David Kleeman is a strategist, analyst, author and speaker, as well as Senior VP of Global Trends for Dubit, a consultancy and digital studio based in Leeds that produces leading games for kids’ entertainment brands. For 25 years, he was President of the American Center for Children and Media. So he’s more than qualified to talk about what makes an engaging mobile app game for children! David will be speaking at Apps World North America, 11 – 12 May in Santa Clara, USA. We sat down with David in the lead up to the event to talk about what makes great entertainment for short people…
David, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the world of gaming?
I describe myself as “some of everything and all of nothing.” I set out to be a preschool teacher, but quickly discovered teaching through media. I’ve worked in academia, education and child development; media development, production, distribution and scheduling; global media markets and the intersection of media and culture. It’s been my privilege to work in children’s media from the early days of console gaming to the current world of ubiquitous games for all ages and interests.
You will be speaking at Apps World North America on creating compelling children’s games. There’s a lot of competition out there. How do you go about creating content that will stand out from the crowd?
We have almost 20 years of experience in building games, virtual worlds and apps for children. We’ve seen enough – and built enough – to have strong benchmarks for what works well. Our research department – in particular via our tracking survey Dubit Trends – contributes current and forward-looking data and insights about kids’ changing lives with media and products, brands and experiences.
Of course, our designers are adults, and so don’t think or behave like today’s kids. That’s why we also constantly play test our work in production in our Play Lab in Leeds, as part of an iterative development process.
Content may still be “king,” but today’s kids are overwhelmed with content choices, so without discovery it’s a lonely kingdom. In our research, we pay great attention to how young people find, embrace, recommend and share their favorite media. We also study our own and others’ pirate metrics – acquisition, activation, retention, referrals and revenue.
How important is it to consider supervisory adults when designing a children’s game?
For the youngest children, parents make the decisions about what games to offer. Even as kids get older, parents often control the purse strings. Parents don’t have to enjoy all the games their children play, but they do need to respect them. So, games need to be designed for kids’ abilities, needs and interests, but their benefits and play value need to be transparent to adults. Fortunately, many of today’s parents are lifelong gamers themselves, so that conversation has become much easier.
Is it more difficult to make games with educational content more compelling?
Marshall McLuhan said “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” Games designed to teach something need to be as compelling as anything else on the market; they can’t succeed if kids don’t want to play them. For us, it’s a three-step process – we work with partners who have a passion for teaching something; we use a design summit process that determines if a game is the best way to engage the learning and convey the content; and we design a game where the content, teaching intent and play value are inseparable. Our partnership with PBS Kids on “Kart Kingdom” is a perfect example – we went from pencil sketch to millions of users, creating a destination that’s attractive, “sticky” and effective, integrating a “systems thinking curriculum, and balancing the needs of a trusted brand and the interests of its many well-respected sub-brands.
Dubit have over 70 developers working on games for IoS and Android. How much research is generally involved in the process?
At Dubit, research is embedded throughout the digital production process. From the start of a client relationship, understanding young people’s habits and preferences informs strategy and design. Our Play Lab in Leeds enables us to test with the target audience at every phase. The great thing about building digital games is that launch is the starting point, not (as with TV production) the finish. So, we can study a game’s performance and, in cooperation with our clients and partners, update and optimize.
Is there anything particular happening at the moment in the gaming world that you’re excited about?
We are very enthusiastic about Virtual Reality for kids eight and up. We’ve tested with Oculus Rift in our Play Lab, and found that young people love the experience, and instantly generate ideas for what they’d like to play in VR. The fully immersive headsets are still too expensive for families to adopt them quickly, but Google Cardboard is a game changer – inexpensive and easy for kids to use. If VR is going to catch on with families, parents will have to trust that it’s a good experience for their kids – that’s why we’re launching Bogglebox, a download site for vetted, kid-safe VR apps, similar to our all-audiences download site, WEARVR.com.
Apps World North America will feature apps from across the ecosystem. As someone working in the digital space, what are your ‘go to’ apps that you couldn’t live without?
I travel almost constantly for Dubit, so my go-to apps help me manage life on the road: Google Maps, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Uber. My “game” of choice is finding great, cheap hotel rooms, for which I use a whole suite of apps. I’m an obsessive distance runner, and track my workouts live with Map My Run. Finally, since I’m lucky enough to see the world for my work, I share my experiences with friends and family via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
David will be speaking on gaming at Apps World North America – you can see David speak by registering for a free expo pass. Taking place in the heart of Silicon Valley and incorporating all the key players from the apps universe, this is not an event to be missed.