Designing for Youth – Making Games for Players Under 14 – Extra Credits

Designing for Youth – Making Games for Players Under 14 – Extra Credits


This episode is late, very late We auctioned this topic choice for charity over a year ago And it was supposed to come out in December But between some production hitches on our side And James needing more time to research Here we are with it now We’re sorry Rob Your generosity to others made this happen So i’m sorry we kept you waiting but here it is at last An episode on the challenges of designing games for kids This is a topic which is becoming increasingly important in our industry And one which is too often ignored Surprisingly in an industry that has for years been labled ‘Just for kids’ Most of the products we put out aimed at kids Clearly haven’t had a lot of thought put in to how to approach creating games for young people Unfortunatly for years many of the quote, unquote ‘Kid’s games’ out there were licensed titles And these games relied on the idea that the parent buying them wouldn’t know anything about games And so wouldn’t know a good game from a bad one The expectation was that the parent would walk into the video game isle in their local Toys R Us And before them would stretch a sea of colorful boxes that meant nothing to them Then they’d see one with Spiderman or G.I. Joe on it and they’d think ‘Hey I know what that is, my kid likes that show, I’ll get them that’ This, unfortunately meant that a company could sell almost as many titles of a licensed kids game By kicking it out the door as cheaply as possible As they would by creating something actually engaging and good Thus often kids game production became about lowering production costs rather than raising quaility In fact this is a big part of why licensed titles in our industry have such a bad rap today Luckily this has been changing, Now that many people who grew up with games in their homes when they were kids are having kids of their own Games for children can no longer sell on box art and ignorance alone Today these games have to better cater to their audience And thats on of the most difficult things when creating games for kids You see we often mentally lump ages 14 and up as one group when creating games Most of the games you play probably fall into this category People in this range may fall into many different demographics or target audiences And they may have vastly different underlying things which appeal to them But age specifically isn’t usually considered a huge differentiator beyond 14 If fact its only been in the last few years that we’ve started creating games specifically for the 25 and up audience Because most of the time a great game is equally appealing if your 14 or 45 But that’s much less true for an audience under 14 In general you have to break them up into dramatically different demographics based on age alone Generally its broken down as ages 4 through 6 7 to 9 10 and 11 And twelve to 14 And with even a moments reflection you can see how wildly different those groups are A game that’s great for a 4 years old May not be very good for a 7 year old And is almost certainly gonna be a total miss for someone who is 12 or older There are exceptions ofcourse Like Minecraft, which is catching on with kids of nearly every age But games like that are pretty rare Which makes understanding these age demographics essential to the creation of quality childrens games Understanding things like the fact that in the youngst demographic You can’t guarantee that your audiance will know how to read Or that the oldest group is much more socially aware than children just a few years younger than them Knowing stuff like that is essential to targeting your game This turns out to be easier said than done As many developers I’ve known originally Thought they were creating a game for one age group Only to find out they aimed too high or too low And that is fatal to a project if not discovered early Good childrens games also build in multiple levels of succes from the outset You need your game to be easy enough that any child can play on their own, with or without a parent But you also need to provide a broad enough experiance that you’re not talking down to the child with your gameplay This is actually one of the keys to the success of things like Angry Birds or even Skylanders Any child can play them just by mashing buttons or tapping on the screen But a child who thinks through the mechanics and understands the game is rewarded for doing so For thinking more deeply Additionally you have to be more aware of the different ways human beings learn when building games for kids We touched on this a little in one of the episodes about how to build a good tutorial And in fact we could and probably should dedicate a a whole episode to the theories around different types of learning Because while by teens we’ve been trained to learn in ways that have become standard in our society What will stick with or make sense to a younger child is much more vague Actually just to go on a quick tangent There’s a lot of debate around the idea of learning styles in education I’m kind of hand waving it here but if we do a full episode on learning methods in games later We’ll go into some of this, and how learning styles relate to games The short version is You should teach the player in every unobtrusive way possible And where you need to a few obtrusive ones too While I don’t know about the breakdown or efficacy of any given learning style for people I do know that games that use more of them Tends to get more people to understand what they’re trying to teach Who knows, maybe that’s because people learn differently Or maybe it’s just a repetition thing But this is one of the few universally things James can say about the games he’s worked on Anyway back on topic The last difficulty in making games for kids that I want to bring up Is the idea of not talking down to them Not only in your mechanics, but in every aspect of your game We seem to have this societal bias That children can only handle pablum, benal or pural things And that’s absolutely false Everything to Spongebob to Wall-E has shown us that children can appriciate challenging ideas and humor The best children books we have don’t shy away from leaving the child with something to think about So the games we make for them should take up this mantle as well Here James has only one piece of advice It’s what works for him Perhaps it’s just what helps put him in the right headspace, and it won’t make sense to anyone else But when James works on experiences for children And in fact in general when dealing with younger people He simply thinks of them as adults with a lot less experience If you can build that ramp that goes from things that children already understand To the concepts you want to explore with them I think you’ll find that children are capable of quite a lot Everything from Winnie the Pooh to the little prince, Toy Story to the Lego Movie do this And games are perhaps even more capable of allowing children the opportunity to explore and ponder new things by bridging that gap So I hope that helps some of you get a sense of the pitfalls of designing for a younger audience The original question was What are some of the difficulties designers encounter when creating for children Of course there’s a much larger question to be asked of how to actually design a good game for kids Wich is something I’m not sure we could tackle But hopefully this will serve as a start Just remember how much a small difference in age can change things And how much value there is in having different levels of success in your games So kids can grow with it And kids of different skill levels and attention spans can all have something to play Beyond that it’s just a matter of not talking down to your audience And as easy as that is to say, that may be the hardest thing of all Good luck and good creating


100 thoughts on “Designing for Youth – Making Games for Players Under 14 – Extra Credits

  1. Only Nintendo can make decent "E" games, everyone else has potential to make wonderful "E" games, but do it wrong.

  2. This is really accurate! I mean, I'm part of a group of 11/12 year olds who are literally a Nintendo "faction" at school that's against the Xbox group! (There isn't a PlayStation group – both agree that it sucks!)

  3. Who else when they where little, (or still ARE for that matter,) hate/hated tutorials in games? It's like WE JUST WANT TO PLAY THE GAME, for me it just completely ruined the illusion of being inside of that game world, and me, I think overdrawn tutorials that I had to deal with led me to value ambience and atmosphere a lot in games

  4. I think good gamea for ages 7-9 would be collectathons. Examples would be mario, lego games, banjo kazooi, etc.

  5. A good example of a game that does this right is book worm adventures. Its fun, educational and it doesn't talk down to its audience.

  6. Who knows? (Show a picture of Dr. Who with an arrow pointed at his nose) THESE little jokes are what I dig about Extra Credits.

  7. I know I'm late, 3 years late. But people should seriously stop seeing kids as dumb and simple, because really, as you said at the age of around 12 or 13 they start to realize some really complex ideas.

  8. Ladies and gentlemen, please don't look at the comment section below, or you may will are going to get disappointed.

  9. as kid (still am) i didnt play many new games cus of money when i grow up i wish to expirienece game with my children and learn with them

  10. Additionally, a part of angry birds' success is most likely that the basically unavoidable completion star appaers *in the middle of the succes screen*. Any other location might've seemed more daunting to pretty much anyone.
    Also, @ 5:34 : only 634 designers?

  11. Start with the basic plan for something YOU would like to play. Then figure out what parts of the plan might cause difficulties for younger players and make modifications or additions to address those.

    Worried the youngest players won't be able to read? Well, you could work around that with icons next to the important things or, if you have the budget, narration of all key text, and maybe the ability to replay the relevant cutscenes for your current mission objectives (which would also come in handy if you put the game down and come back to it six months later).

    Actually, from writing that example, I suspect there might be a lot of overlap between accessibility and kid-friendliness. Someone should look into that.

  12. I personally don't believe there should be "kids" games.I'm 11 and I have spent over 1,000 hours in TF2 which was made for a adult audience yet I find it more appealing than many of the games kids at my age play.Sure I like scribblenauts and other "kids" games but alot of the time they draw in a large adult audience.So making games based on age is meaningless unless you are talking about a age group that doesn't know how to read,then its different.So if you wanna make games focus less on age and more on making a better game as younger audiences will probably gravitate by themselfves without ruining it for adults and vice versa.

  13. I learned to read at 3-6, i don't remember when specifically, by playing Majesty, which is basically Starcraft without a unit limit, alt player races, and 1 resource which you acquired through monster kills.

  14. From personal experiances with class mates Im able to say that for anyone older than 6 just give them like GTA or assasins creed. And anyone below sic can play with the games for 12 year olds

  15. Our 4 (nearly 5) yr old has just discovered Minecraft, and he absolutely loved it. We tried it on xbox first, but the control was too complicated. As he already had been playing Overwatch, keyboard and mouse it was, and he took to it like a duck to water! He's actually not bad at Overwatch, although we tend to stick him in a custom game with AI so not to bother older players.
    I'm so proud of him, and he's so excited to play with mom and dad. And he can nerdpole, so he's basically set.

  16. I feel children games should be able to not scare or do anything to mature for a child, but also talk to them in a way were they can learn about things that are serious and children should learn that many movies or books have done, and maybe things that would scare a child could be worked around like rather than be a horror that would be to serious for a child to understand, it could be used instead to teach children about fear and how fiction fear may or may not need to be feared, idk it's just a thought I had on this matter….

  17. My little cousin plays a farm care game (she is 5) and I (older than 6) spent like 10 minutes playing it, idk why, but it was kinda fun

  18. Im 13 and I have a older cousin that lives in the same town. We play the same games even tho he is 19. We play Cuphead,Minecraft,DarkSouls 1 ,2 and 3,Assasins's creeed (series),some of the 19 games like Double dragon,Super smash bros.. So in the coclusion you can't make a game for all the kids,but you can make a game for a category of playstyles.

  19. Maybe you could make games that kids grow with. They'd be easy at first, but as a child mature, it would discover more things in this game that are geared towards its current maturity. An example of this is Minecraft. At first you can just build nice things with blocks like you'd do with lego. But as you mature, you discover redstone and command blocks etc. But doing this with a game containing violence is a whole other challenge.

  20. I love video games both simple, like temple run or complex, like cod ww2 online multiplayer and i agree with this

  21. When I was 6 years old I would play Lego games (Lego Batman/Lego Indiana Jones) they were fun, but the best part was learning the game mechanics and putting them to good use for not only combat but for complex puzzles (which it would have quite a bit of), it serves to prove that children can improvise on what we give them, in fact that's the entire idea about being a child, evolving from a simple mental state and being able to understand the rhythm of the world around them.

  22. I think they should ask a bunch of kids in different age groups what they would like to play instead of just guessing.

  23. i know i am 4 years late but when you said to have something for kids and so older people could play i thought of mario

  24. Children aren’t dumb. They have only been around for a few years l and that means they have almost no experience, but in my opinion children are best at learning because that is their entire goal until adulthood. Children have to be self sufficient by the time they are adults and so learn very fast.

  25. 4-6 as the youngest? I'm the only one of the kids in my family who started playing at 4 (with pikmin). My brother started at 3 (with monkey ball). My cousin started playing at 2 (with bean boy), and my other cousin started at 1/2 (with navigating through the switch home menu (just by button mashing))

  26. What about the mentality of a child who is 10 years physically but mentally has the mind of a 7 year old are there games designed for people who their mentality doesn’t match their physical age?

  27. I don't know if the Humongous Entertainment games (Spy Fox, Put-Put, etc) are considered great by industry standards, but I loved them as a kid. They also had value across a wide range of ages, since they crammed in content aimed at older people that went over kids heads, but also didn't seem to clutter things up.

  28. I made a card game in the beginning of October and test it out with family and friends and local card shops so far I got really good feedbacks. The game is for 10 and up, its up to 2-5 players, and gameplay takes 15-30mins. It’s still in its testing so it’s not fully finished. But it’s original game and hasn’t been done before or as least that what the people at the card shops tell me. I hope it one day I see it selling in stores one day

  29. PEGI 3: Simple platformers, RPGs and puzzle games. Mario Kart (for some reason).
    PEGI 7: More complex games, may include violence. Modern Pokemon games, Minecraft.
    PEGI 12: Almost certainly includes violence, and begins to explore more mature concepts. Couldn't think of any examples off my head.
    PEGI 16: Definitley includes violence, may include blood or swearing, explores more mature concepts. Early Call of Duty games,
    PEGI 18: Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, Red Dead Redemption, other Rockstar games.

  30. If this game was a book how much of the book will your audience be confused about (besides any pop culture references)?
    If a child can understand Harry Potter, The Hobbit or the Chronicles of Narnia (the books) then no video game should patronise them.

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