Friday, 21 August 2015

ALPSP Awards Spotlight on… The Xvolution Game from NSTDA

The Xvolution is the first Thai commercial board game specifically created based on Thai fossilized specimens data through the ally of public and private sectors. It has been developed by the NSTDA (National Science and Technology Development Agency) Thailand, partly supported by Plan Toys (Plan Creations Co., Ltd.) and G Softbiz Co., Ltd. In this latest post from the finalists for the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing, the Xvolution team explain what it is and how it works.


Tell us a bit about your company

The National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) is an agency of the government under the Thai Ministry of Science and Technology. NSTDA is an umbrella organization that plans and executes the four mandated missions of research and development, technology transfer, human resources development and infrastructure development. NSTDA comprises four national research centers: BIOTEC (National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology), NECTEC (National Electronics and Computer Technology Center), MTEC (National Metal and Materials Technology Center), and NANOTEC (National Nanotechnology Center). NSTDA works closely with its partners from other government agencies and the private sector, both domestically and internationally, through different mechanisms to achieve these goals.


What is the project that you submitted for the Awards?

The Xvolution is an edutainment board game, partly based on Thai paleontological specimens data. All illustrations are supervised by experts in the field. Augmented Reality (AR) technology and the matched mobile application are an accompaniment to the game. Three stakeholders were involved in game development: the prototype was initiated by researchers, the AR and commercialized version improvement were supported by private companies. The Xvolution is the first Thai commercial board game, providing a new business model for Thai gamers. The game contents were also modified to be used in subway exhibition and also at the Thailand Science and Technology Fair.

Tell us more about how it works and the team behind it.

The board game is both a recreational and educational tool. Recently, board game playing has gained popularity among Thai teens and adults, especially in urban areas. But up to now all the commercial games have been imported from abroad. It is hoped that making a prototype game might be a good way to stimulate many gamers to start creating new games themselves. The Xvolution was initiated by a Ph.D. student, Mr. Peechanit Ketsuwan, and two NSTDA (National Science and Technology Development Agency) officers, Ms. Sasithorn Teth-uthapak and Dr. Namchai Chewawiwat.

The game design is based on the main idea that most of people, of any age, may enjoy playing the game, and the activity itself is a very effective way for learning. We focused on the basic evolutionary contents that were also supplemented with unique data from Thai fossilized specimens. All drawings were newly created for this project. Dr. Varavudh Suteethorn and Dr. Suravech Suteethorn supervised the accuracy of all the illustrations in the game. Both are the researchers at the Palaeotological Research and Education Centre, Mahasarakham University. Dr. Varavudh is now the Director of the Centre.



The rules for Xvolution are modified from the standard Millionaire Game. But instead of using fixed-squared big board, we designed small hexagon-shaped steps that all the players could select to combine and use as the route.




Some special command signs are added for the Battle, Mutation and Level Up. All of these either use for biological contents adding or game excitement enhancement.



When the player steps on the sign 'Battle', (s)he need to 'Battle' with another player, using specific cards obtained from the start and during the playing. The 'Battle' card shows the special environmental condition, ie. endemic, hot and draught, etc., and the player need to choose their cards to fight, with the opponent player. So, for example, if the ice age is the condition, then the animal with fur will survive better than the animals with thick and thin skin, respectively. About a dozen of environmental change conditions is included, to demonstrate the interaction between animals and physical/ biological surroundings.

The 'Mutation' sign is for the mutation concept learning. The player who steps on this sign will open the 'Mutation' card which will command some actions. This might be to exchange genetic materials: exchange your 'Skin' card with central pool. The most severe mutation condition is extinction!

Every time the player passes the 'Start' point, (s)he will gain some eggs and could use them to exchange to the upper level of evolution. The winner is the one who passes from the oldest to the most recent geological era first or who could gain more cards and eggs in the players' set-up period of time.

The game prototype was tested several times using different group of players, varying from elementary, secondary school and college students and also adults, from lay people to researchers. Most of players were satisfied and had fun with it.



AR Technology is presently merged into several products, including books. G. Softbiz Co., Ltd. and several other Thai publishers were successful in using AR technology to promote fairy tale books. Taking photographs with some dinosaur models is a very attractive idea and has the potential to make young children pay more attention to this game and the palaeontological contents. G. Softbiz Co., Ltd. developed the dinosaur models for AR and the mobile app. The Xvolution is available for free download.



Why do you think it demonstrates publishing innovation? 

A specific business model was used for the Xvolution. NSTDA absorbed all the expenses on the prototype development and also partly in final production. Plan Toys, the local expert company in children's toys and books, helped transform the prototype to the commercial version. Some material and resins were changed to be wood and paper works. A lighter and more compact box set was modified. Plan Toys also shared some expenses on production. G. Softbiz Co., Ltd., another local companies that is expert on AR design and book publishing, helped develop the AR model and mobile application and invested in this part. The revenue is shared within these three stakeholders.



What are you plans for the future? 

After more than five years of development, the Xvolution board game launched in January 2015 at Isetan Department Store, the Bangkok Central World in the downtown area of Bangkok. The opportunity to export the Xvolution abroad is now being considered. The social media of this game is at https://www.facebook.com/TheXvolution.

From the start, the monetary profit is not the major reason or target for our innovation, but the science communication to the public, including the distribution of the scientific information, and the application of a new way for public understanding of science are our concerns.

Therefore we used our information and/or products in many other ways too. The game has been simplified and used as a part in the Thailand Science and Technology Fair 2012. This Fair normally runs for two weeks with more than 1 million visitors, mostly students. We also did the Xvolution mini-exhibition at Chatuchak station of Thailand underground train during July to December 2013. Several ten thousands people transit through this station daily.



We also tried to push the Xvolution contents to be applied as a TV game show on the Thai PBS TV station. The concept of program was discussed several times and the air-time was granted but, unfortunately, we could not find sponsors for this program. We aim to distribute the simple blue-print of the game as a free download for students and teachers, to use as a study tool in schools, in the future.



The Xvolution team:
Ms. Sasithorn Teth-uthapak, sasi@nstda.or.th
 Dr. Namchai Chewawiwat, email: namchai@nstda.or.th
Mr. Peechanit Ketsuwan, email: pk.ketsuwan@gmail.com


The winner of the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing, sponsored by Publishing Technology, will be announced at the ALPSP Conference. Book now to secure your place.

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