Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2019

Beats Empire

Music producing game balances fun with critical thinking and planning

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Arts
  • Math

Skills
  • College & Career Prep
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
6–12
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Pros: It has a fun theme, students get to practice thinking critically and making decisions based on statistical trends, and it's free.

Cons: The game ends abruptly when you win, and students don't get to revisit their bands or try to achieve more gold or platinum records.

Bottom Line: Students will have a blast with the music production and band-managing theme that carries with it some useful lessons in 21st century skills.

Though the theme of Beats Empire is music and record producing, players won't learn much about music. Instead, it's a fun and engaging game to add richness to lessons on critical thinking, studying trends, and decision-making. Since the lessons are inherent in the gameplay, all players will pick up some new skills. It's a fairly quick game to play, so it can easily be completed in one class period, or even less if your students learn how to play it quickly.

To extend the learning, have students discuss what their game strategies were and whether that led them to a win or a loss. For those who ran out of money, have them figure out why. For those who were left with a huge profit, what decisions led them to that result? Compare how many weeks it took each player (or group, since this game lends itself well to working in pairs or small groups) to win, and see what strategies were the most efficient. How much research and marketing was helpful? Which band stats were the most helpful?

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In Beats Empire, students act as music producers in a studio where they sign new artists, direct the bands to record songs, perform market research and marketing, and try to produce hits, gaining enough profit to keep the studio running and to pay the talent. The goal of the game is to get a gold record (500,000+ sales) in every music genre or to earn three platinum records (1,000,000+ sales) in any one genre, all without running out of money.

Students can have a decent number of artists on the payroll, but only three can be recording songs at any given time. All of the signed artists need to be paid weekly, however, and it can take multiple weeks to record most songs. Musicians represent a variety of genres -- such as rap, hip hop, rock, R&B, and pop -- and each covers a different subset of moods and topics, such as upbeat, sad, and nostalgic, and love, respect, and hope. Each band begins with a different stat level for ambition, reliability, talent, and persistence. As time goes on, students can upgrade band features if they wish, but that will cost them money and increase the band's weekly salary.

Before deciding which band should record which type of song, students should study the music trends in the unlocked boroughs and jump on what's popular. Though they can release a song early, waiting until it's complete to release it will maximize their earnings. Releasing songs gets players new fans and music sales from different boroughs in the city. Students are also given feedback based on trends, and the game shows where the song landed on the top charts.

To improve the chances of doing well, players can perform market research and do some advertising around the city. They can also unlock new markets that have higher populations than the starter boroughs, leading to more fans and higher profits.

Each week students can record songs, sign or upgrade artists, and perform sometimes-costly market research. Students can explore the studio, ponder their options, or just advance to the next week; other than the fact that it costs money to pay artists and keep up the studio, there's no penalty for continuing to advance the clock. Then, once a song is complete, they can release it to (hopefully) great acclaim. Early on in the game, students will want to keep a close eye on their budget, but as they go, good decisions will lead to large profits, and there will be more wiggle room for experimenting with upgrade and research options. As the new bands who players sign get better and better, and as players upgrade them, the released songs will do better and better in record sales and in making a profit, accelerating the game in later weeks.

Students will need to work to create and maintain a balanced and diverse studio so that they can jump on emerging music trends, releasing songs that the public wants to hear. To do this, they'll need to use and develop their skills in resource management, risk assessment, prediction, and strategy. They'll need to study the trend graphs and plan their band signings and song recordings around them.

Once students win the game, it abruptly ends, without allowing for more exploring and experimentation. So, for students who want to try out different approaches within one game, they'll have to be careful not to win too quickly.

Overall Rating

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

Once students get oriented, they'll be excited about signing new bands, releasing hot new music, and making bunches of money. If students pay attention to trends, it will be difficult to run out of money.

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

Students must use their budgeting, planning, and critical-thinking skills if they want to win this game, but the ease of play will keep them going until the end.

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

The game includes basic introductory guidance on what players are supposed to do, but there's no other accessible help in the game or on the site.


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