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Pros: Empowers kids with the ability to custom-create games; amazing online support.
Cons: Full features (including publishing student-created apps) require a pricey subscription fee.
Bottom Line: This engaging platform will empower budding game designers, but the price tag could be a deal-breaker for tight school budgets.
With robust lesson plans and curriculum guides, GameSalad can be a good fit for students with a range of skills. Consider using it with students who already have experience with more basic game creators, such as Scratch or Hopscotch, either in a technology, STEM, or coding class, or in an after-school or summer workshop. Confident visual coders with solid logic skills may embark on GameSalad creations independently and get help from a fantastic, in-app Knowledge Base and online video tutorials, and an active community forum of fellow GameSalad users. Or, beginning students could create a straightforward, yet impressive, game in 1-2 weeks with relative ease under teacher direction (and with access to online support, if needed).
Teachers could also take a PBL or course of study approach with GameSalad. Game design is a lot more than just stringing code -- it's about planning, creating a story, and applying logic. Game creation and gamification are emerging and relevant ways to reach learners, and GameSalad is a fantastic way to solidify skills that have meaning to today's kids. Curriculum guides can help teachers incorporate these concepts into a lesson.
GameSalad lets kids create custom games in a visual, rule-based coding system, so there's no need to know any coding language. Kids drag and drop images and sounds into a workspace to design scenes, then set behavior rules to drive game mechanics -- all with relative ease and in an engaging, resource-rich environment. Beginners can follow game development curriculum units with detailed student/teacher guides, video tutorials, lesson plans, schedules, checklists, rubrics, assessments, sample projects, and all the image and sound files ("assets") needed to complete a game. Advanced users can create custom assets, import them into GameSalad, and use the same drag-and-drop, programmable rule sets to customize game mechanics.
There's an active online community with lots of shared projects and how-to videos. Kids can publish their games for OS, iOS, Android, Kindle, and HTML5, and opt for monetization and social features with a Pro-level subscription; the Basic level allows for only HTML5 gameplay.
There's a lot to like about GameSalad, and the initial experience is great. The intuitive design makes it easy for designers to plop in objects, assign behaviors, attach art to those objects, hit Play to see what happens, and then tweak it all in a continual process of iteration. This scaffolds design thinking well, makes digital making and game design more accessible, and builds the important skills of persistence, critical thinking, and reflection. However, unless teachers need a tool that allows their students to publish to a plethora of platforms -- for example, to sell their games in an app store -- the cost might be hard to justify.