Remember the days when electronics and gadgets were too complicated for kids? Or when kids actually loved playing outside instead of simply staying at home? Well, times have changed. Today, it’s pretty common for kids to lounge at home and dedicate their afternoons to playing mobile games on a smartphone or tablet. At first, it may seem totally counterproductive to their growth, especially in regard to social skills. But if you look at it from another angle, games can be used as another medium for education (see Minecraft: Education Edition). Not as a replacement for school, but as a supplement.
This is where educational mobile games come in. These games vary, from teaching kids in identifying shapes and colors to pronouncing words properly. There are also those that offer puzzles to develop logical thinking and reasoning, as well as quizzes to boost general knowledge. Educational mobile games, unlike games from other genres, are simple and straightforward to develop. Here are 7 things to keep in mind if you want to develop a successful educational mobile game for kids.
1. Decide on a specific age group
This is pretty much standard when developing any mobile game, regardless of genre. You should know right from the start which specific audience you are targeting. Are you aiming for an alphabet-based game for 5-year-olds or a basic math game for 8-year-olds? This is especially important when designing the difficulty level of your game. Don’t make a game that’s meant for kids 7 years old and below, but with a difficulty curve that only kids of older age can handle. Not everyone’s born a prodigy, you know.
Knowing which age group your game is built for also helps when brainstorming for gameplay ideas. For example, if your target audience is preschoolers, then it would be wise to develop a game based on correctly identifying things like animals or maybe fruits. Or if you settled on kids aged between 8 and 10 years old, then a quiz or puzzle game should be fine.
2. Make the interface clean and large
By “large,” we mean the icons should be large and very easy for kids to see. If an icon takes up the entirety of the screen, so be it. There’s no harm in that. Kids should be able to quickly and easily input commands to advance the game; otherwise, they would just randomly bash on the damn screen until something moves on-screen. Worse, they will give up because the game is unresponsive to their input. You don’t want parents to ditch the game because it’s “unplayable” for their younglings.
The interface should be clean, too. None of those shameless advertisements and social media links. Kids will tap on them either by accident or out of curiosity. Either way, it takes them out of the game. Yes, an adult can assist every time they end up on Facebook. But wouldn’t it be less bothersome if they simply don’t end up someplace else in the first place? That way, they can play the game without interruptions.
3. Controls should be simple
In-game commands shouldn’t require too much multi-touch input or other complicated gestures. Simply stick to swiping and tapping for input. Both are easy and can be consistently performed, especially tapping which is the likeliest input kids will try by default. If your game is meant for older kids, you can include gestures like “pinching” and drag-and-drop input on the touchscreen. But do avoid scenarios where unfairly fast reflexes are required. Your game is meant to teach them educational stuff, not prepare them for button-mashing in fighting games. However, if your game is predicated on quick hand-eye coordination, just make sure the difficulty is manageable and not downright merciless.
4. Don’t be shy with visual and audio cues
This mostly applies if your game is meant for the very young ones, who are more receptive to cute little sounds and sparkly things on the screen. Make sure that whenever they do something correctly or incorrectly, the game lets them know. If you want, you can add special effects for every time they do something in the game, like a cute popping sound whenever they tap on the screen, regardless whether the input triggered something in-game or not. Anything that shows the game is “alive” and interactive, to keep their attention focused on the game.
But try not to go overboard; otherwise, the special effects might detract them from actually trying to play the game. However, there’s no harm in being a little over-the-top on visual or audio cues that kick in specifically when they accomplish something, to show them how “rewarding” it is to get things correctly. It would serve as an incentive. Because unlike adult gamers who expect extravagant rewards for completing even the simplest side-quests, kids are easier to please.
5. Allow them to learn
Your game shouldn’t usher kids from level 1 to level 50 as quickly as possible (assuming your game is level-based like most non-RPG titles these days). They should be able to process what they have just accomplished, and learn from it. Because, well, that’s what your game is supposed to do. With that said, your game should allow for a little breathing room after each completed task or level. It shouldn’t immediately start the next one. For example, if you cooked up a quiz game, add a short text explaining why an answer was correct or incorrect. You can add trivia or Did-You-Knows, too. Or if your game is color-based which require kids to pick among a selection of colors corresponding to an image shown, show other examples when they pick the correct answer.
6. Make sure you get the facts right
Your game will be about teaching kids. Now, it wouldn’t be much of an educational game if it’s teaching incorrect information, right? This is particularly important if you’re developing a quiz game. Make sure that the correct answers in your game are, well, actually correct. Double-check and then triple-check everything. And don’t simply rely on Wikipedia for your information. Fact-check using other resources, like books or educational websites. It’s pretty much impossible for you to make mistakes when it comes to basic things like letters and numbers. But do your homework on shapes, especially the uncommon ones like trapezoid or hexagon and its “gon” brethren. And most importantly, spellings. Double-check everything in the game, from the menu options down to the Game Over screen.
7. Don’t use popular cartoon characters
This last one is more about you, the developer, than your audience. Kids respond better to things they’re familiar with, things they see or encounter on a regular basis. Like, you know, Saturday morning cartoons. As tempting as it is to use recognizable characters from cartoons like SpongeBob SquarePants and Adventure Time, it will bring you trouble in the future, especially if your game turns out to be a huge hit. Remember the incredibly difficult game Flappy Bird? It was an overnight sensation. However, its turn in the spotlight didn’t last long: Nintendo crashed the party over copyright issues. You know what pisses off established brands or companies? Someone making money off their intellectual properties without their permission. So save yourself the future trouble and create something original.
Again, although it’s an educational game, make sure that it’s never lacking in fun. It doesn’t have to be addicting, but at least enjoyable enough to warrant completion. It’s the same with other mobile games, really. Keep things balanced in regards to fun and learning.
(Featured Image: Pixabay)