Inspiring Creativity: The Development of Night Zookeeper

This is a guest post by Josh Davidson, founder and MD at Night Zookeeper. Their game,  Night Zookeeper is a new online game that looks to inspire children to create, whilst being a free game with no advertising.

Night Zookeeper is a story about a young zookeeper exploring a strange Night Zoo and encountering magical animals. Eventually, the zookeeper must battle the evil Lord of Nulth, who has declared war on imagination. Children unlock pages of this story with their own creative illustrations and parents can reward them via email as they go. Night Zookeeper was developed with consultancy from Dubit.

In developing the game we drew inspiration from our in-school user testing with approximately 10,000 children, refining a series of prompts to get them excited and flexing their creative muscles. On top of this an additional 25,000 children in the UK, Canada, USA, Japan and South Africa have given feedback on the game after playing it.

Alongside the website, Night Zookeeper sends parents weekly, curriculum linked educational activities that children can complete away from their computer screens. Kids also receive stickers, a poster and a t-shirt in the post for a monthly subscription of £5 (US$7.99).

I’d like to use this post to talk you through three key parts of the game’s development: how we decided on the correct business model, how and why to implement parental sharing and how to inspire creativity.
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Kids Tell us why They Love Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Last time we looked some of the reasons why Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has become one of the biggest mobile games of the year, with annual earnings expected to reach $200m. Now we’re going to let the kids tell us what they think. We spoke with four Kim Kardashian: Hollywood fans to ask them what got them playing the game, what they thought about it and whether they’ve spent any real money on it.

The kids are Melaine and Amy, both 16 and from England, Remington (Remy), who’s 13 and from America, and Lena who is 15 and lives in Norway. All the girls had been playing the game for between three and four weeks.

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How the Kim Kardashian Game Will Make $200m!

How does a game starring Kim Kardashian, one that many journalists are laughing at, stand to generate $200m by the end of the year? We wanted to find out, so we spent a couple of hours playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, meaning you don’t have to. But we’ve not been doing it alone. We’ve also been speaking with four teenagers about their experiences with the game to find out what they love, what they hate and how they found out about it in the first place.

First let’s put these numbers into perspective. Of the $200m Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is expected to gross, the Kanye-marrying socialite is to take home $90m! When you consider that as of June this year her estimated net worth was estimated to be $45m it’s clear that Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is big business, even for someone who spent $150,000 on hair and makeup for her wedding.

Kim isn’t known for her coding skills but according to the Wall St Journal she has been, and still is, heavily involved in the game’s development. Between them Kim and Glu Mobile (the developer) have managed to create one of the biggest mobile gaming success stories of the year. We wanted to know how they turned all those players into payers!

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The Hubris of Youth: What Ofcom’s Report Really Says About Young People and Digital Media

The Ofcom Communications Market Report caused a stir earlier this month. The Guardian, a British broadsheet, stated that “six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults.” This isn’t entirely true, it reminds of the quote (wrongly) attributed to Mark Twain:

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

I imagine a similar picture plays out across the country today: children wonder why their parents don’t understand Minecraft, why they don’t watch ‘TV’ on YouTube, and why they still send SMS and email!

It’s easy to see how The Guardian reached their conclusion, Ofcom said: “six year olds claim to have the same understanding of communications technology as 45 year olds.” But even this is deceptive. The children weren’t asked if they were more or less tech-savvy than a 45 year old, what they, and all the respondents, did was complete a survey to obtain a ‘Digital Quotient’ score. This wasn’t so much a test, but a series of questions asking respondents how confident they felt about the use of technology. It’s almost like the question was setup to spot misplaced hubris!
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How Young Early Adopters Share new Entertainment

At this year’s Children’s Media Conference we presented new research that examined how young people find a share new entertainment, whether that’s a new TV show, vine, movie, or a song on Spotify.

The aim of the research is to help IP owners identify their early adopters (who they are and what they do) and to be able to optimise their launch strategy with early adopters in mind.

The work draws upon a number of studies involving quantitative and qualitative research, carried out by Dubit and Sherbert with over 5,000 adults and children in the UK the US.

You can view the presentation below.
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The Ten Best Casual Gaming Articles of 2014 – Part 1

So far this year readers of our TWICG (This Week in Casual Games) newsletter have wanted to find out more about Flappy Bird, how to retain users, and make more money from those playing their games. We know this because we’ve been looking at which stories have been clicked the most so we can put the ten most popular into this blog post. Other stories that caught our readers’ attention looked at Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and nearer the end of the year our virtual reality.

If you haven’t signed-up for TWICG yet, click here and get the week’s most insightful casual game articles sent to your inbox in one handy weekly email.

For now, here are the ten stories that our readers have clicked on more than any other over the past six months.

How Flappy Bird Became an Overnight Success

At the start of 2014 Flappy Bird became the biggest game on the app stores, had a mysterious and elusive developer and took over the Dubit office. Most interesting of all, nobody saw it coming! So how did such a simple game, from a developer nobody had heard of before, make it to the top of the charts? Techcrunch spoke to the game’s creator to find out. As well as reading the article also check out the comments section for other possible explanations.
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Researching Oculus Rift with Kids: What they Really Think of Virtual Reality

Whenever we have guests in the studio they have to play with our Oculus Rift headset. While it’s fun to see grown-ups go a bit silly what we really want to know is what kids think of virtual reality. So along with our friends at KZero we conducted six research groups with 12 children aged between seven and 12 years-of-age. We gave them the opportunity to play with the headset, which was a first for all of them, and then we found out what they thought about. We got insight into it’s usability, where kids could see it being used and even how much they thought it would cost!

The good news is that kids loved it! They loved it so much they think it would be great in schools and expected it to cost more than £400.

A hit with Kids
The overarching message from our sessions is that children love using Oculus Rift and felt immersed in the games in ways they’ve never felt before! Comments along the lines of it being the best way to play games were common. Oculus VR may not see children as their core market but there’s no doubting the device’s potential popularity with kids. We were glad to see that none of the children in our groups felt dizzy or ill after using the headset; the only usability issues occurred when the children had to move their heads to look down and found the headset heavy. A couple of the younger children also reported fitting issues with the head-straps. With lighter headsets on the way (we used the first development kit version) we don’t see Oculus Rift causing many usability issues for young wearers.
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7 Tips for Creating Virtual Reality Worlds for Oculus Rift

We love our Oculus Rift! Six years ago, going from a Blackberry to the first iPhone was an incredible leap forward, today going from a screen to the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset feels just as important. Where iPhone was a huge jump forward, a user experience stepchange that ushered in the modern cellphone market, the Oculus Rift is doing the same for user immersion. There is no experience that’s more immersive. I believe going from a screen to virtual reality is the next big leap forward, and a huge wave of apps, games, and new experiences are going to follow. Others think so too, Facebook payed $2bn for Oculus VR in March, Sony announced Project Morpheus at GDC, and Chuck E. Cheese are adding virtual reality to their restaurants.

I’m not normally a fanboy. I didn’t believe the early hype, I’d dismissed it as just another 3D TV gimmick. But when our Oculus Rift dev kit arrived in January the guys in the studio twisted my arm. I was convinced immediately.

Since January we’ve jumped into VR with both feet:

- Dubit’s research team are studying children’s reactions to virtual reality. The report will be published soon in partnership with Sheffield University.
- We’ve launched the biggest portal for virtual reality games, WeArVR
- Developed a VR world called Fairy Forest.

I’ll be blogging more about virtual reality in the coming weeks (and sharing our VR report). In this first VR post I’m going to share the lessons we learned developing our first VR world, Fairy Forest.

To checkout Fairy Forest you can download the game from or if you have not got a Oculus Rift headset there’s a YouTube video.

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The DNA of Candy Crush Saga and Other Successful Match-3 Games

This is the first in a series of posts analysing the most popular games genres. We’re starting with match-3, a genre dominated by Candy Crush Saga (CCS). But CCS isn’t the only match-3 game out there, it wasn’t the first and it certainly isn’t the last. So we wanted to know what makes it different and at the same time find out if it’s right that every match-3 game since has been described as a Candy Crush clone.

narrativeExcept for Bejewelled Blitz all the games featured a map and characters – possible foundations for narrative. Despite this we’re yet to find anyone who could tell us what the story is in Candy Crush, even with all those animated cuts scenes. Of course, puzzle games don’t need a story, Tetris is the most successful puzzle game of all time and there was no narrative there whatsoever. However, considering the investment made in designing characters in these games, could a lack of story be detrimental to licensing opportunities? Angry Birds is the poster child of mobile game licensing, helped by the basic, but still evident, narrative of birds having to destroy pigs. More recently Angry Birds Toons have helped to tell proper stories with the Angry Birds characters. The game had a great mechanic and would have succeeded without a story, but the story has helped the game connect with children and it’s that which has helped Angry Birds monetize outside of the app.
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The ten Best Casual Gaming Presentations from GDC 2014

The team at GDC have uploaded hundreds of talks and slides from this year’s event. No-one has time to watch them all, so we’ve picked out the ten we found most interesting. The presentations cover topics including, how to use YouTube to market your game, how to attract Whales, narrative testing techniques, and lessons learned from Jelly Splash.

Using YouTube to Market Your Indie Game

Video game commentators on YouTube and streaming services like are becoming some of the most influential personalities in gaming – especially for kids! This talk from professional YouTuber Ryan Letourneau (“Northernlion”) teaches how to easily find and contact these content creators, and communicate with them as effectively (and efficiently) as possible to hopefully persuade them to cover your game.

Jelly Splash: Puzzling Your Way to the Top of the App Store

The match-3 puzzle genre is almost as old as it gets. Scour the App Store and you’ll find hundreds of different varieties out there. Very few of these succeed however, and even less manage to hit the number one spot on the U.S App Store top download chart. Wooga’s Jelly Splash managed to do just that, and in this session Florian Steinhoff, the creator of Jelly Splash, details how his team managed it and what they learned throughout the development process.

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