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5 tips for making successful kids' games in 2013 Exclusive
5 tips for making successful kids' games in 2013
April 11, 2013 | By Mike Rose

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.

hyper hippo 3.jpgThey 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.

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Paolo Gambardella
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Kids are imaginative casual gamers, so...

Carlo Delallana
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You know what the number 1 kids game is today? Minecraft. Not only does it satisfy all 5 points, Minecraft isn't an IAP hot mess. Parents who pay for the game once will never have to worry that their child will accidentally make a purchase. This game respects the player's time and money.

Here are some choice comments from a recent article on The New Yorker on Notch and Minecraft: (

"My son loves Minecraft, and enjoyed learning more about Notch in this article. I think what's fascinating about Minecraft is how ideas and features are spread through YouTube. The YouTube minecraft culture could be another whole other article. My son hardly watches TV anymore preferring MineCraft YouTube."

"I cannot express how much my children love this game and what an inspiration Notch is to them. And how much they love being part of the global community exploring and creating in Minecraft. Markus should know that apart from the money his creation has given so much to so many. I'm sure his father was so proud of him."

In my own experiences when kid testing games, when I ask our players what their favorite game is they say Minecraft. This is their "Super Mario Brothers" and I wonder what this new generation of players will expect from us as they grow up.

Glenn Storm
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Truth. I was helping teach drawing in my daughter's class yesterday, showing characters with square heads, among other shapes, and was surprised to hear, "That looks like Minecraft!", coming from a 1st grader. Community legos for a new generation, it seems. (for both boys and girls, btw)

Carlo Delallana
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I can only hope that some of these kids immersed in Minecraft decide that they want to make games "when they grow up". I'm excited to see what kind of games they would make given their influences.

Kenneth Blaney
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I like the article as a whole, but 2 is way too simplified. Granted, it could be an article all to itself (child learning vs adult learning), but children will not skip all text but instructions. Sometimes just the opposite which is why elementary school teachers get so much mileage from " read the instructions first/ last instruction says don't do the test" joke quizzes. Rather, I'd suggest kids will skip text that they don't think offers anything new where as adults skip text they think they don't need. Functionally, these are the same things as children just aren't primed to know what they need, so anything that is new is something they might need... but it is an interesting academic distinction if you are interested specifically in educational games for children or if you are interested in early childhood development.

And I have not done the topic justice here at all... the rabbit hole goes much deeper and so many others are more qualified than myself to get into those details.

Maurício Gomes
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I hope one day I will be writing on Gamasutra on behalf of Kidoteca =D

melissa dingmon
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I would love to hear what you think of FETCH.