Adding up GoSum, an educational tool disguised as a game [Interview]

Have you ever picked up a game and started playing only to stop midway through the experience to think, “Wait a second, am I learning something from this?” That’s the goal of GoSum, a math-centric mental challenge that hit iOS devices this month. The game was developed by Colin Thompson as a way to help tutor his sons in the early 90s. 20 years later and the title is being brought back to life on Retina screens.

After sitting down and digging into GoSum, a few things are clear: The game does a good job of making you really think and occasionally shaming you for math knowledge you clearly should possess, and Colin’s kids are probably very smart. The board will conjure up thoughts of Scrabble, but there are no triple word scores here–though there are triple numbers. This game is based solely off math equations. 

You start out the game by creating a simple equation, eventually branching off across the board. The more intricate the numerical sentences you create, the more points you’ll net. It’s a game that mathletes the world over will sure to find appreciation for. The game can be purchased from the App Store for $1 on the iPhone or $3 on the iPad. You can even give it a shot for free, which is less than $3 for those of you who aren’t strong with numbers.

We sat down with Colin Thompson, the game’s creator, to talk about the release of his long-time tutoring game on to iOS devices.

Question: How long did the actual board game take to reach the form that we see today?

Colin Thompson: The board game was first created in the late 80’s to help teach my 2 young children math and times tables. It then took two more years to make it the app that it is today. 

What was the reason you decided to turn the game into an app?

To be honest, I didn’t know what an app was when I first heard about them a few years ago. After becoming more familiar with them, I saw the potential for GoSum as an app. Math transcends language barriers, making it the perfect fit for the mobile world. We now have players in China with no English language skills, already expertly playing others around the globe, which is truly amazing.

Was creating the app a completely hands-on project for you, bringing your game to life on iOS?

It certainly was an amazing learning experience. Fortunately, my skills as a Tool designer along with my fastidious attention to detail stood me in good stead. 27,000 lines of programming with 14+ million permeatations was not without its headaches.

GoSum is obviously a game, but a learning tool as well. Do you think apps like GoSum have a future in educational settings like class rooms?

I have had tons of comments regarding its educational benefits, and I think the following Apple reviewer sums it up quite well:

“Never thought I would see the day my 10yr old was wanting to do sums. Brilliant app!!!” -Apple review by Liam on Aug 09 – 2012

You also have a physical board game version of GoSum coming out. Is there a different experience that is had on the the board as opposed to on the screen?

Not everyone has or can afford an iPhone or iPad in this world, so we still believe that there is a place for the traditional family board game and will pursue this over the coming year in an effort to have GoSum reach everyone.

Any plans to add a single-player vs. computer element to the game?

As a small independent developer, we had to prioritize our resources, and with the added support from the full version we would like next to release the wifi/bluetooth version. These we hope will proceed the release of a further 3 games, already under design.

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