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Construct 3 Gets Kids into Coding by Building Video Games

Scirra’s Construct 3 software allows middle and high school students to create 2D and 2.5D mobile and online video games. The tool is used in over 400 U.S. schools across 48 states, and other classrooms worldwide.

Screenshot of a Construct gaming example.
Scirra’s Construct 3 allows students to make 2D or 2.5D video games.
There has been a concerted effort nationwide to bring coding curriculum to young students, with a plethora of examples ranging from extracurricular programs to lessons embedded into core studies. Now London-based Scirra is proposing to open the door for students to learn coding through the development of online and mobile video games.

Seeing a lack of good software programs to easily create video games, the company, founded in 2011 by brothers Ashley and Thomas Gullen, created the tool Construct for independent developers. Now in its third iteration, Construct 3 is a wholly web-based software tool used by more than 400 schools across 48 states in the U.S., and more worldwide, according to Scirra Education Lead Stuart Drexler.

“(Construct) no longer requires some huge download. You don’t have to have a high-end PC in order to run the software,” Drexler told Government Technology. “And now we’ve grown significant audience share in the education market, and that really excites us about the future for coding.”

Construct can run on Chromebooks, which are widely distributed to students by schools, as well as on any browser, he said. Additionally, students using the program can download it for offline use, benefiting those in areas with spotty Internet connectivity, Drexler said. He said the sweet spot for Construct 3 in the education space is the middle and high school levels as an elective course. The tool is a 2D game engine, allowing students to create 2D and 2.5D (a pseudo 3D visual) video games, regardless of their previous coding background, Drexler said. The software integrates JavaScript, teaching students the popular programming language.

“Let’s put it bluntly: kids love to play games. If you ask them if they want to make a game, the vast majority say ‘absolutely,’” Drexler said. “It’s not necessarily for everybody, but the motivation that the kids bring into learning how to use Construct is tremendous.”

Its interface is similar to professional-grade engines such as Unity, but the creation process is far simpler, aided by a menu-driven system for adding content and customizing parameters, he said. Drexler added that the tool is easy to learn, but hard to master.

“It is a bridge in a lot of ways. It’s a bridge between these block-only based languages like Scratch and the high-end, professional-grade text-only languages like JavaScript or Python or C++,” he said. “Everyone wants to learn Unity, but again, most students who get into Unity don’t quite understand all the elements of three dimensions. … A text-only based language is really complicated. So, Construct is that in-between.”

The software uses an event block system that is very familiar to students who have come from a block-based language, and it reads much more clearly across the page, Drexler said. He said that Construct has more functionality with a higher end to its capabilities.

“As students progress toward more advanced programs and more advanced things that they want to do, they can integrate either individual lines of code, or entire scripts of code in JavaScript, into the content Construct programs,” Drexler said.

According to feedback from teachers using the software, Drexler said that some educators lead more advanced courses where students who have learned the basics are broken into separate roles such as a coder, producer, visual artist and game mechanic to simulate a more real-world game-development scenario.

Scirra offers a free license version of Construct 3, as well as a paid subscription with a lot more features included, though the functionality doesn’t change. Construct is compliant with data privacy regulations including COPPA, CCPA and GDPR and offers a number of resources, including a starter curriculum, tutorials, manuals and support. The company also partnered with STEM Fuse, a company that creates K-12 STEM and compsci curriculum, to create GAME:IT, a two-year advanced learning offering for educators, which includes professional development, Drexler said.

“The goals are to have more students go through and stick with coding ultimately, and have a joy for it,” Drexler said. “We know that kids that use Scratch have a wonderful joy for making these games and sharing with their friends. And we think that in middle school and high school, we can have a much higher percentage of kids going through that pathway.”

In the five years since Construct 3 launched, Drexler feels that the software has undeniably impacted student interest in the field.

“I feel very confident that more students are carrying on to more advanced levels of both game design and sequential logic and computational thinking because Contract is out there,” he said. “We really do believe that we’re creating new opportunities for students who would never have even thought about going into software development or game making before, and creating a pathway where ultimately they can have good paying jobs, whether or not they go to (higher education institutions).”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.