Why Parents Are a Mobile Game Dev’s Best Advocates: Q+A with Nickelodeon's Alison York

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Many of today’s parents are gamers. They grew up playing video games and they want their kids to do the same — but they want to do it with them. To parents, gaming is a way to connect and learn with their kids, not a digital babysitter. So if you’re a developer trying to make an impact in the $1.9 billion kids gaming market, it’s important to think carefully about who you’re trying to impress.

We talked to Alison York, research director at TV network (and mobile game creator) Nickelodeon, about how parents influence the mobile games that kids are playing and what devs can do to win parental support.

On how much time are kids spending on games:

“Looking at Ofcom [the U.K. communications regulator], they’ve tracked time spent gaming over the last five years, and it’s now around nine hours per week, but it rises with age. By the time kids are twelve and over, it’s eleven hours per week. That’s increased by about two hours a week in the last five years. We don’t have that data split by device, but the growth of mobile has undoubtedly had an impact on attracting more casual gamers.”

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On parents playing mobile games with their kids:

“Parents are definitely gaming with their kids — it’s a family pastime now. What we found when we spoke to parents is they see it as a great way to bond with their children and bond as a family.”

On who chooses the games children are playing:

“It changes as kids grow. For younger kids it’s definitely their parents who influence the discovery of games and suggest what games to play or buy. By the time kids are eleven or twelve, Mom and Dad’s opinion really isn’t cool. It’s the playground where they go to for discovering new games. They’re often then introducing their parents and families to these games . . . Parents are particularly wary of in-app purchases, so they do monitor what goes onto devices.”

On the growing trend of children and parents gaming together:

“Because parents are so digitally literate now, we’re seeing kids gaming from a younger and younger age, partly because of parental influence and partly because of access to tablets and mobile devices. This generation of parents is definitely going to encourage mobile gaming. When we spoke to parents they told us that they actually want to see a bigger choice of family-targeted apps that they can use together, ahead of educational apps and other types of games. We think that apps are a real opportunity to tap into parents, and developers should look at this as an under-served area of the market.”

Sky Whale from Nickelodeon (image via Google Play)

Sky Whale from Nickelodeon (image via Google Play)

On the difference in what parents and kids are looking for when it comes to mobile games:

“Education always ticks the right box for parents. It just makes them feel better about the content that kids are playing. Value for money is also important for parents. For kids, their preferences change depending on their age and developmental stage and also their gender. For boys, they start with exploring and racing games and they move onto more complex sports and shooting games as they get older. That goes very much hand in hand with their development. For girls, it’s mostly puzzle games, which are really well suited to mobile and tablet.”

On marketing a mobile game to parents and kids who’ve grown up gaming:

“Parents and kids are so open to gaming now it actually makes [marketing] easier because they do have this knowledge base and there’s this desire there. But I think [the range of] devices and competency of kids make them quite a complex audience to target. As a marketer, you really need to understand those nuances.

Image via Thijs Knaap/Flickr

Image via Thijs Knaap/Flickr

Depending on the target age of the audience and the device that the game is developed for, you really need to work out the best place to reach them, which is not always the obvious place like the app store. We think the playground, TV, YouTube and social media are really important places for kids to discover games. So I think that developers really need to harness playground advocates and also online advocates to endorse the game.

We’re increasingly seeing kids go to places like YouTube and gaming sites to discover more about games. They love watching walkthroughs and going to YouTube for tips and cheats. I think [it’s important] to tap into the real gamers who discover these things first.”