Archive for the 'Parents/Caregivers' Category

Kid Testing and Facebook – What? Are You Crazy?!

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

How 360KID uses Facebook to find kid testers to improve their digital creations and apps.

This has been a busy year of development for my company. We’ve been creating multiple interactive products for kids. Some are learning apps, some are online games, some electronic toys. Some are for preschoolers, some for tweens. All of them have one thing in common. The completed products must successfully engage kids. In an effort to make sure we are making the best interactive products possible, we need to test our ideas with children. When I say “we” I mean the larger kids industry, not just my company. For those who develop any kind of product or media for kids (especially all those children’s app developers out there! I’m talking to you!) you MUST kid test your products. Get your software builds, your animations, your web games, your characters, your paper prototypes out there in front of real kids! Do not go to market without testing your assumptions, you may find you had it all wrong. Testing is an invaluable part of children’s media development and should be part of every product you make if you work in the kids biz.

There are a number of ways to recruit kids for testing. You can reach out to family and friends, kids in your neighborhood. However, sometimes you need to reach out beyond your known circle and find kids from another location; say kids that live in a city, or bilingual preschoolers, or eight to ten year olds that belong to Girl Scouts, or tweens that like to play baseball. What do you do then?

While you can reach out to specific youth groups, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other kid-focused organizations, you can also use Facebook. Now I know you’re saying “What?! Facebook? For recruiting kid testers? Are you crazy?!” As with all kid testing, you’re starting a conversation with a parent, and recruiting through Facebook means you are looking to have a conversation with a parent about kid testing.

Here’s a more detailed look at one kid testing ad campaign we placed on Facebook. We started by selecting a particular town we wished our testers to come from. The 10 mile radius around that town had 168,000 parents using Facebook. Selecting a thinner slice from that group, parents with children ages 4 to 12 resulted in 1,400 Facebook users. When you start a Facebook ad, you can get very specific about the kind of person you wish to reach. Do you want to reach just men 25 years of age or older? How about just women with a PhD? All of this is possible to define in your campaign. However, the more specific you get with your target demographic, the smaller your audience will become.

We posted an ad for kid testers for 45 days, with a maximum bid of $2.50 per click, not to exceed a cost of $50 a day. Our ad appeared over 712,000 times (impressions), reaching more than 8,200 Facebook users in our target age and location (demographic), resulting in a click-through rate (CTR) of 427. We heard from about 45 parents, leading to 22 parents bringing in 30 children, all for a total cost of $560, or about $1.30 per click.

Another way to look at our recruiting costs: $25 per parent or about $19 per child. This was just our advertising cost and did not include email communication time, phone calls, testing time, analysis of results, or the stipend we offered a parent for having their child come in to test with us.

Was it worth it? Yes, in the end Facebook definitely helped us find kids from a specific geo-targeted location to test with.

Was it perfect? Hardly. There were many frustrating parts to working with Facebook. First time advertisers will be annoyed that once you place an ad, it can take many days before your campaign is approved and goes live. While you’re waiting, all you can do is think about what you did wrong and why your ad is not producing. During this time you’ll probably change your ad copy and up the daily maximum bid thinking it will help. But hold tight, Facebook is just being Facebook. It takes time for an ad to kick in, and you will receive next to no communication from Facebook while you are pulling out your hair, wondering what’s going on.

Were there any surprises? You bet. While many parents found our ad on Facebook, there were some “uber parents” that helped spread the word around their neighborhood that we were looking for kid testers. About four parents that came in were in this category. They were great at helping reach many more parents, including non-Facebook users as well.

In the end we met many great parents with some wonderful kids. All of which helped us refine our product and made it better. We couldn’t be happier, and our finished product shines as a result of the feedback we incorporated back into development! Thank you parents and our 360KID testers!

Bottom line: It doesn’t matter how you find kids to test with, using Facebook or some other means, what matters is that you test! Doing so will only help make your product shine, stand out from the pack, and lead to more successful interactions through your product with kids. Now get out there and start testing!

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Last Words: Helping a Dying Family Member Communicate with Insights from One Year Olds

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

A few years ago my father was in hospice care during the last days of his life. Over the span of a couple of weeks his ability to communicate deteriorated rapidly. Not that he couldn’t communicate completely, but a number of barriers prevented his ability to communicate easily. Among them, not having enough energy to speak, or coughing fits in the middle of speaking. Nurses that came and went, as wonderful as they were, often did not speak English as a first language, which also made it hard for him to communicate.

At the time when all of this was happening, I was reflecting on how very young children who have not yet learned how to speak would just use a finger to point to things they wanted. The same is true for a young child using an iPhone, all they need to do is point or swipe. Why is it that using an iPhone or an iPad is so easy for a twelve month old child? In the research world there’s a concept called “cognitive load”. In the context of computing, if you make a user interface easy to use then there are less barriers, less cognitive demands on simply using a computer and more cognitive resources available to take advantage of what you wish to accomplish with a computer. In the context of hospice care and communication there are things a person needs to effectively communicate that have nothing to do with the actual message. For example, having enough energy to speak, the ability to breathe easily, or having minimal muscle coordination, or the ability to use your tongue or larynx. If a person has a message to share with others, the components of communicating like those just mentioned can become barriers for the successful delivery of that message.

First page of the two-page communication tool for helping hospice patients communicate
Sample page of a two-page communication tool for helping hospice patients communicate. (Click image to see larger version and instructions for saving. Version for women also included.)

After a few days of watching my father struggle to be understood I created a paper-based way for him to get his messages across. A thick piece of paper, on each side containing many pictures of things he would ask for in the course of a day. All he would need to do is point to what he wanted on these two pages. Having the ability to communicate by pointing removed the cognitive demands of being able to communicate through talking. Many items on these pages related to his need to be comfortable, moving from bed to couch, then bathroom and back to the bed. I noted a number of hand gestures shared between my mother and father, mostly shorthand for yes or no, good or bad. Also a limited set of preferred food choices, particularly ice chips. Sometimes just water, sometimes juice. This two-sided paper communication tool was easy for my father to use, pointing to what he wanted in times of challenged communication. I made it for him on a Tuesday. He passed away on Thursday. In that short time it helped reduce the frustration of communicating only a handful of times, but it did help.

Second page of the two-page communication tool for helping hospice patients communicate
Second page of a two-page communication tool for helping hospice patients communicate. (Click image to see larger version and instructions for saving. Kosher verson also included.)

Recently another family member started hospice, I’ll call her Mary. Many of the same communication struggles I saw with my father can be seen with Mary, except Mary has less energy and less motor skill coordination than my father. My father had enough energy to point to areas of this two-sided paper tool. Mary does not. While Mary may not have the muscle coordination to use her hands, she does seem to have greater control of her head movements. I started thinking how such a communication tool could be used and thought maybe these pages could be enlarged, printed on a large poster board, and attached to a nearby wall at eye level from sitting upright on a bed. Then a laser pointer could be fixed to a hat, allowing the beam of light to point to items on the poster board Mary might need.

I wish to share what I have learned, along with these communication pages, hoping it can help others. If you would like a copy of these files to print out and use yourself, you can save each individual JPG file by clicking on the images above and read the instructions provided at the top of each page. Both male and female versions are available, including a kosher version for the food page. If you have an iPad or some other similar tablet, one easy way to use these files is to download them from a browser and save the files to a photo application on your device for quick access, removing the need to print.

I know every hospice situation is unique, mine is not the only story. If you have observations of your own about other successful ideas to make communication easier, or other common items requested from an ailing relative in hospice, please do share in the comments below.

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360KID Learning Game Trends at Casual Connect

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Casual Connect is an annual conference in the US that explores the business and development of casual games. This conference also travels to Europe and Singapore. This year’s US event recently held in Seattle, had a day long track focused on Children & Family Entertainment. 360KID CEO Scott Traylor was asked to deliver a presentation on trends and best practices for developing learning games. The video below is a recording of his talk called “Technology, Kids, & Learning: The Future and the Opportunities”.

Links to specific research cited in this presentation are listed below.

Do you need help developing a learning game for the classroom or just need some advice for creating a consumer-based learning game? Be it online, offline, electronic toy, iOS or Andriod, give us a call.

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Research Watch – Children and Screens

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

[The following is an article I wrote for the November 2011 issue of Children’s Technology Review.]

This last month was a big one for new research unveiled about kids and media use, a least in terms of Google new alerts. Here’s a look beyond the headlines.

Event #1: The AAP Position Statement

Ari Brown, MD presents the updated AAP Policy Statement for media use and children ages zero to two years old

In mid-October the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made a statement regarding media use for young children ages 0 to 2 years of age at the AAP National Conference held in Boston. Media research fans may remember the AAP released a position statement over a decade ago stating screened media use for children ages 0 to 2 should be avoided entirely because there is no proof that television can be of educational value to children at such an early age. Fast forward to last month and the policy statement is pretty much the same. TV at this early age is still not educational. But hasn’t the media delivery landscape evolved from passive to interactive? What about all of those iPhones, iPads, tablets and other mobile devices? Should young children avoid using these devices as well? The AAP was much more presentation savvy with their announcement this time around, however. They acknowledged in their press announcement that the realities of being a parent with a young child mean that sometimes a television is used to pacify a child so the parent can take a shower or cook dinner. The AAP acknowledges that screen use is almost at two hours a day for some the youngest media consumers. However, the AAP could not make any recommendations related to interactive media. While there is a mountain of research available related to linear video viewing, there just aren’t many studies available regarding interactive screen use, for any age group.

Event #2: Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America

Vicky Rideout presents the latest media use findings for children ages zero to eight years old

Exactly one week after that AAP press event Common Sense Media held its own media event in Washington DC: a survey of families regarding the use of media with children 0 to 8 years of age. This time, the survey considered interactive media useage. You may recall that Vicky Rideout used to work with the Kaiser Family Foundation, and was a lead researcher on a series of studies related to children, media use, and health. She coordinated three 5-year surveys of media use across a wide range of platforms, ages, ethnicities and socio-economic groups. When Vicky announced in March, 2010 that she would be moving on from Kaiser, the media research space collectively wondered “Would we ever see another five year media study again?” Thankfully we recently found out the answer was a resounding yes! Not only did this new report cover areas of concern by the AAP, but it also provided great insight into the iPad/iPhone/mobile and interactive screened media world for kids. One of the most shocking data points in this study was the percentage of televisions found in a child’s bedroom. 30% of all children age 0 to 1, 44% of all children ages 2 to 4, and 47% of children ages 5 to 8 have a television in their bedroom! The scariest part of this data is these numbers are just averages. When you tease out percentages for ethnic groups and low-income families these numbers rise, and by a lot!

Another surprising data point was the percentage of children that have used interactive devices like the iPad. That number is only 7%. A handful of people have asked me, “Is that right?” First, this number is an average across all ages and as you slice the data the percentages rise as a child ages and lower for younger children. Again, this percentage drops significantly with ethnic groups and low-income families. What we also learn from this number is that television is a primary source of educational content for non-white and lower income families. The question I ask an eager iPad development community “Are we creating apps in an attempt to provide really great learning opportunities for all children when the reality is only a small sliver of economically advantaged children actually benefit from our apps?” Another surprising number, among the poorest households 38% of respondents didn’t know what an “app” was. This paper describes a new trend referred to the “app gap.” Those of us working in the children’s software space have long theorized that kids are spending more time with interactive media, games, handhelds and iPads and less time watching television. This latest report says no, television is still very much the leading device, alive and well more than we ever could have imagined. But wait, that’s a research slice in time that has already passed! In conversations with Vicky she suggests that the world of screened media for kids, be it interactive or passive, is changing very fast. Reports she was part of that came out every five years are not able to accurately capture the incremental changes in the children’s technology space. Thankfully additional reports may be on the horizon in two, probably three more years says Vicky.

So what are the main take-aways? Television is still very prominent in the lives of children ages 0 to 8. Just three years ago researchers were not aware of the influence the app concept would have in the children’s media space. Apps didn’t exist. Change is happening, but not equally for all children. Television still remains the best way to reach young children with educational content, especially children in socio-economically disadvantaged homes. However, there is now no doubt that interactive media is changing the media landscape.

Referenced research links:

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Peeking Under the Cloak of Wizard101

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

[The following is an article I wrote for the September 2011 issue of Children’s Technology Review. If you’re interested in the new 360KID Q2 2011 virtual world report, you can purchase the full report, which includes an expanded Wizard101 interview, by emailing me at scott (at) 360KID (dot) com with “Virtual World Research Report” in the Subject line. The next quarterly report will be completed in late October, 2011.]

The creators behind Wizard101: Josef Hall and Todd Coleman

Being the number one virtual world for kids is no small thing, especially in these days of Disney, Nick and Cartoon Network. But what’s interesting about Wizard101 is that 60% of visitors are playing with another member of their family (at least, according to a recent Trinity University study). What’s are they doing right?

To find out, CTR correspondent Scott Traylor interviewed head wizards at KingsIsle: Josef Hall and Todd Coleman, on a quest for their magic formula. Note that portions of this interview have been condensed, and this interview is part of a larger report that is sold separately.

Where did the Wizard101 idea come from?

The Wizard101 faculty

Josef Hall: We started talking about it seven years ago. I have three kids, they were young then, and I wanted them to have a safe and high-quality online game. Todd and I thought the children’s space really seemed underserved. We wanted to make something that was triple-A, super high-quality. Something we could feel comfortable with our kids and other kids playing.

Todd Coleman: Josef and I were founders of another game company that made hardcore fantasy games with violence and mature themes. We were interested in going in a different direction, a more lighthearted approach to gaming through storytelling.

So the founders of KingsIsle brought you on and charged you with developing a virtual world product for them?

Todd: The story goes back earlier than that. Elie Akilian, our CEO and primary investor had an idea to create a new kind of game company. He talked to a dozen or more game companies to find a partner. At the same time he was searching for a partner, Josef and I were out talking to big publishing houses about a new kind of game we wanted to create. What’s funny about both sides of that story, neither of us were finding traction. Elie found that game companies were mostly interested in making shooters or army games or post-apocalyptic games, hardcore games for hardcode players. When Josef and I were talking to studios, those were the same types of games they wanted to fund. We stumbled into Elie who looked at us, having come out of the hardcore game space, now pitching a wizard game for the family, and it became apparent we should join forces.

From the beginning the idea was to create a family-based wizarding world, even before KingsIsle was formed?

Todd: Yes, in fact if you go back and read the high concept document that Josef and I put together, it’s amazing how much of that original vision is exactly the same as what we created.

How long were you in development?

Josef: About two and a half years before we went into alpha with friends and family.

Todd: And another eight weeks before we went live.

Did the masses come right away?

Todd: It took time. It was about six months of steady growth, but we hadn’t yet hit the tipping point. That was in December 2008 when it started to pick up steam.

Josef: We did some national television advertising, then things really took off. We started growing quickly around that time, and we knew we had something special.

How has Wizard101 changed since you launched?

Josef: The game has stayed true to what it was when we launched, but we’ve added a lot of things, like a housing system and gardening. Everything has kind of the wizard slant. The gardening’s not a normal gardening system. You grow funny plants that have a lot of character and personality, like Couch Potatoes which are little spuds sitting on couches watching TV and talking to each other. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek. We’ve added a pet system where you can own pets and grow them through different in-game mini games. We’ve also added a lot of new worlds, some are pretty big departures from the existing world, like Celestia, which is underwater.

The Wizard101 garden is truly magical.

[CTR Editor’s note: Most of these are premium features, available only with a code that costs up to $39. That’s the magic of Wizard101’s business model.]

Have you learned anything surprising about your audience?

Todd: It’s a wider age spectrum than we expected. We started hearing grandparents were getting into the game, using it as a way to stay connected to their grandchildren. This was really surprising and just really cool to us. It’s something you can’t predict going in. You sit down, make the best game you can, and what you don’t really have control over is player behaviors. Players come into this empty world you crafted. They bring their own hopes and expectations and experiences and relationships. Then the world starts to take on a life of its own. It’s an amazing thing to watch.

How has the business of virtual worlds changed in the last few years?

Todd: Back when we started Wizard, the biggest game at the time was EverQuest, having amassed 400 thousand people. The prevailing thought in the industry at the time was any new virtual worlds to come out would simply carve up the same base of 400 thousand players. Then World of Warcraft launched and started racking up millions upon millions of players. All of a sudden people realized there was a new market. After that, the free-to-play model started in Asia. When it first came to the US, people thought that model would never fly, and of course that was not the case. Today you’re seeing these very casual games pop up on Facebook, and people who never considered themselves gamers, hundreds of millions of people, are now playing on a daily basis. Using those games as a way to connect with their friends.

What was your single biggest moment in the Wizard101 history?

Josef: One that jumps to mind was early on in development I came home and all the computers were taken over by my wife and kids. They were so deep into the game nobody noticed I came in the door. They were laughing and talking to each other, running around in the game. I knew at that moment we had built something that was a lot of fun for my family and would be fun for other families too. It was a wonderful moment.

Todd: My biggest moment was during development. I remember we had our first milestone, an internal test. We had created the art pieces and had engineering working on the code and a design group working on the players and the characters and pulling it all together. We fired it up, and Josef and I were able to jump in for the first time and play. It was that vision we had, taken from a “Wouldn’t it be cool?” conversation to actually seeing it on the screen. It was buggy, the sound wasn’t working, the cinematics were too long, the cameras weren’t working, but looking past all those warts and seeing it, at that moment I knew it was going to work. Josef and I were like, “Okay, we’ve got something here.” I think it was two in the morning. But that moment, you turn that corner and know you’ve gone from an idea to an actual game. Nothing beats that.

(Photo and images © KingsIsle Entertainment)

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