A few weeks ago, a couple of Disney veterans founded a kids' games start-up called Hyper Hippo
, which they say will focus on creating experiences that will value compelling storytelling, and encourage socially responsible behavior in its players.
Lance Priebe was previously the co-founder of Disney's virtual world Club Penguin, while Pascale Audette headed up Disney Online Studios. Hence, it's fair to say that between the two of them, they know a thing or two about creating successful games for children.
With this in mind, I asked the Hyper Hippo
team if it'd be up for providing five top tips for building kids' games in 2013, and the studio was happy to oblige.
Those developers looking to create games for the younger generation should make this essential reading, as it comes with many years of knowledge from the kids' game space.
1. The most valuable currency
If you want to measure the success of a children's game, don't look for the financial numbers. Search for fan art related to the game. Search for forums dedicated to the game. Search for online community buzz. If you can't find any, be worried.
No matter what this month's metrics say, the game is going to tank because it has no community behind it. The people playing the game don't care about it, and will quickly drop it for the next thing that comes along. Games that have a vibrant community of fans, whether or not they're paying for the game financially, are paying for the game with the most valuable thing they have available - their time.
2. Kids don't read
This is not meant to be an insult, as most kids are certainly capable of reading. It's not that they can't, it's that, by and large, even when they can, some kids simply don't read. Kids will ignore all text that they can get away with.
They will only read if they believe the piece of text will immediately help them with what they want to know. As game designers, it's your job to give them that text when they need it, and make sure that it's clear and useful information.
3. Story Mode
When it comes to a game's story, always keep in mind that kids are natural storytellers themselves. They will suspend their disbelief, invest deeply into the plot, and invent their own myths and explanations for your narrative more quickly than an adult might.
However, with this great power comes great responsibility. Kids must be given room to wonder and imagine in the story. You can't spoon-feed them a rigid narrative. The story should contain some mysteries and room for interpretation. The more a child can impact a story, and flex their own imagination within it, the more they’ll adore it.
4. Two customers in one
Every customer that buys and plays a children's game is actually two customers: the child that plays, and the parent that buys it. This simple truth should inform a game's design down to its very core, especially in this modern world of Mom or Dad handing over their phone or tablet to play on.
Here's the challenge: you need to convey the value of the product to someone who probably isn't going to use it. To a child, the value of 1,000 power gems for $1 is painfully obvious, but it's the parent that needs to be convinced. So it's vital to design your messaging and marketing to explain this.
You need to provide the child with the words and ideas to explain why his purchase has merit, and it needs to feel honest and like a great deal. So rather than 1,000 power gems, a parent should understand that $1 equates to, say, an hour of happy game-time.
Also, keep in mind that parents are generally in the same room as the child playing your game. So ask yourself: is this super-duper catchy soundtrack really annoying to listen to without context? What about your sound effects? Keep Mom and Dad in mind when you're composing.
5. Respect kids' time
One of the most frustrating things for a child is that their time is frequently not theirs to spend as they please.
This goes way beyond the structure of school. They have after-school activities. They have homework. They have a set bedtime. And even during their free time, the usage of a particular gaming device may be restricted. Maybe it's only 20-30 minutes per day. Maybe they're only allowed to go online on weekends.
Every minute that they're playing is precious, so we must be respectful of it. Minimize the time spent waiting at loading screens. If you're running a persistent, online world, don't have an event occur for only a few hours, and don't expect that all players will be able to log in every single day without fail.