Sunday, June 14, 2015

Frankie's Baby Games

My one year-old daughter Frankie loves my phone. It's shiny and glowy and makes fun noises, and it's daddy's. Daddy doesn't mind when Frank plays on his phone, he just doesn't want her to delete emails or do random stuff on his phone, and it sure would be nice to have her learn from the experience too. So daddy searched the play store for games for his one year-old daughter, and what he found disappointed him.

The games weren't that bad, but were not really designed well for babies. Most had:
  • Too many settings
  • Buttons that were easy to accidentally tap
  • Home and Back buttons not hidden
  • INTERSTITIAL ADS (popup full screen ads)

About the ads real quick: I realize that a developer has to be paid. I sympathize fully. But putting ads in a game meant for babies, is essentially preying on a child's need to touch everything. This isn't good for parents (because it sends the kid off to a website for whatever ad they tapped), this isn't good for children (I certainly don't want my daughter marketed to), and this isn't even good for the ad networks (odd stance, but hear me out: these ad taps aren't real taps, the child certainly doesn't know what they're tapping on, which is technically devaluing ad revenue for everyone). I'm sure these ads can bring in quite a bit of money, just from a child's random tapping.

I did notice a few games that did ads right. They placed the ads on only the menu and settings screens, completely avoiding the gameplay screens. And they locked down the gameplay screens so that the child couldn't navigate to the settings screen without the help of an adult. Essentially, the ads were targeting the parents and not the children.

The other thing that bothered me was how easy it was for the child to navigate away from the game play. The Home and Back buttons still on the screen is a bummer. Android 4.4 introduced Immersive Full-Screen mode that will hide these buttons unless the user swipes from the edge of the screen. Even settings buttons are trouble because the child could end up in a place where they don't know how to get back to the game. For a one year-old, they just don't need that many features in their game to require a settings page.

Frankie's Baby Games is Born

So I decided that it would be fun to try and make some games that would be age appropriate for Frankie as she grew up. Since she just recently turned one, I'm calling them Frankie's Baby Games. They're aimed at children less than two years old.

Features I'll be targeting:
  • Super simple touch controls. It seems that children this age are still learning their fine motor skills and can barely aim their touch. Just slapping the phone screen is a win for them, so the games need to response to touch anywhere, and work with multitouch. 
  • No escape buttons. Obvious, but the entire screen is a danger zone for touching. The Immersive Full-Screen mode should be enough.
  • Juiciness. This is true of any game, but especially games for children because they interact with their world with their senses more so than their mind. The world needs to react back in as many ways as possible.
  • Opportunities for learning. I want these games to provide the parent (you and me) opportunities to teach their child about the world. For this target age, even just identifying colors is probably good enough, but I'll be looking for ways to make these games teaching opportunities.

I'm excited to see what my daughter thinks of her daddy making games for her, and I'm excited to have side projects that have a purpose. Frankie already really enjoys playing with our first game, Piano. It should be interesting to see where this all goes.