Review by Sol Joye, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2013


Code-free game development tool helps kids program and publish

Subjects & skills

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (4 Reviews)

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Pros: Intuitive drag-and-drop design makes building games accessible, and the ability to publish means games might get played.

Cons: Full access to publishing options will cost you.

Bottom Line: It ups the sophistication of building block coding by connecting student work to major publishing platforms.

Probably the best way to utilize Stencyl is in a semester-long after-school program or elective class, giving students the freedom to simply act as game developers. An ideal classroom setup would be a 1:1 (or a slightly less ideal 2:1) computer lab with desktop or laptop computers. Within two to three weeks (4-6 hours of seat time a week), students should be developing games on their own -- although this time frame may vary depending on the students.

In a core content class, students can turn their subject-based learning into the theme or mechanics of a game. For example, students studying the solar system in science class can build a game inspired by the Milky Way. This motivates students to both learn and apply core content in ways that are equally novel and fun.

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Stencyl is a game creation program that’s focused on codeless, cross-platform game making. By snapping blocks of code together, students and teachers can create games (and curricula) that can be published on a variety of platforms. Building blocks of code makes the game very similar to MIT’s Scratch, but with much more functionality. Tech-savvy users will find the interface intuitive and will dive right in, but the less experienced may initially be daunted. To overcome any early frustration, students and teachers should dedicate a few hours to the helpful online tutorials.

Finished games can be exported as stand-alone Flash files or can be uploaded to Stencyl itself. With annual paid versions of Stencyl, games can be played (and optionally sold) on many additional platforms, including iOS and Android. In addition to the support website and core program itself, Stencyl comes with an image editor, a database of free user-created resources, and an online reference encyclopedia. The Stencyl website is very comprehensive and full of tutorials, game ideas, help forums, and a live chat area.

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Stencyl provides infinite sandbox-style learning opportunities ranging from game design theory and basic programming to graphic design and student collaboration. It also facilitates digital project-based learning that helps students build career and life skills. Working on game projects allows for powerful differentiation, as students work at their own pace and complexity level. And as they get further along with their games, students develop feelings of pride and ownership, creating tangible demonstrations of learning that they can share and even publish.

While it works well in a classroom, Stencyl would be even better with a simple learning management system that could track student progress, store assignments and completed work, and issue and display assessment like recognition badges.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Students get sucked into the idea of planning, creating, and sharing their own video games without having to code, and they thrive on endless critical-thinking and problem-solving opportunities.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

As a constructivist tool, Stencyl lends itself to both project-based and problem-based learning. Students see the real-world benefit of learning relevant technical skills by building their own complex video games.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There's a helpful network of tutorials, instructional videos, forums, and other digital tools to support all levels of game developers. 

Common Sense Reviewer
Sol Joye Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 4 reviews) (4 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Clinton W. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Stencyl is an ambitious project with a lot of promise
I really really really want to love Stencyl. I keep trying to squeeze its potential awesomeness out. Stencyl is "a drag-and-drop gameplay designer" (Stencyl website), modeled after the MIT Scratch project. Basically, it's blocks-based programming made specifically for game design. The sweet part for teachers is that it is free. I've been using this for a couple of years now. This definitely gives students more freedom and challenge than Gamestar. It seems, though, to be very buggy. Stencylforge, Stencyl's marketplace for user-created resources is heavily promoted within the application as the main source for graphics, sounds, behaviors etc. Unfortunately, this fall, Stencylforge was down more than it was up, rendering the whole program a bit clunky and useless and leaving students frustrated and stranded. Stencyl is awesome for making Platformer Games, but when it comes to something more robust, like an RPG, Stencyl has more glitches and frustration than success. Most of it's kits were designed on a previous version and break once imported into the new version. Most of my students do not have the level of experience with the program necessary to troubleshoot what's broken. Read full review