When I imagine what young players like to see in a game, I first think about visuals. I think about bright primary colors, simple, but bold lines, and obvious playability. When I think about what a mother wants her young one to play, I think about soundless game play. If we’re going to turn over our iPhone or iPad to our five-year-old when we’re waiting at the dentist, then bells or rhyming songs is not what we (or anyone in the waiting room) want to hear for an hour. A lot of mommy bloggers would tell you that the kind of game that gets Mom’s attention is one that has an educational or creative aspect. Some developers have taken up that challenge in order to create educational and emotionally constructive simulations for the youngest of the gaming community.
Kathy Shimmield, President of K & N Ventures out of Connecticut, was a mother on a mission when she created iMommy, an app designed to teach the 2+ gamers how to help with the care and nurturing of a younger sibling. Shimmield calls it “pretend parental play.” She developed the idea for the app when she went looking for this type of game for her two youngest children and realized there was nothing like it on the market. “Parents have given the game rave reviews,” says Shimmield. “It’s actually been a very big hit with parents of special needs kids, which I didn’t expect. The simplicity of the game is what grabs the kids’ attention. I developed it purposefully to have no words and for it to be intuitive to the child, so any child of any age or culture could play. I feel the launch went well based on two things: the fact that I had a lite version to offer players and that it was a unique app in a small niche.” For her initial offering to the industry, Shimmield was on target. The game made it into the top 100 games in the Family Category on iTunes.
Apps that teach are absolutely huge with parents. Natasha Mairs, mommy blogger at www.serenityyou.blogspot.com confirms that. “I like to buy games that are educational,” says Mairs, ”for example, I like ones that help kids to learn letters, numbers, colours etc. For older kids, I like to buy family games, so we can all play together.”
Punflay, educational and consumer application development arm of Emantras, which specializes in learning apps for kids from pre-school to high school, has released over two dozen apps, several of which have been featured on “New and Noteworthy” and “Top 25″ lists. Well familiar with the need for parents (and schools) to utilize the gaming medium as a learning tool, Emantras founder and CEO, Sesh Kumar, says “our educational apps are popular amongst both students and teachers for their interactive storylines, challenging game play, and, of course, educational value. Our science apps, like Virtual Frog Dissection and Cell Structure, are particularly popular in classrooms. Frog Dissection alone has won several awards in the industry.”
Developers need to be smart about how they build and market to this particular niche — visuals are going to be really significant. Ric Lumb, a games artist working under the handle Putty CAD, contributes his talent regularly on games projects for kids, using his cartoon-like artistic references to attract the young player. He designed all of the in-game art, the packaging for the retail boxes, and the CD disc art for Kid’s Academy. Ric says, “I tend to go with the kind of things my kids like, such as bright colours, friendly looking and fun characters, and cute animals. I’ve always been really into cartoons, and I want the games to appeal to as many people as possible–kids and grown-up kids.” Lumb is currently working on a kid’s ice cream balancing game called Mister Whippet for the upcoming Games Britannia show.
The industry is ever evolving and with no boundaries limiting where it can find new markets. It wouldn’t surprise me if we ended up with specialized games for seniors…still educational, of course. And we’d still need bright colors and simple game play…right?
Ultimately, in a market where you must design for two audiences, the buyer and the player, we need to pay especially close attention to every aspect of design. Then, we need to start building a network that taps all aspects of that market. I started developing relationships with mommy bloggers a couple of years ago. There are tons of kid/education-related organizations, charities, retailers, publications, speakers, and media that would make good partners. All of these are social media savvy creatures, so that’s where you’ll find them.
Get smart, get simple, get social, and get busy letting your inner kid out to play.
Mary Kurek is a Professional Networker in the games industry, connecting developers, talent, and vendors to business leads and publicity opportunities. She is a nationally endorsed author, business columnist for IGDA, and Casual Connect writer.
More from IGDA Perspectives July 2012 – Kids!
- Kids Are Gamers Too, Kevin O’Gorman
- Drawing on Kids’ Imagination in Game Design, Paul Gray
- Gamer Tots: How We Engage the Youngest Player, Mary Kurek
- IndieSpective: What Are Your Kids Learning?!, Robert Madsen
- Game Design Aspect of the Month: Computer Play Sessions of Children Under 6, Traci Lawson
- Behind The Scenes of IGDA Chapter Fukuoka, Kosuke Kaneko
- Shout out for Swag!, Jeanette Shown