by Kelly Fennig, Producer, Slant Six Games
· Summary: When making a game for kids, test with kids often. Don’t make assumptions and don’t listen to the parent’s advice. Kids like edgy characters, slightly older characters, game mechanics that involve tapping on moving objects, and watching AI play.
· Kelly worked on Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure, a game similar to Mario Party for children aged 5-8. The company consulted Dr. David Barner who provided help with child psychology.
· Craft questions carefully. With characters, they made a lot of designs and asked kids, “Who would you want to play with at recess? Who has the best toys? Who would be your best friend?” Don’t ask negative questions (ie. who doesn’t…) and never follow up questions with “Why?” because kids usually cannot articulate their reasons.
· Create characters that are 2-3 years older than the kids you’re targeting. This gives them a relatable older sibling that they can aspire to become soon. Don’t make the characters too young because kids are turned off by “baby games.”
· Kids like edgier characters. The most popular character designs were those with mean eyebrows, tears on clothing, and “badass” attitude. Parents will say that these characters are too mean for their children, but studies prove that parents don’t know their own kids. Edgy characters appeal to both boys and girls. It’s the Angry Birds phenomenon; the birds are angry for a reason.
· How something is said, or not said, is more important than the words that are said. Kids may say things just to please the person asking, but they are completely honest with their body language. Don’t ask if they like something or if they think it’s fun; it’s more important to watch the way they play.
· With mini-games, they used intelligent design, where form follows function. Instead of prototyping, they tested using other games, specifically The Crazy Test on iPad. They only verbally explained the goals and allowed the kids to continue playing until they themselves choose to stop. They watched body language to determine the games that were the most intuitive and popular.
· The top 8 ranked mechanics among kids and adults became mini-games. Tapping and dragging multiple moving objects going towards a center target became the tentacle swiping game, tapping on numerous random moving objects on the screen became the bat whacking game, tapping on multiple predictably moving objects became the spider smacking game, dragging through a randomly generated maze became the whaling sailing game, tap and flick on a moving object became the final end game, random lottery became a pick-a-card game, swiping in a random direction very quickly in a time-limited fashion became the sword duels, and whack-a-mole became the cannon duels.
· A big decision was whether to allow players to watch the AI perform their turns. Adults claimed that kids would be bored waiting for the AI to play and requested an option to skip the animations. In reality, kids are completely engaged with the AI. Their eyes were glued to the screen, watching what their opponents were doing. Adults were the impatient players.
· Don’t put in negative turns (where nothing happens) or the players would get frustrated. Players were given options for every turn so they always had something to do. There was no negative turns unless by choice. They can draw a card, teleport, look for treasure, or duel another player.
· There are distinct play patterns not based on culture or gender; it was solely based on age. The 5 year olds were explorers who were just happy to be playing and moved around aimlessly. The 6 year olds were the treasure seekers and would much rather have someone else play the mini-games for them. The 7 year olds were the well-rounded players, who would help out younger players and would sometimes duel, but much rather keep their treasures and cards. The 8 year olds were duelers, but they weren’t very confrontational and would not duel someone who doesn’t want to duel back. The 9 year olds were the tactical players who took advantage of every situation that were there.
· Lessons – shape early and shape often, over 60% of 8 year olds don’t read even if they know how to read, minimize text to short actionable sentences, don’t make games for younger audiences because kids don’t want to play “baby games,” ignore the reviewers because they’ll throw out a lot of gameplay assumptions that are simple wrong when tested