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Live Blogging from GDC Austin - Reaching A New Demographic: Kids AND Their Parents

Alright!  This is my first attempt at live blogging.  I'm excited, and waiting for the session to begin.  It's so cold in this room, my hands are shivering and it's hard to type.  But this session should be great!  It's Reaching a New Demographic: Kids AND Their Parents with Jesse Schell, Laralyn McWilliams, Matthew Schwartz, Megan Geiser and Sheri Graner Ray.  The only name I recognize there is Jesse Schell, the author of the excellent book, The Art of Game Design.  It's the most useful book on the topic I've ever read.  I'm looking forward to "meeting" the other panelists!

I'm very interested to see what they have to say.  'Kids and Their Parents' is far from a new demographic for me, because Sesame Street has been serving this demo for 40 years.  They write episodes to encourage co-viewing between kids and parents, so parents can talk to kids about what they've seen, and thereby increase the learning.  It also gives kids another opportunity to have a shared experience with mom or dad.  And what kid doesn't want mom or dad to spend more time with them?  But Sesame Street is TV.  Games are different.  Similar in some ways, but still different.  More active and engaging.  Requires more participation.  You can't knit or catch up on email and play a game with your kids at the same time.  And to enjoy a game, both parents and kids should be challenged, not simply entertained.  So here we go with the session!

11:03 am : Sheri Graner Ray is moderating.  Been in industry since 1989, has worked on arcade games and MMOs.  Asking panelists to share something about themselves that's not in their bio.

Laralyn McWilliams has worked on Over the Hedge, Lilo & Stitch, Fear & Respect with John Singleton!  Creative Director for Free Realms.

Margaret Wallace - online virtual worlds, virtual pets. CEO, Founder, Rebel Monkey, Playmatics

Matthew Schwartz - Cartoon Network's Fusion Fall, at CN since 2000, film and TV background, once bought Michael Bolton album on purpose

Jesse Schell - Disney Virtual Reality, teaches at Carnegie Mellon, owns game development company, first movie in theatre was Fritz the Cat.

11:07am : Where does parents and kids playing together work well?

Jesse: Theme park design!  You have to design things for both parents and kids.  Has been shown to work very well. 

Laralyn: Console games, kids play, parents watch and comment. Parents enjoy watching and being involved that way. 

Jesse: Club Disney failure, Chuck E Cheese style for parents and kids to play together.  Games didn't work unless kids played together (needed short and tall player, etc).  Parents didn't like it though, they wanted to watch.  Kids were left to play these games by themselves, and they couldn't. 

Matthew: Traditional board games.  Parents are active and involved.

Laralyn: Up until age 5 or 6, parents help kids.  6 and 7, play together.  7 and 8, parents expect kids to play on their own. (because kids beat at games parents at that point?)

Margaret: Generation shift too.  Today's parents are more computer savvy than our parents were.  Parents today are not as hesitant to play.  Learning curve is not as steep as it used to be.

11:15am : Why is this demographic important?

Jesse: It is children's job to play.  Long term entertainment properties are things that people want to pass on to their kids.

Margaret: Lego Star Wars - retro feel, parents love both Legos and Star Wars.

Jesse: Kids are honest.  If it appeals to them, it must be solid.

How important is teaching?

Margaret: Learning is a natural process (YES I AGREE!) Games like World of Warcraft develop leadership skills. (leading a guild) 10 year old plays Medeval 2 and Age of Empires and loves history, learns through the game. 

Laralyn: Are you making the game the parents want kid to play, or the game kids want to play?  Do you allow chat feedback to be negative?  Kids don't like games that feel like school.  Kid should not be embarrassed to talk about your game to friends at school.

Margaret:  It's tough, we're still working it out.

Matthew:  <18 year olds don't have credit cards, so you must appeal to parents on some level.

11:20am : How do you handle competition in the game? Do kids and parents compete together, or against each other?

Matthew: Boys like to show off, show mastery.  Look at it in comparison to other scenarios, like teaching them tennis.

Laralyn: Levelling up is a great reward that everyone can attain as they make their own personal progress. (GREAT POINT!)

Jesse: It's rare when parents can work together and have a shared victory.  When you can create that moment, it's really special. (ANOTHER GREAT THOUGHT!)

Matthew: When the game requires someone to lose, you're going to punish somebody.  You get tired of running the race if you're going to keep losing.

11:25am : Reward systems?

Jesse: Webkinz cash - Kids couldn't win the Webkinz cash, so parents would say "Go clean your room, I'll play the game and earn Webkinz cash for you."  You must ask, how does this game fit into a family?  ToonTown, actually mailed trading cards to families in the mail.  Parents keep the subscription on monthly bill, so to keep them paying, you must let them know that their kids are engaged and they're using it.  Every month, when they get something in the mail, the parent gets to witness the excitement they might not see if kid was only playing computer game on his own.

Margaret: Star Doll - Moms and kids use it together, moms are the moderators on the site.

Laralyn: Reward things you wouldn't think of rewarding (logins, registration) See gaia (sp?) Reward people for socializing.

Matthew: Reward based on attendance, if you log in every day of the week, you get currency.  (Cited Korean game example, but not by name.)

11:31am : How do you design for kids and parents together?

Laralyn: Free Realms- reward activities equally, and they are all optional.  Let people do what they want to do naturally.  Things parents could do to help kids, and things kids could do on their own.  Creating a space for parents and kids to play together is not enough.  Chat is not possible with COPPA compliance.

11:34am : How does age of child affect parent/kid play?

Jesse: Big factor, child is always growing and changing.  Age 7, age of wisdom and reason, kid can think for himself.  Influenced by other kids at school.  Edu software is great until this age because kids are no longer doing just what parents want them to do / play with.  They want what friends say is cool.  Brain growth and development is important.  Age 10 is an untapped parent/kid game market because kids at this age like to explore things in depth, and parents want to help them explore that.  (GREAT TIP!)

Margaret: Future Lab study shows younger kids like puzzle games and adventure, then boys age into shooters, etc.  Girls stay with puzzles.  Anecdote of Dora on PS2 easier for 3 year old than PC games.

Laralyn: Usability studies are important.  Kids under 10 use arrow keys in games not mouse.  Right hand on arrow keys, when click is necessary, they reach left hand over to hit button on mouse.  Using just a few keys in your game is ideal.

Matthew: Boys at 12 get hyper sensitive about things getting too kiddy.  Though they may secretly like it, such as Powerpuff Girls.  They would never admit to liking it, but they would watch it.

Laralyn: Skewed difficulty for Lilo and Stitch game for boys 10-13, but they said it was too easy.  They want to die a lot, because they think that is an indicator of challenge.  They aspire to first person shooter games for adults.

Jesse: Kids lie to researchers about their habits.  (IT'S TRUE! I'VE SEEN IT TOO!)  They will report play habits that are not accurate. "I play this.  I don't play that."  Often, they are not reporting accurately.

Margaret: Art style is important.  Things that you think look like teenagers, teens will not like.  They want avatars that look like 20-somethings.  (SAD, BUT ALSO TRUE!)

11:44am : How to encourage development in this demo?

Jesse: It's rare, so it's great not to have competition!  Everyone else, stay away!  (HAHA!)

Matthew: I disagree!  We need the Pixar and Miyazaki of games!

Laralyn: Figure out communication.  Dad may be overseas, parents may be divorced.  Enable play together when you are not in the same location.  Think of troubled kids, disabled kids and their parents.  (GREAT POINT!)  Add rewards to free form game play, like online "hanging out".  They play separate games and then come together and hang out, check out rewards and gear, etc.  Watch what parents and kids do together when they hang out in real life.  They talk together more than any action.

Jesse: So many forces in life pull kids and parents apart.  Less cross gender toys -> siblings play together less.  Parents work longer hours. 

Margaret: Industry does not encourage this demo because it is risky.  How about games that let parents and kids play when parent is traveling on business!

11:52am : Open Questions - my logging gets lazy from this point out.  Here are snippets I thought were interesting.

Matthew: Kids don't want virtual friends, they want to interact with their real life friends online.

All: Kid communication is very challenging to track in online systems, and COPPA makes it difficult to allow kids to talk.

Laralyn: Club Penguin makes you sign up with a parent's email address.  Free Realms figured kids would lie about their age to get more features.  What they've observed is that kids under 13 are honest about it and playing their character even with the limitations.  So you must design to let those kids feel fulfilled in the game.

Matthew: Kids are taught not to give any personal information, even gender.

12:03pm : That's a wrap!  Thanks for a great session!  Lesson learned from live blogging: Don't change your post title halfway through, it will break the link you posted on Twitter.  ;)

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