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The kids games market - My thoughts

02-25-2012, 04:32 AM
#1
Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 141
The kids games market - My thoughts

I wanted to share some of my thoughts based on my experience in creating games for kids. Mainly following our experience with 'Burning Things' - our iOS title.

First of all, it's a bit of a chaotic market. From the outside, it looks like there are lots of great apps for kids. Once you look closer, you realize a few things:
- There is a ton of crapps, probably even higher % than in apps for general audience. Apps for kids are considered as easy to make by many beginners, and therefore attract all sorts of amateurs.
- There are very few actual games for kids. Kids love games, yet they get the breadcrumbs of games for adults.

Now a bit about marketing a game for kids:
- There are very few sites for kid apps that are not 100% 'buy your review for $25'. The sites are usually very basic, unprofessional and hard to navigate through. They tend to feature a few crappy banners and some uninspiring writing.
- It's hard to get people excited about games for kids. That's because people want stuff for themselves, mostly. Consumers want to purchase stuff they desire, not stuff their kids desire. Therefor, it's important to get the parents to desire your game.
- There is a problem of superstition. While parents think apps can be educational, they believe playing too many games can hurt their young children's soft minds. This is true to some extent, however, mindlessly made 'fish the ABC letters' can be more harmful than aquality crafted true game experience, with few actual 'educational assets' in.
- While there are specific hours when users impulse-buy apps for themselves, it's harder to locate these hours for parents. Do they buy the apps for their kids during the afternoon play hour? during work? at night, after a long go-to-sleep routine?
- It's hard to develop a community around our game. That's because young kids don't write in forums, and don't use facebook. Their parents do, but they'd rather write about their own passions.

Am I the only one who believes in quality games for kids? Should I get back to developing for grown-ups in I want to have a community of fans?

Would love to hear more thoughts based on others' experience.
02-25-2012, 08:23 AM
#2
Joined: Jun 2009
Location: Hollywood, CA
Posts: 1,869
first of all, the elephant in the room - you made an app designed for kids called "Burning Things?" Am I reading this correctly? What's your next kid-centric app going to be called, "How to stab people in the face while they scream?" Obviously I am being sarcastic, but that seems to be one of the "you won't even get in the front door" issues if you are targeting a very young demographic. I don't know what age range specifically you are looking for, but I am expecting that it's under 10 years old - and that means that their parents are going to be seeking out and buying apps for them, and word of mouth is going to be your biggest help for starters. Better off to go for something along the lines of "Joanne and the Flower," because if one Mom tells another "yeah, my 6-year-old loves this new game on the iPad called 'Burning Things'" then her friend is probably going to to start reconsidering her judgement.

Otherwise, you do present some compelling points. It's a big issue in any case "where can I properly direct my marketing and promotional attempts" since you'll need to consider where parents will look for app-buying advice, and unless you do some real homework then that may not come very easily. I say this being out of that realm myself, so I can't speak anywhere near definitively on it, but I'll expect it's not going to be your traditional review site. At that point maybe you want to look elsewhere (websites where parents hang out to discuss other topics of child-rearing and such?) Find out the good sites, get an account on some of those forums, and see what their advertising rates look like for one - but otherwise it's worth it to probably develop some presence of your own there, as well (posting on the forums, running promotions, etc). That will take some time, but ultimately you might wind up saving yourself lots of money, and maybe even carving out a little niche for yourself since most of your competition probably wouldn't think/bother to try such a thing. <-- maybe for a reason, so I'll ask anyone else with any experience to chime in at this point

The bottom line is as usual - you need to be creative and thoughtful in how you promote and market the apps you've spent so many hours (and so much money) developing. Simply putting it out "into the wild" is never going to be a guarantee of much success anymore, unless you enjoy playing the lottery. There's still much that an aggressive developer can do without too much hassle to try and get a leg up on heir competition; if one things it's too much work, then they are asking for a tough row to hoe.
02-25-2012, 10:13 AM
#3
I personally want to take a different angle at this. I think that too many games let the kid be with himself, or at best aided by his parent to guide him through how to use the game, instead of making the parent a participant, and by doing that both (a) engaging the parent with your game, reducing superstition, (b) giving the parent some past time with their kid on a game, which is something (I would imagine) most parents would want, and (c) maybe even challenge the parent a bit, making the game a little bit for them as well as for the kid.

I rarely see anything like that, anywhere.

Just my two cents.

Firewall, my rule-changing turn-based strategy game, is out, get it now!
02-25-2012, 12:29 PM
#4
Joined: Mar 2011
Posts: 1,049
headcaseGames is spot on. I buy the games for my kid and "Burning Things" would not be something I'd even click through on. Sorry.

Perhaps take a look at how Toca Boca does it. I have no idea how succesful they are, but they actually do seem to manage to build a sort of following. The other day my kid came home saying "there is a new Toca Boca game coming up where you can play house!" When I asked how she knew she said that a friend (aged 7 or so) follows Toca Boca and always knows when something new is coming up.

I don't specifically want more kids games, but what I do wish was that more games contained an easy mode that makes it accessible for kids. Often it really isn't that hard to make a super easy mode that doesn't affect hardcore gamers at all and makes the game accessible to children as well. Rock Band (on consoles) does this very well, for example. You have the super easy mode where you don't even have to press any notes, as long as you tap/strum on the beat. That makes it great to play WITH your child, on your own level (I can play on expert myself while my kid plays on super easy) which I agree with aviadbd is awesome.

One genre of games that does the differing difficulties quite well on iOS is time management games. Dancing Craze for example has 2 difficulty levels (Casual and Hardcore) and within those difficulties you can go for gold, silver or bronze ratings. That makes the game accessible for kids, but still challenging for veteran time management fans.

Two general tips: don't make age recommendations too prominent. I know Toca Boca focuses on the 3-6 demographic or so, but I have seen 11 year olds really enjoy their games. As long as it's clear from the description what you're getting, I think you may lose some sales from parents who think that 3-7 will probably appeal more to 3 year olds than 7 year olds and that their 6 year old is smart and therefore probably will not like it either because 6 is almost 7 and that is the upper age for the game.

Also: games for kids are so hit and miss that I really prefer a lite version. Like you say yourself: there is SO MUCH crap. And I find that many kid apps do have a lite version. Or at least have had some other game for free at some point (Toca Hair was free when Toca Somethingelse came out, for example, so that gave at least some kind of impression of the quality of the game). I seem to see a lot of lite version + IAP to unlock the rest for kids games.
02-26-2012, 05:40 AM
#5
Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 141
Thanks to everyone who put in their own thoughts.

Honestly, my idea for this post was not to bitch about the tough market, but to point to a few factors that are somewhat different and challenging in this market.

For my app name:
I must say I wasn't aware of the negative connotations of my app name. I come from a non-native english speaking country, and although I spent about 5 years in Australia, the issues with the name did not occur to me until this post. In my head it was meant to be 'things that are burning', and not 'burning things', my friend pointed it out a few months ago but I thought he was too conservative. I was wrong.

So to sum this up - I'm already in the process of changing the app name. Thanks for raising it - sometimes trivial things like this can make a difference.

For Toca Boca as a model - I watched a long interview with their CEO, they are a fantastic company with really great values. I wish I had similar access to funds, staff etc, but this is not the case, so I have to do as much as I can with my own skills - I created pretty much 100% of my games on my own. I also do the marketing alone. So any community I would build should try to be as dynamic as it could but really it relies on my own abilities.

The model I am trying to establish is a progressive one:
- Create a simple game with potential
- Slowly improve, clean up, upgrade and add new features
- Don't be afraid to 'pivot' and to admit your failures, and keep working
- Slowly build a community

The last one is really something I have a lot to improve on. Hopefully with the new kid-friendly name it will be a fraction easier.

Super Ninja Therapy for iPhone and iPad

Tiny Fireman for iPhone and iPad

http://samuramu.com