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Guidelines for Successful Mobile Interactive Apps for Children

No Crusts Interactive
Successful childrens game design includes childrens developmental needs, thoughtfully
created curricula, usability testing, and well-crafted narrative. The following are guidelines and
resources that are specific to developing eBooks and games for smartphones and tablets. This
information was originally shared during the GDC Smartphone and Tablet Summit on March 5,

Use iconic, consistent design. A stop sign is a stop sign.
Provide large hotspots
If possible, allow for more space under the target. Kids tend to
undershoot if theyre going to miss the target.
Make something noticeable happen on touch.
Kids often obscure parts of the interface with their fingers. Have
something larger than their finger change state on touch to help them
realize that their input was recognized.
Leave a safe-zone border around the edges. Kids often accidentally touch the
screen as they try to hold the device. If no room for a safe zone, upper corners
seem to be accidentally touched less than the lower corners.
Drag and drop is tough. Point and tap is easier. If thats not possible, try to avoid
snap-back to original place.
Multi-touch, swiping, and scrolling are all learned behaviors. It requires wide
finger span and multi-finger coordination.
Literacy and eBooks
Caregivers desired eBook activities
Listening to the story
Read along with the story
Playing games related to the story
Look for letters and words
Select words with similar sounds or rhymes
Extend the story
Tell how one story fits with another
Discuss similar stories
Create new stories
Sync audio and text with highlighting. (The karaoke effect)
Support audio with text where feasible. Audio is required for kids younger than 3rd
grade because of unreliable reading abilities
If the goal is literacy, avoid bells and whistles that are not tied to the
comprehension of the story
Model key literacy behaviors and foster a love of language

No Crusts Interactive 2012

Turning pages, how to hold a book

Be playful with letters, sounds, and words
Be careful recording letter sounds as is can be high production
costs and complications
Encourage dialogic reading and gaming
Reading does not have to be a linear process.
Take breaks to discuss and ask questions
Support conversations in stories and games where possible
Create tools for creating, editing, and sharing stories, including collaborative
Narrative and Cinematic Techniques
Preschool (2-5)
Focus on the most physically obvious features of their environment
Search for meaning but are still especially attracted to vivid production
Focus on consequences of actions (rather than motivations)
Dont understand television conventions, i.e. instant replays, dissolves,
flashbacks or dreams
Respond to:
Slower paced, gentle feeling programs
Puppets and softer characters
Limited knowledge of story sequencing
Recall isolated events rather than full plots
Retain stereotypical information (common knowledge scripts)
Early elementary (5-8)
Great recognition of essential plot
Understanding of motives improves
Usually cant make accurate moral judgments about characters
Middle Childhood (9-12)
Recall of central content increases
By age 10, almost all central plot remembered and understood like an
Describes others less in terms of external characteristics
Begins to stop watching kids programming
Developmental guidelines and gaming
Kids are very egocentric, especially before 5. They love to share what they can
do and what they create
Foster storytelling and sharing
Make apps about what the child can do
In a classroom, the teacher
grabs the students attention
creates and adjusts the task
provides encouragement and motivation

No Crusts Interactive 2012

highlights task features that are most relevant to the learning

goals and the students abilities
adjusts the task to moderate frustration
models and demonstrates the task where needed
Games have opportunities to foster these features
Thoughtfully design wrong answer feedback to guide the user
Manage leveling dynamically with artificial intelligence
Zone of Proximal Development
Pair players together based on unequal abilities. The more capable tugs
the other along, encouraging reaching the next level
Encourage social gaming, co-play, and intergenerational play.
Cooperative modes are needed
Foster communication
Require more than one person to solve
Encourage a variety of skills
Role Playing
For children, role playing builds social skills, provides an opportunity to
practice life skills, social conventions, as well as explore other peoples
perspective and feelings. It also offers opportunities to practice
Encourage role play in games by providing creative tools and modeling

No Crusts Interactive 2012