Dinosaur Day Care

The CloudKid crew is bubbling with excitement over the launch of our latest project with Sesame Workshop: Ernie’s Dinosaur Day Care! Dinosaurs are so in right now, (thanks in part to Jurassic World), and this mobile-friendly game takes you straight into the prehistoric lands of these friendly giants. Join Ernie as he imagines going back in time to take care of dinosaurs in his very own day care, and help him to feed the dinosaurs, stomp with them in the mud, wash them up until they’re squeaky clean, jump rope, and even tuck them into bed! There are five different dinosaurs and five activities, with unlimited possibilities for fun and engaging play. Head over to the Sesame Street website and check it out!

Is the Mouse Dead?


Earlier this month, the inventor of the computer mouse, Douglas C. Engelbart, passed away. His contributions unquestionably altered the future of computing for the better, but since hearing the news of his passing, we’ve been contemplating if the “death” of his famous invention might also be imminent.

Like many others, we’ve been thinking a lot lately about the future (or lack thereof) of desktop-specific gaming for kids. With Flash-based browser games a huge part of our portfolio, it’s in part a hard pill to swallow that there might not be a long shelf life for this content as it continues to come against tablet competition. We’ve even noticed in kid testing on both computers and touch-screen devices recently that there’s a huge divide, with younger users struggling to understand the mouse, and even attempting to swipe and tap the computer screen.

In response to this shift, we’ve been doing a lot more work over the past couple of years creating device-native apps and porting Flash content to apps via AIR. This has allowed us to repurpose existing content that might otherwise become obsolete as the paradigm continues to shift toward touch devices. More recently, we’ve also produced a lot of projects in HTML5, including a website, as well as several games and activities (all of which are launching in the fall). While we were initially hesitant about the limitations that HTML5 would put on design, animation and audio, we’ve been continually surprised with how quickly the technology is evolving to allow for engaging games that are playable across platforms. We’ve also been trying to push the boundaries of what’s doable as much as possible to make great games that meet our (ridiculously high) standards!

We’re excited to see how this technology continue to evolve, and whether or not desktop browser-only games will be a thing of the past before we know it…

Sandbox Summit Recap


Last week was rough for those of us in the Boston area. Despite all the craziness, we managed to have a bright spot in our week – this year’s Sandbox Summit at MIT. We’re always energized by gatherings of fellow kids’ media professionals, and this year’s summit was no exception. With folks in attendance from all over the country, it was a great forum to discuss the current and future landscape of children’s media.

This year’s summit was titled “Pixel the Possibilities: Nurturing Kids’ Imagination in the Digital Age”. We were welcomed by Scott Osterweil of MIT’s Education Arcade, and then treated to a series of diverse presentations that related to creativity in the digital age. Among the highlights for us was a conversation with Harvard professor Howard Gardner, who spoke about his concepts of five minds for the future, and his concerns that the disciplined mind will be threatened by an increasingly digital world.

In addition to thought provoking conversations and presentations like Howard’s, we were inspired by our time in break-out sessions. We attended workshops on timeboxing (which resulted in the brainstorm session pictured above), IP creation and marketing, and digital creativity tools. We took a lot away from each of these, and have already been putting new brainstorming practices to work at CloudKid HQ. All in all, the Sandbox Summit and the CMA Boston Kickoff event that followed were great opportunities for us to grow as content creators and connect with others who love what they do as much as we do.

Spinning off of the “digital” theme of the summit, here are some great online resources for those who were unable to attend the event in person. Enjoy!

  • A great overview of the summit’s highlights from iArt4Kidz
  • Another great synopsis from the Pittsburgh Kids & Creativity Network
  • Sandbox Summit’s Twitter handle with takeaways from lots of attendees
  • Event videos courtesy of Scott Traylor at 360 Kid

Online Originals


Moving episodic content off of the TV and into new formats is not a new idea; online streaming, DVDs and DVRs have undeniably changed how and when we watch shows. The real potential for innovation, though, lies in much more than the ability to watch the same content on a different platform… it’s about no longer being beholden to television, and its current monetization structure, in the first place.

With the successful launch of Netflix’s original, House of Cards, and the highly-anticipated release of cult-classic (and TV cancelled) Arrested Development, it’s clear that there is a market for original content to thrive off of the TV set. Children’s content is a natural component of this potential, as kids, perhaps more than any other demographic, clamor to watch and rewatch their favorites (and many parents would be willing to pay for subscription services to ensure their ability to do so). With Amazon Studios actively developing 5 pilots with key players in the children’s media space, and Netflix announcing a new original series to be created in partnership with DreamWorks, it’s clear that some key players have seen the potential, and are investing heavily in it. And last week’s Kidscreen made it clear to us and fellow attendees that other major companies (Hulu, Google) will also be throwing their hat in the ring for what promises to be the next wave of children’s original content.

Our biggest concern, and excitement, in all of this potential is to see whether or not this new, “original” content will actually be all that original. We strongly believe that web content has the potential to be so much more than 11, 22 or 45 minute instances of passive consumption of video content. With the new distributors relying on more of a subscription-based model for monetization (vs. ad money and international sales), the time to take risks, and give viewers fresh, ground-breaking content is now. We think there’s a ton of potential here for the power to shift into the relationship between content creators and viewers (as evidenced by Amazon’s asking for public opinion on which pilots to pick up for series). We hope the masses push for more innovative, unique formats that creators will love to make, and viewers will excitedly pay for. Who knows… traditional broadcasters may even be forced to follow suit if new stakeholders push the envelope for what viewers expect from innovative, cross-platform content.

Only time will tell if we’re going to continue to see more of a TV 2.0 on the web, or something truly “original”. Here’s hoping it’s the latter!

Talking Tech With CMA


Last week, CloudKid’s very own Dave Schlafman had the pleasure of presenting to members of the Children’s Media Association. His presentation, which was advertised as “Talking Tech: Spotlight on Transmedia – Fizzy’s Lunch Lab and Beyond,” took attendees on Dave’s personal transmedia journey. From growing up amidst the cross-platform blockbuster brands of the 80s, to attending the SIM program at MassArt, to making a career out of being comfortable working in whatever medium came his way, Dave’s talk gave insight into what transmedia has meant for him as an artist and as the Co-Founder of CloudKid.

A large chunk of Dave’s presentation focused on how CloudKid defines transmedia. We see it as much more than just cross-platform content. It’s an opportunity to build out narratives and worlds in a way that conventional mediums like TV episodes alone don’t allow you to do. It’s evaluating what type of content really works best for what you’re trying to communicate. Dave supported these points through various examples of CloudKid’s work. From the Peg + Cat website to an exclusive sneak peek of our top-secret upcoming web series, the work shared highlighted our process of creating content that allows for a number of gateways into an experience.

All in all, the night was a success! There were tons of thought-provoking questions during the Q&A and lots of awesome takeaways from live-tweeting on CMA’s twitter feed (circa December 10th). Dave’s presentation also ended with a prompt that we though y’all might want to ponder: “Knowing the technology that exists today, what would you create for your nine-year-old self? Go make it!”

“Count Me to Sheep” Live!

Back in November, we excitedly announced that we’d be producing our first interactive game for Sesame Workshop. Now, we’re even more excited to announce that the game, “Count Me to Sheep,” is live on the Sesame Street website! We were so honored to work on this project with some of our favorite characters and had an amazing time producing the game. Hope you all check it out 1 or 2 or 3 times (“Ah ah ah ah!”). Enjoy!

Back to the Drawing Board

A few months ago, we wrote a post about family-focused social gaming, which has reinvented the classic “family game night” by creating a way for long-distance family members to have fun together. This sense of connectivity – no matter what the distance – is an idea that inspires us and, these days, entertains us like no other. If you’re like us, you’ve probably been spending way too much time recently hunched over your iPhone playing Draw Something, a multiplayer game from OMGPOP (which, by the way, was just bought by Zynga for no small sum). Draw Something, like online family gaming, brings people together through an interactive, back-and-forth style format. And, we must say, it is positively addicting!

What has really drawn our attention though is the fact that Draw Something takes a very simple game mechanic – essentially, Pictionary – and turns it into an app. It’s a straightforward idea, but is one that has produced brilliant results. They’ve turned a timeless game, once played around the coffee table à la family game night, into an awesome app you can play anywhere, with anyone, at any time.  By leveraging benefits unique to virtual play — such as an asynchronous nature of gameplay and the ability to have multiple games going on at once (much like Words with Friends) — a simple concept is transformed into an amazingly viral app. As game developers, we at CloudKid tend to think a lot about game mechanics and social connectivity, and we love the idea of web games and apps that get people in dialogue with each other. We regard the social component of game design as a huge imperative, and the success of Draw Something makes it clear that traditional game mechanics with an interactive twist are on the rise.

Which makes us think… At CloudKid, we recently had our very own family game night, with such classics as Dixit and Bananagrams bringing out our competitive sides. Dixit has already jumped onboard and created an iOS app, and we wouldn’t be surprised if other gaming companies soon follow suit and venture into the virtual world. Who knows,  maybe our next family game night will inspire us to build a new social app!

New iPad Stirs Up Questions

Yup, it’s coming! The new iPad (don’t call it the iPad3 – Apple is not having that) hits stores Friday, March 16th, and if this launch is anything like the last one, expect a crazy long line and an onslaught of chatter in the blogosphere. Though people are a bit miffed about the non-numerical name, updated features like a 3.1 million pixel display, 4G network capabilities, and an A5X processor (awesome for designing and gaming), have Apple fans salivating. That’s us.

This is all well and good, but what caught our attention amidst all the iPad buzz was this article in the Huffington Post.  Educational psychologist and consultant, Lori Day, shares her perspective on the possible downsides of technology-driven education. She’s not a full-time technology detractor, but she’s skeptical, and as much as we love our gizmos and gadgets here at CloudKid, we think that a healthy dose of skepticism is good every once in a while.

Day brings up some particularly provocative questions about the decrease of human-to-human interaction in the classroom, the loss of critical literacy and math skills, and the digital divide. Of particular concern is how constant upgrades and product launches create a veritable arms race for technology in the classroom, and poor, urban districts that already have crippling budget constraints fall even farther behind.

Read the rest of this entry »

The New Coviewing

In fall 2011, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released their latest report, “The New Coviewing: Designing for Learning Through Joint Media Engagement.”  The study points out the short-comings of the term “co-viewing,” suggesting that “joint media engagement” is more fitting.  The difference is more than just semantic, and instead alludes to the important cognitive shift from passive “viewing” associated with merely watching TV to active “engagement” (as in Sesame Street’s Kinect game Once Upon a Monster). We were excited to see this differentiation, especially because we think that the present and future of the best kids media is in truly interactive experiences.

In addition to presenting a brief literature review and a number of case studies on the topic, the report also included a design guide which outlined principles to consider when designing for joint media engagement.  These principles include keeping content kid-driven, allowing for multiple planes of engagement, and clearly differentiating roles.  The case studies included in this report pointed to a number of products that employ these principles, including Electric Racer, an intergenerational gaming experience designed to promote literacy. We found the principles outlined to be extremely interesting and helpful as we continue to consider co-play in our designs.  We highly recommend you take the time to look at these, and the rest of the report when you have the chance!

Lifelong Learners

One of the best parts about CloudKid’s Boston locale is the city’s robust academic community.  In addition to recruiting from local colleges and universities, we also try our best to take advantage of the amazing resources schools in the area have to offer.  In the past few months, for example, CloudKids have attended events at MIT, as well as at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE).

HGSE hosts monthly Askwith Forums, a series of talks about education that are open to the public.  We recently attended one with Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company, that dealt with the importance of characters in informal education for early learners.  We also attended another forum with acclaimed author and professor Howard Gardner, who spoke about reframing truth, beauty and goodness for 21st century education.  You can watch Howard’s entire talk here, and hear a podcast of a post-forum interview with Lisa Henson here.

We got a lot out of attending both of these events, and look forward to continuing our involvement in the local academic community.  No matter what your location is, we recommend you look for opportunities like these in your own area (or even in the online community).  We believe there is much to be gained from looking at ourselves as lifelong learners, and attending events like these are a great way to keep learning!