Instructions Not Included
October 3, 2013 - Patrick Seda
The Mr. Edison game does NOT come with instructions. Your child will not be shown how to enter the app, nor will they be shown how to operate the navigation, and they won't be shown how to play any of the games.
We want kids to enjoy our app, but we don't want them to get bored by sitting through instructions. People naturally want to be able to use an app in the least amount of time possible. In fact, the Apple iOS Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) documentation instructs "make usage easy and obvious". So I kind of lied earlier when I said users won't be shown how to use this app, you WILL be shown ... but you just won't know it.
Mr. Edison's splash screen contains only a single control, a button resting in a slot with an illuminated arrow pointing sideways. That's it ... that's the instruction manual for the app! Even the youngest of preschool children understand how to operate this; slide the button from one end of the slot to the other in the direction of the arrow. This simple action alone solidifies the concept that any buttons that look like this should be slid in the direction of the arrow in order to produce an action.
But this swiping action of the button also foreshadows that all interaction with this app will be done with a similar gesture. There is no tapping of buttons or images to play these games, only swiping and dragging. This type of interaction is done on purpose to address the motor skills of our target children whom may very well have trouble with small area taps.
When playing any of the games for the first time, it's possible your child won't know what to do at first. For these situations subtle hints are provided so the child can easily move forward and feel like they figured out how it works on their own.
Most app designers understand that they should get users up and running as quickly as possible and should minimize instructions, yet often fail to do this very well. The Mr. Edison app is written to make sure your child will enjoy it from the moment they open it and not have to look through text instructions or confusing pictures.
Too Hard? Too Easy? Finding a Happy Medium.
July 12, 2013 - Patrick Seda
Early on in the planning of a children's educational game you must determine the proper difficulty for your target kids. When the group is Kindergarten-aged, you are faced with an interesting problem. Some children come out of preschool already knowing how to read and write, yet others can barely spell their own name or have generally poor alphanumeric skills.
Our approach to addressing this issue was to first acknowledge that there is a rather wide distribution of existing skills amongst new Kindergarten students. Secondly, we had to recognize that although the mean of their skills will (of course) shift higher over the course of the school year, the spread (or standard deviation) may not compress much, and thus their skill variation will still have a rather wide distribution.
In order to make the Mr. Edison game appropriate for our targeted age group, we chose to define the difficulty boundaries as starting with a typical incoming Kindergarten student on the low end, while the high end would be the typical student on their last day of the school year. That way, the app may be a little too difficult at the beginning of the year for an average student, but will end up very comfortable for them by the end of the year.
But since the tails of this distribution will necessarily overlap into preschool and post-Kindergarten, we decided to include games on both ends which will appeal to these kids as well. For a lower difficulty game we added the "People Builder" which really doesn't require any skills other than focused observation. For a higher difficulty game we added the "Robot" math game where the sum and addends of an equation are visually reversed. The math problem itself is not hard, but seeing it presented this way is likely to stir up a little confusion at first!
By approaching the game's difficulty in this manner, we have been able to make the Mr. Edison game both too hard and too easy at the same time. The students will find that the game fits them pretty well all throughout their Kindergarten school year.
Pacing: Creating a Comfortable Personality
July 5, 2013 - Patrick Seda
As responsible adults we try to be aware of, and monitor the types of entertainment our children are being exposed to. The selection is vast and the effort can be difficult. Some of the media choices making this so difficult include television, music, online videos, and one of today's most prominent players, mobile gaming. Expectedly, we don't always agree with the choices kids try to make for themselves. We may have basic moral issues with the material, the language may push the edge of appropriateness, and sometimes the frantic pace and violence is a little too much for our comfort.
As educational app developers, we have to be aware of this at all times. Considering that Mr. Edison is a Kindergarten-aged education app, we had no worries about getting the morality and language correct. So in this case, the pacing became a critical focal point. Think of pacing as a kind of "personality" that flows throughout the game. A frantic pace gives the game increased energy, while slow and easy will project a peaceful personality.
In order to give Mr. Edison the perfect pace, we relied on extensive testing and tuning. We had a rough idea of the overall pace we wanted, so the app was initially configured with those settings. Next we had some (adult) testers play the app for a while, long enough so they became slightly numb from the repetition of the easy problems. At this point we instructed them to pay attention to the pacing of anything that moved; i.e. the celebrations, the picker wheels, the falling stars, and even the drifting balloons. If anything seemed inconsistent relative to the others, the timings were adjusted and tested again.
Giving such intentional focus to pacing has allowed us to create a calm, consistent, and peaceful personality for the Mr. Edison game. By keeping a firm throttle on the pacing, we have been able to provide a great balance between problem solving and anticipation. And with this balance, we see increased engagement durations.
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