Building a game app for the modern child: Tips and Tricks
Today’s children are familiar with phones and tablets from birth. More and more parents are using electronic devices and apps to teach, amuse, or calm their children down. As technology continues to become an intrinsic part of our daily lives, this phenomenon poses an interesting challenge to developers.
Since there is a growing demand for quality children’s applications, it can be lucrative to build apps dedicated to engaging and teaching children. But it’s also important to be careful with how these apps are built as they can influence an entire generation.
There are particular details to take into account when developing an app for a child. Let’s take a closer look at the most important details that should be considered.
Just as with any other application, it’s important to define your target audience before starting to work on development.
When searching for games in an app store, you might have already noticed that you need to choose an age range (e.g. up to 5 years old, 6-8 years old, 9-11 years old). This is due to the fact that children develop very quickly and the interests of a 4-year-old can differ greatly from those of a 6-year-old, despite the small age difference.
Narrow down your target audience and focus on building an app that is most engaging for that particular segment.
Children respond to particular aspects when it comes to design. Your app’s download page should be bright and colorful. Fun animations or puzzles can also attract a child.
Keep in mind that if the welcoming screen takes a long time to download or is not immediately attractive enough, there is a strong chance that you will lose the child’s interest in the game. As well, kids may occasionally exit or reset the game. That’s why it’s better to make the splash screen shorter so that they don’t have to wait a long time, preventing them from losing interest quickly. If the application is opened from a running app on a device, a splash screen may not even be necessary.
Also take into account that children under the age of 5 may still have trouble reading. It’s best not to add a lot of text to games meant for this target audience.
The design of the app should be reasonably bright and should have the optimal number of interactive elements. Determining what that optimal number is will depend on your target audience. Children tend to try to interact with everything they see and may get upset if they don’t receive a response. It’s important to find the right balance between elements that are in motion, colours, audio effects, and smaller details so that the child understands what is interactive and what is not, avoiding confusion or frustration. We suggest using larger objects and adding a visual or audible pressing effect so that the child can understand when pressing a button has an effect.
It may also be useful to add hints on how to complete a level through motions, lighting effects, or more obvious things like arrows.
Rewards and achievements
Children, perhaps even more so than adults, need rewards and achievements throughout the course of the game. Bonuses, coins, additional levels, or whatever else makes sense to your app should be included to keep the child engaged and coming back to your game.
Adding sounds, such as the sound effect of falling coins, can also be very useful. Audio-visual enhancements, like the sudden discovery of a hidden feature or new level, will increase the child’s curiosity and encourage them to play your game again and again.
Entertaining and educational
Coming up with an entertaining, yet still practical game is important in attracting users. It is especially important in making sure that parents will love your app just as much as the child does.
Children should not only have fun playing your game. They should also be gaining a new skill or some knowledge from your app. Adding a character that helps them complete levels, encourages them when they encounter a challenge, or gives some good advice can help children receive some positive reinforcement from your game.
It’s also important to be aware of how children differ from adults when holding a device. They are more likely to unintentionally touch the screen so applications made for children should take this into account. Consider how screen touches will be processed in your app in order to ensure that it functions properly when a child is using it.
Once you start developing your app, usability testing should be a key part of the development cycle. Make a list of important development questions and test these out throughout the app’s development. Questions should include:
button or element positioning (are buttons convenient to reach/push?);
how the child’s mood changes while playing (are they having fun, are they bored, are they confused?);
how the child reacts to game progression (are time restrictions an issue and how does the child deal with level changes or transitions?);
what colours and layouts are optimal (test different colours, button locations, element positioning).
The ideal option is to let children play the game while monitoring their reactions at various intervals throughout development.
Our experience with developing children’s apps has shown that they tend to like large, bright buttons and are naturally drawn to the right side of a screen.
Access to purchases
Don’t forget to restrict access to purchases in a store or consider not adding this functionality at all since children might carelessly buy games or add-ons without parental permission.
Other details to think about
It’s important to keep game play and design relatively simple and intuitive. Don’t add unnecessary manual settings to the app, except for music or sound volume control.
Also, make sure that it is possible to save progress in the app so that children can feel like they are making progress without having to redo easy levels each time they play.
Keep in mind that, ultimately, parents will be in charge of what their child is playing and the app you develop should appeal to them as well, either because it is fun, educational, and positively engaging.
Creating a successful children’s app
We hope these tips will help you create a fun and rewarding game for kids that their parents like as well!
If you’d like to check out one of the children’s apps we’ve created in cooperation with Uhsome.com play our recently released Mathwithyourfriends - a new variation of the Scrabble game, but with numbers instead of letters! You can play with friends or random opponents, build equations to help with math skills, and gain points. Give it a go and try to beat your friend or kid!