events you’ve witnessed and the people you’ve met along the way. Putting on my educational technology publisher hat for a moment, this custom-made book could easily feature individualized instruction or remediation in areas the player struggled with. In the consumer version, it certainly builds brand identity and should be a profitable ancillary product, but as one colleague asked “what tween do you know likes to receive more books than they have to — wouldn’t they rather get to the next installment of the game straight away?”

Another unusual aspect of The Jacobee Code is that it’s based on books and figurines that the founder’s great grandfather, artist and illustrator F. Luis Mora created to teach national and world history to his son. To make the subject more compelling, he wrote his son into the stories and carved wooden figures representing the leading characters of history for him to play with. Fortunately these works of folk-art survived and were passed down to Mora’s great grand daughter, Maribeth Nickell, who co-founded the company in 2006 with Jaclyn Cannon.

Although The Jacobee Code isn’t entirely successful yet — among other deficits, the largely side-scrolling game play is less than compelling — it’s still in beta and I trust that Maribeth and Jaclyn have more up their sleeve. Bottom line: even at this stage it’s a worthy effort at bridging the gap between written/carbon and online/digital publishing, and kudos to the founders for their vision and the courage to chart a path forward for this emerging genre.

For more information visit The Jacobee Code website.

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