Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Incentive Design from the Mouths of Babes

We're visiting this week with a niece who just turned two, and my wife downloaded the top-rated toddler app for her iPad.  In the game, a cartoon monkey does a somersault and makes a happy monkey noise when the player succeeds at various tasks, like touching the green fruit, re-assembling a small puzzle, etc.    Most of the minigames can be solved by tapping the screen repeatedly and yelling "yay, monkey".  It was only when this approach did not work that the niece actually attempts to think about the puzzle, and I found the results surprising.  
  • She can't read the instructions to "touch the purple fruit", and she may not yet know what the word purple means, but when I pointed to the word purple (which was colored purple), she immediately hit the purple plum.  
  • She doesn't appear to have the fine motor skills to drag and drop the pieces of fruit for the reassembly puzzle, but her hand motions make it clear that she knows what she needs to do.  
  • On paper, the concentration game (eight face-down cards consisting of four pairs that you can flip over two at a time) is the hardest of the games, but she's definitely got the concept of this game (if, perhaps, not the attention span needed to deal with all eight cards - or perhaps getting an adult to take 2-4 of the cards off the board for her is also part of her strategy).  
Overall, this game raises incentive design questions.  Is the little girl an MMO player in the making, already able to skip past the educational content much as we don't read quest text?  Is it part of the game designer's strategy to have most of the puzzles be easy as a way to lure players into the game where they may eventually learn from the content they're being exposed to as they go?  Do the designers actually care whether anyone learns anything, as long as the product is fun for the kids, looks educational for the parents, and therefore can go on to be a best-seller?  And, perhaps most importantly, where are the videos of two-year-olds on voice chat planning their approach to the latest monkey puzzle? 

1 comment:

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Do the designers actually care whether anyone learns anything, as long as the product is fun for the kids, looks educational for the parents, and therefore can go on to be a best-seller?

Consider the type of person who designs kids games. They're in a highly competitive and selective field (game design) and on top of that they're making games that they themselves wouldn't really want to play. It would take a rather major idiot to work hard to break into the industry, then decide to make kids games just to collect a paycheck.

Given that, I'd say most of the designers doing kids games actually care about making games that are good for kids.