Anyone who has been around kids lately would know how difficult it is to separate them from smart phones, tabs, laptops and other shiny screens. Whether it’s their favorite cartoon movie or a colorful addictive game, they’re instantly hooked and unwilling to consider alternatives.
A lot of the colorful addictive games are based on mindless repetitive activities (think Temple Run or Angry Birds) where the most you have to do is swipe in different directions or tap the screen. Such games probably just work to improve children’s hand-eye coordination and comfort-level with illuminant screens (that a large portion of their future lives will be spent looking at). Two game developers/entrepreneurs from Pakistan are trying to put on a twist on mobile games for kids with their venture: Playbolt Studios.
Playbolt Studios aims to develop mobile games that involve children taking part in real-life activities such as drawing, coloring or building something, as part of playing the mobile game. The idea is to develop an interactive game that teams up children with adults and asks them to complete different tasks out in the real world to complete different stages of the game. The camera on your phone will help the game determine if the task was completed or not.
Playbolt Studios has gone beyond just ideas and developed a prototype called “Heroes of Woodcoast”. The prototype is available for downloading via a suspicious-looking Dropbox document or this webpage.
The game starts by asking you (parent/adult/elder sibling, will be simplifying this to “parent” from here on) your name and the child’s name and age. This information is then used in the instructions that follow. The back story is that the child is teamed up with the parent and needs to complete critical missions as secret agents/spies.
The First Mission
In the first mission, the team needs to help find a missing hat. The parent is supposed to write the mission number and the child’s name on a piece of paper and let the child draw and color a hat in the middle.
The game integrates your phone’s camera to, I am guessing (from the promotional video), detect the shape of the hat and show that a hat was found. I downloaded the prototype and tried replicating this last step but unfortunately either the hat I drew was not the right one or there’s a bug in the prototype that doesn’t allow the user to go forward or back once the camera is activated.
At this stage, the details matter less than the idea, but details can make or break such things. The target age group of the children (stated as 3 to 8 years old) is one of such questions. If we think about the sample drawing/coloring task, then perhaps 4 to 8 years old is the right age group, but if they are expected to read and comprehend full sentences and a storyline then maybe upwards of 5/6 years (depending on whom you ask, some kids are way ahead of others). Such a mixture would, for example, really narrow down the age group that this game would work for.
The Big Question
The big question, however, is the requirement for parental supervision and help to play this game. The appropriate framing would be: do parents want to spend time looking after their kids once they have already handed them their phones? From personal experience of kids and parents I have seen in that situation, the answer is a big NO. However, the real judge of this has to be some market research.
Edutainment is attractive as a concept, everyone would want their children to be learning as they play and develop skills as early as possible. The question is how far are parents willing to go for this goal when easier solutions are available.
There are mobile games for just about everything: counting, matching words to pictures, coloring, dressing up your doll, identifying shapes, and every little learning activity that you can imagine. And children are able to stay busy with those games on their own and keep learning as an additional bonus.
On the other hand, when you want them away from screens, there are coloring books, dolls, action figures and all of that to independently turn to.
Needs More Juice
What I am trying to get at here is that while the idea is a head-turner, it needs more to justify its execution than a set of guidelines for a parent-child-mobile hangout. There are several directions this can go: it can be designed to become social, where you can see what other kids are drawing, or players can interact in some way or the other. The games can be a mix of things you can do on the phone and things you need a pen and paper for. The possibilities from this starting point are endless.
The founders are young and ambitious; they should experiment with ideas while they can. Understand that pivoting is the in-thing in the motherland (Silicon Valley) and you need to constantly evolve and change in order to survive. The first step to that mindset is being flexible and not getting super-committed to the entirety of the first idea you showed everyone else.