Interview

Kuato Studios on learnifying gaming and not gamifying learning

Kuato Studios on learnifying gaming and not gamifying learning

With children interacting with media through phones and tablets from an increasingly young age, the market for kids' mobile games is a sizeable one.

However, making children your target audience also throws up a number of unique challenges.

London-based Kuato Studios has been willing to take these on, flipping the so-called 'gamification' of education on its head with an approach it calls the 'Learnification of Gaming.'

To learn more about this, latest launch Noddy Toyland Detective and the responsibility of making games for kids, PocketGamer.biz reached out to Kuato Studios Creative Director Kris Turvey.

PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little about Kuato Studios and what you do.

Kris Turvey: Kuato Studios is a games studio specialising in mobile games for children.

The team at Kuato is comprised of talent from world-renowned games studios, award-winning education experts and specialists in artificial intelligence.

Since the company formed in 2012, the studio has created a number of mobile games for children. Some of the notable games created include:

  • Code Warriors, a coding game for 9-14 year olds
  • Dino Tales and Safari Tales, which focus on literacy skills for 4-10 year olds
  • And most recently, Noddy Toyland Detective.

I’m the creative director of Kuato Studios and I’m responsible for the creative direction of all our games, which covers gameplay, graphical style, narrative, audio effects, music and cinematics.

What is 'Learnification', and how do you implement it in your games?

That’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek term, but essentially the traditional approach to making ‘educational’ games is to start with a subject - let’s say maths - and then try to ‘gamify’ it.

Gamification rarely leads to a game that's actually fun to play.
Kris Turvey

This rarely leads to a game that’s actually fun to play.

We believe it is much better to work the other way around: start with a good game, which is by definition a fun, compelling learning environment, and then seed it with subject matter or skills.

The kids' mobile game sector has always been one that has its own challenges and opportunities, existing almost completely distinct from the rest of mobile gaming. How do you reflect on this?

One key challenge is listening to and mitigating key parental concerns such as screen time, content and in-app purchases.

We’ve tried to address this by connecting the parent or guardian back into the child’s experience.

For example, our Tales series of games generate a storybook from the kids play session, and then the parent will receive an email notification so that they can read it together.

Equally, we give parents controls over other key areas like session length or reading comprehension level.

In terms of opportunities, the fact that a lot of children now have access to powerful mobile devices is clearly an enormous opportunity for new and rich learning experiences, and we’re striving to create products that provide this.

From premium, to capped freemium, to the subscription model that is becoming increasingly popular - what do you believe is the most effective (and ethical) way to monetise kids' mobile games?

To the ethical part of the question - parents want to be able to buy a quality product for their child and know that they will not be getting hit later with further charges, particularly if that spending is on consumables or paying to progress in the game.

We’ve traditionally gone with premium and the trust that comes with that is important to us.
Kris Turvey

As such, we’ve traditionally gone with the premium model and the trust that comes with that is something that is very important to us.

Other models, such as subscriptions or purchases for quality additional content, are also valid approaches and this is an area we are constantly reviewing and evolving ourselves.

Do you think mobile and tablets are the primary entertainment platform for kids today? If so, what will this mean for the future?

It is certainly moving towards that, and there is a definite shift towards interactive storytelling.

It’s a really exciting time to be in mobile entertainment and learning for children because so much is changing and there is so much possibility.

Storytelling with children has always been an important part of teaching children and now, thanks to technology, we can encourage children to interact directly with the stories and use their own creative skills to problem solve and engage.

Recognisable IP is becoming increasingly important for mobile game UA. Is the same true of the kids' sector?

It’s very important.

We’ve actually had a lot of success with our own internal IP like Dino Tales and Safari Tales and topped the charts with both of these, but we’re more an exception in that regard.

In general, the kids sector is dominated by well-known IP.

Noddy Toyland Detective

Having built our credentials with our own brands, it’s great that we are increasingly being able to bring these skills to bear on some major external ones, starting with Noddy Toyland Detective and a range of exciting new partners currently in development.

Your most recent launch is Noddy Toyland Detective. How did you secure that iconic brand and how important is it to your strategy going forward?

We worked very closely with the team at DreamWorks Animation on bringing the Noddy Toyland Detective show to mobile and it’s been an amazing experience for us.

The success of Noddy Toyland Detective has already opened a lot of doors in terms of exciting new partners.
Kris Turvey

Noddy is a beloved character for children around the world and it was an honour to be entrusted with him! We hope Noddy (and of course Revs and Bumpy!) will be very important for Kuato.

The success of the game has already opened a lot of doors in terms of exciting new partners.

Do you feel kids' mobile game developers have a greater responsibility to their audience than those with an older target demographic? If so, is there anything in the sector that you'd like to see change in this regard?

It’s important to note the amount of influence and responsibility that games developers have, and the trust they need to build with families.

This responsibility includes the content of the game, and extends to the pricing and payment options available.

What can we expect to see from Kuato Studios in the coming months?

It’s a really exciting and busy time here at Kuato! We’re working with a range of external partners on some huge IPs, with some new releases just round the corner.

We’re continuing to do work in schools and with teachers to help both inspire new generations of coders and creatives and to better our own understanding of how children learn and play.

And finally, we have a lot of new tech in development including some really exciting VR things that we can’t wait to share with the world.

It’s a busy time - keep an eye on our website for all our new announcements!

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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