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Monday, 31 March 2014

Making Videogames for Toddlers with Unity

Four months ago I started to work in Mofables, an experienced company in making apps for kids. As a developer I have learnt a couple of things that I wish I would have known few months ago. Everything comes down to one sentence:

"An adult testing an app for kids is like an human testing food for dogs"

So there it is the secret. Test your app! Test it as much as you can. Your own kids or relatives are not enough. You need to be able to reach as many kids as possible because you will find out things you would never imagine.

 Testing "Shadows" with kids in the preschool. Proud developer :)

The video above is the final test of the app Shadows. During the first tests we discovered many problems in the app. That is why at the end, kids were playing the game without trouble, and more importantly having fun!. The two more important factors when developing games for kids are: Usability and Entertainment. Here are some examples of important aspects you should keep in mind.   


Regarding Usability. Small kids are not very good controlling the Ipad (phone is even worse). So we have to make things easier for them. Two things you should avoid are tap and drag. Why is so? Toddlers usually tap when they want to drag and drag when they want to tap. Also your app should be prepared to ignore a little hand holding the screen. All in all the safer input is multi-touch. As soon as the gesture starts, the event should trigger inside the app. Also every touch should be independent. 

It may happen that you need to have a drag. Be prepared because your users will probably face this problems. First is that a small kid may expect to be able to throw things around, so they will automatically arrive to it's destination. Secondly, they may try to start the drag gesture before arriving to the item to drag and expect to push it in the way. 

My solution for the drag problems when there is one possible destination is to allow the kids to both touch or drag and finally move the item to the destination no matter where the item is released. I recommend taking a look to Bug Builder app that does this kind of things magnificently. A clear example that you should avoid instructions and text!

 Sago mini make great universal apps. Kids play for hours!

Now let's talk little bit about Entertainment. There are a couple of things kids find very funny and every app should have. Also you should remember that kids like games, but like toys more. So try to limit your app as less as possible and forget about levels, scores and timers.  What kids loves in an app:
   - Sounds: my experience tells me this is the number one. Nothing makes laugh kids more than funny sounds.
  - Animals: any kind of animal or monster will make the kids smile.
  - Animations: colorful animations with particles, explosions and cartoonish clips.
  - Toys: toys belong to their world and they understand them. Kids don't like what they don't understand.
  - Fast pace: kids can loose attention very fast, so do not give them reasons!
  - Rewards: do not forget to reward your little player from time to time, although this is not some important as you may think.  

Obviously every kid is different but there is a couple of more things that divide boys and girls:
  - Boys like things that move: for example vehicles.
  - Girls like things with face: for example dolls.
 Talking animals are a great way of keep every kid entertained. By Doctor Cat

In this post I talked only about the kids. Unfortunately you have to be aware that when building games for kids, user and client is not the same thing. How to make the game appealing to the parents? That's a marketing matter that would require another post. :)   

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