Challenges of Making a Game for Kids
underestimate the intelligence of your audience, especially the
younger gamers. In fact, we believe they are often the toughest
critics (and best allies). Though the average age is 29-years-old
for your typical gamer, the kids' market is definitely different
and more fickle. Kids these days are really smart and intuitive,
so it takes a lot to keep them interested and entertained.
Generally, kids respond well to an action-packed experience - they become involved in the events (often yelling out encouragement to the hero in a scene, whether it is part of a movie or a game), however, it is important to remember that action does not necessarily equate to violence. Kids will respond to a frantic chase scene (think Woody and Buzz chasing after the car in Toy Story) so long as they care about or make a connection with the characters involved. This is what Krome did in both Ty games. In Ty 2, we made sure that there were exciting, non-violent scenes involving the main characters (the helicopter missions, the rescue missions) as well as providing combat and smashing in a friendly fashion (no blood or gibs here), to provide a balanced gameplay experience.
One of the biggest challenges of making a game that will appeal to kids is to keep in mind your target demographic. There's a difference between making a great game, in general, and making a great game for younger kids. We may be kids at heart, but we are still adults. Sure, we like giant robots, we've got Transformer action figures all over our desks and have Nerf wars through the workplace, but there aren't many of us that burst into tears when you can't jump over a fence that LOOKS like you can due to invisible collision, or get scared because the spiders are too life-like.
For that reason, we've always looked to the kids for checks and balances by conducting numerous focus test groups to examine the suitability of the game content. We believe that focus testing is a necessary step to creating a kids game. In fact, we - along with our co-publishing partner on Ty 1 and Ty 2, Electronic Arts - made sure to conduct numerous internal and external focus tests during various milestones throughout the games development.
|Concept art of a big dead fish from Ty 2.|
a focus test may sound simple, but there are a few things that need
to be remembered when the game is for a young market:
Krome has always conducted focus tests for our all our titles, especially the kid-oriented titles we've worked on (Jimmy Neutron, Barbie, etc). The experience we'd gained through testing previous kids titles were of great help in preparing the questions for Ty 2. The Ty 2 focus test groups examined almost every aspect of the game; from how clear the in-game instructions were to the suitability of the default controller configurations. The information from these sessions really influenced the way the game developed. For example, while the early versions of Ty 2 did have the battle bunyips present, much of the information we received was that the kids wanted more vehicles - and so, kart racing, helicopter games and the fourbie were added (and, in fact, became quite a large part of the end game).
In addition to the internal focus testing, Ty 2 was also submitted to Scholastic to get a formal focus test completed by the worldwide publishing and media company. This Scholastic testing re-enforced the information gained through Krome's internal testing, indicating that Australian kids weren't significantly different from American kids in their tastes, and it also allowed Ty 2 to be tested and rated against other family friendly products (something that's much more difficult to do in-house). In the end, Ty 2 was rated as the top video game at Scholastic's toy testing day.
While Ty 2 was aimed at a younger audience, a few elements of the game still contain content that rewards older/more mature gamers, including a few more difficult puzzles, dual-layer humor (where there are two separate jokes in the same line, one for the kids, one for the parents) and a few homages to pop culture. However, any puzzle that the focus testers could not complete was made easier to ensure the end product was firmly focused on its target audience. For the development of Ty 2, focus testing was an outright blessing and should always be considered a necessity for any game that a group of 20- to 30-somethings is making for six year olds.
Reviewer Ratings and Pricing for the Family
find that it is sometimes difficult for a younger-skewed game to
get an impartial review. Writing an editorial review for a kid's
game can be a tricky thing, as it's hard to put yourself in the
mindset of an eight-year-old - in an ideal world, there would be
more kids reviewing kid's oriented games. When kids DO review games,
it is usually conducted with the mainstream media rather than video
game publications, but their results are often time more accurate
and relevant to the kids buying/playing games.
The catch-22 is that we as game developers often place too much value on the opinions and review scores from the gaming enthusiast press. Don't get me wrong, everyone here at Krome - including myself - value this community's feedback (and their feedback is extremely invaluable for other kinds of games), but we also find it frustrating that often times comparisons are made to other games that aren't necessarily relevant to the title at hand. Point in case, on www.Gamerankings.com the average rated score for Ty 2 on PS2 is 72.8% (ranging from 60% to 91% scores across 25 ranked reviews).
Compare this to the Family Fun test results, in which Ty 2 scored 94% when reviewed by 50 kids. To us, this shows that (generally) there needs to be more effort in maintaining impartiality in reviewing kids games. Similar to developing a kids game when you're not a kid, reviewers need to take into account who is the target audience and what they like. However, it should be noted that even in the 'bad' reviews, you'll quite often see lines like 'Great for kids playing their first platformer' or 'Anybody who likes X will love this game'. To anybody creating kids games, lines like these usually mean you've hit the nail on the head, it's just a pity that this isn't reflected in the score awarded to the game.
point is something that will really affect sales, especially for
the younger kids market. In the lead-up to the 2004 holiday season,
the big first-party platformers were all to hit the market close
together, and irrespective as to whether Ty 2 was meant to
be a direct competitor to them, comparisons were inevitable. Additionally,
the price of current generation hardware continued to fall, so with
these points in mind it was deemed necessary to release Ty 2
at a lower price point.
Doing this presented the game as great value for money (as the consumer was getting not only a platformer, but a fully-fledged kart racing game) and separated Ty 2 from being lumped in with the rest as 'just another platformer' (just look at the sales of the ESPN 2K5 sports series for another example of how price point can affect sales). Lowering the cost was a good strategy for us this year as it allowed us to lower the barrier of entry and reach a broader audience who either might not be able to afford so many games or who might not feel spending $50 on a premium kids title was justified. Looking forward, it is more than likely that, as the price of the current consoles continues to fall with the approach of next generation hardware, more games will emerge at a lower price point since consumers won't feel they're getting value for their money when the console costs $100, but the games cost $50 a piece.
|Concept art of the Julius' Lab from Ty 2.|
All in all, the hard work and long hours the team put in on Ty 2 have been very rewarding. The game has performed well in an extremely competitive marketplace, and more importantly we've received an amazing amount of positive feedback from our consumers as well as accolades and awards from the media. Not only did Ty 2 rank number 1 in Scholastic's Toy Test day, but it also won several awards at the 2004 Australian Game Developer's Conference (AGDC) and came sixth in FamilyFun.com's 2004 Video Game of the Year program. These awards show that the time Krome put in to obtaining and implementing target market feedback was well worth the effort and that focus testing is definitely something that we will continue to support for future products.