Games for Kids Roundtable

Organized by Traci Lawson

Person's Notes

Johnny Richardson's notes:

Harley: wasn’t interested in games until she had a kid, and wants an education about children’s games

  • Feels like the market is very limited

Johnny: a lot of kids games are focused on “textbook” games, not about new ideas.

Parents want to see something quantifiable, like math or science games

  • Don’t have a very good education about games in general
  • But really, kids need less structured content to learn better, according to recent studies
  • Some games test very well, but then are marketed very poorly

Challenge within digital distribution to get parents to buy a game for their kids

  • Not lots of games marketing outlets for kids in general

Entertainment vs. Educational

  • Can a kids game just be entertaining without being educational?
  • Going about a design with the purpose of teaching gets you into trouble
    • Kids will immediately turn off game once they know it’s trying to push a message
      • Let the kids decide the message of the game
    • If you allow a player to hold onto their own message, they get more out of it
    • Instead of teaching a concept directly, let the players experience it

Oregon Trail!

  • Never has a message, but teaches you based on decisions you have to make
    • Not a “chocolate-covered broccoli” kind of game, where the player knows it’s supposed to be educational

UI is not paid enough attention to

  • A lot of kids games designers think UI can be total crap as long as a message is there
  • Not enough care put into fundamental mechanics
  • If UI is too complex, kids are immediately turned off
    • Moment you break the immersion, you’re in trouble

Not sure how many kids are actual playing content for very young audiences

  • 20 yrs ago, all gamers were kids
  • Mario Galaxy, LittleBigPlanet appeal to all audiences, including kids
  • Stuff like Pixar movies or Shrek are distinctly for young audience, but appeal to adults

Weird things that happen in playtesting with kids

  • Traci: Kids can’t click and drag — issue with fine motor
  • A we move toward motion controls and touchscreens, it may actually become easier for kids to play a game
    • More immersion, less abstraction
  • Johnny: You really can’t plan ahead
    • Kids are going to play the way they want, no structure to speak of
    • Observing their play and pay attention
    • Often will tell you it wasn’t fun and then can’t say why
    • Kids observing play, not actually playing, had more to say

What is it like to design kids games? Is it different than designing other kinds of games?

  • Almost always using pre-existing IP (like TV shows), so you have constraints setup for you immediately
    • Oftentimes people running the IP want to be strict with the aesthetics/themes/etc but it may not make good gameplay
    • Right now the only way to get money to make kids games
    • Also, kids familiar with a property more likely to buy its associated games

Is there a kids games culture?

  • Not to speak of
  • No real “IGN for kids”
  • If you’re not over 13 years old, hard to get involved with online communities

Important to have multiple difficulty settings

  • Rock Band’s no fail mode, for example, is actually great for kids

Even single-player games are very social.

Kids seem to like violence in games. What does this mean for us?

  • Harley: Demiurge brought kids into their studio for the day and they all said that the best game ever would be full of guns! Uh oh…?
  • Parents really lax about what content their kids play
    • Do not pay attention to ESRB ratings
    • Often use games as a babysitter
  • Johnny: every kid in testing sessions said they played GTA4 and Halo 3, etc.
  • Ultimate test of parenting is ability to turn media off

Ratings tangent: If you’re an indie, expensive to get ESRB rating

  • Maybe makes it hard to legitimize you kids product to parents who pay attention to ratings?
  • Hypocritical in how platforms like iPhone won’t allow some violent content but allows other offensive things

Session Audio

From Johnny Richardson:
.mp3 Audio, 5.52mb (Good quality, but sorry my voice is annoyingly loud — mic was too close!)

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