Risky Business

From "Gesundheit!" App

Last Tuesday, a few of us CloudKids attended “Reducing Risk in the Games Business,” an event put on by the New England Games SiG at the Microsoft NERD Center.  A panel of game industry veterans discussed their experiences and approaches in helping to manage risk in the game industry.  With the upcoming launch of CloudKid’s first original app, we were excited to jump in on this discussion.

The panel, and the audience, had a lot of great insights on the business side of game and app releases.  While the conversation was interesting, there was an extreme emphasis placed on analytics and the marketing of games. It seems all the panelists and moderator ignored one of the biggest factors of risk-taking in the game industry – THE GAMES!  We were a bit surprised that there wasn’t a discussion surrounding how risk-taking with IP and game mechanics can draw in and keep users engaged.  While we understand that having a great marketing plan is part of the risk equation, we still think that the products themselves need to be “risky” to stand out from the crowd.

A few other areas that we wished the panel had time to discuss were the challenge of balancing product and company recognition and the increasingly popular “freemium” model of app releases.  If you get the chance to comment, we’d love to hear your thoughts on reducing risk in the games business!

The Future of Storytelling

A few months ago, we highlighted the work of Latitude Research in a blog post about their study on kids’ visions for the future of technology.  We’ve continually been impressed with their approach to innovative research and were delighted when they asked us to take part in a new study on the Future of Storytelling.

We were also extremely excited that they chose to feature their interview with Dave in their “Expert Series.”  Take a minute to check out his interview.  We hope you enjoy, and that this gets you thinking about your visions for the future of storytelling!

Designing in the Margins

While attending the Open Workshop on Technology and Autism Research at the MIT Media Lab last week, we were inspired by the potential of designing for students “in the margins.”  This  concept is one often explored by The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in relation to their concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Behind it is the core idea that when one designs with the needs of a particular group of individuals in mind, technologies that work better for the population at large often result.  According to this principle, the needs of students in the margins continue to be catalysts for advancements and adoptions of new technologies for all learners.

As presenters at the conference this week showcased technological advancements specific to the field of autism, we were reminded of the potential for designing for those in the margins. We were inspired by technologies ranging from AI and avatars that can meaningfully interact with individuals on the autism spectrum to speech therapy apps that engage users by reflecting restricted personal interests. The experience allowed us to pause and consider what such advancements can mean for all learners.  Much of the work being done in the autism technology sphere focuses on customization and personalization of learning experiences, which we believe has the potential to impact learners both on and off the autism spectrum.

We plan to keep this concept of designing for those with particular needs in mind moving forward, and we suggest you do the same.  If you get the chance, take a moment to brainstorm how designing for someone in a margin could lead to advancements that benefit all.

How Promising is Digital Promise?

Last Friday, the White House and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced the launch of Digital Promise, a new national center created to “advance technologies that can transform teaching and learning.”  The goal of the new center is to bring together the likes of innovators, educators, researchers and citizens so that breakthroughs in learning technologies can ideally come quicker and be more effective. Through initiatives such as creating a league of innovative schools, increasing investments and grants related to cyber-learning, and funding educational video game challenges and research studies, Digital Promise hopes to make sweeping advancements across the field of educational technology.

As strong supporters of “collaborative play,” we see a lot of potential in an initiative that aims to bring together a variety of expertise. When tackling a problem as gargantuan as maximizing education in a digital age, having all hands on deck seems like a great first step.  That being said, we also realize that a “promise” is just that.  Fulfillment of that promise will only come if the visions of collaboration, action and innovation can truly come into fruition.

We strongly encourage all of you to take an active role in this initiative by:

After all, the only way for this promise to be truly promising is if we all take it upon ourselves to jump in and play along.

Rethinking Family Game Night

Many of us here at CloudKid HQ have fond memories of our own family game nights growing up. From whole families strategizing around a Monopoly board, to intense Duck Hunt stand-offs between siblings, we can recall the fun (albeit competitive) times that were had by gathering to play as a family. The way families are playing together, however, has changed. The need to gather around a table or hook controllers up to the same gaming console no longer exists. Technologies the likes of XBox Live and apps such as “Words With Friends” make it possible for gaming together to happen anytime, anywhere.

Although many may point out what is being lost in the shifting definition of family gaming (e.g. a displaced emphasis on physical interaction), there is a lot to be said about what is gained. For one, the ability to extend the net of what is meant by “family” from those who live in one geographic location to those who live virtually anywhere with access to technology is heartening. Similarly, a shift can be made from a “one size fits all” difficulty model offered by board games to an experience that can be appropriately scaffolded to meet the abilities of gamers of all ages.  Websites such as Let’s Play Please and Ohanarama are two examples of how technology can provide significant advantages in redefining what it means to play as a family.

Our hope, and challenge, as content creators is that technology will continue to evolve in a way that provides new and most importantly meaningful ways for families to play together. For our fellow dreamers, we suggest thinking about creative ways to defy conventions of one-place, one-time and one-difficulty gaming so that family members of all ages in all locations can gather for the next generation of family game night. We are excited to see what you come up with…

The Importance of Character

Here at CloudKid HQ, we believe that great characters are the foundation for awesome children’s projects.  That’s why we’re so excited about the recent coverage on the research of our very own educational advisor, Alexis Lauricella.  As Alexis’ study, “Toddlers Learning from Socially Meaningful Video Characters,” concludes, social relationships that children develop with a character impact their ability to learn from media. In the case of her study, toddlers who saw a sequencing task performed by the beloved Elmo were significantly more able to perform the task themselves than two control groups.

In addition, we recently read a study out of the University of California, Riverside on the importance of social relationships with media characters.  The study, “Media as Social Partners: The Social Nature of Young Children’s Learning From Screen Media,” had equally telling results.  Similar to Alexis’ work, this paper cites the social nature of learning from screen media, concluding that there is a direct correlation between a child’s relationship with on-screen characters and their comprehension of information presented.

Studies such as these help reinvigorate our passion for the fact that kids media begins and ends with character. Hope they do the same for you…

The Real Experts

As much as we try to remain young at heart here at the CloudKid HQ, it’s always nice to be reminded about who the real experts in our field are: kids!  A recent study by Latitude Research, titled “Children’s Future Requests for Computers & The Internet,” was a refreshingly delightful reminder of this fact.

Latitude asked kids from around the world (aged 12 and under) to draw pictures of something they’d like the internet or computers to do differently.  The results are pretty inspiring.  Here’s a small sample of some of our favorite ideas, but do yourself a favor and look through the whole study if you get the chance.  Warning: you may wind up wanting all of them, or maybe they’ll even inspire you to go make them a reality.  Either way, enjoy!

Avatar Creation, Done Well

Avatars are increasingly becoming staples of interactive experiences for kids (and adults… at this point most of us have probably at least created our own “Mii” or “Simpsonized” ourselves). The obvious draw in this trend is creating a personal tie to a larger experience. There are some amazing online avatar creators, however, that are focussing on making the creation itself a worthwhile experience.

From non-profits to start-ups to major corporations, avatar creators that can stand alone as meaningful, and more importantly fun, interactive experiences are starting to pop up in a number of contexts. The best part about these is that they remind us that a little bit of smart design goes a long way. Be it a simple pay-off animation, a well-timed sound effect, or a clever mechanism for swapping out features, these avatar creators prove that when crafted carefully, even the shortest of interactive experiences can result in a lot of fun.

Below are links to a few of our favorites that we’ve played with so far. Enjoy!

Build Your Wild Self

A New York Zoos and Aquarium Site Feature


A precursor to the soon-to-be launched “Tinkatolli” site

Toy Story 3 Toy Creator

Promotion for Toy Story 3