The Blog.

Communalities in popular children's apps

I spent some time writing a report – although mostly for my own needs – about the main characteristics of some of the most popular children’s game apps on the iOS market, and on the values and characteristics the most prominent companies developing apps for children seem to capitalize on. Reflecting on the topic, I noted a few popular features in children’s apps and games from the most popular publishers.

First of all, I was pleased to notice that many of the publishers focus on very neutral, inviting imagery and bold colors. The trend in the most popular apps appears to be moving away from gender stereotyping, which is a serious issue and a nuisance when purchasing “non-digital” toys. Perhaps parents who download apps for their children tend to spent more time reflecting on the choices they make, perhaps children prefer less stereotyped games than what traditional toy manufacturers appear to assume, or perhaps developers are making a conscious choice to avoid stereotyping. I don’t mean to exaggerate – stereotyping is certainly present, but among the most popular apps, less obvious than in traditional toy stores.

What I also noticed is that the characters in the most popular apps rarely appear idealized and they are easy to associate to. The protagonists of popular children’s apps were ordinary-looking characters displaying agency, and an active and positive affect. Popular game developers appeared to have an aspiration towards making genuinely educative games and merchandise, and their websites utilized creative and fun discourse. They seemed to have an innovative approach to tackling with the main issue: to design and build products that would speak to both parents and their children.

Analyzing the games from a player’s point of view, I also found a few prominent patterns. Popular children’s games contained psychomotorically very simple tasks. The idea of the game was often split into a sequence with simple problem solving mini-games, which could all be completed several time even if this was somewhat logically inconsistent (e.g. in a doctor game, the same illness could be treated several times even though the symptom indicator was gone, or in a car repair game the same part could be repaired over and over). These mini tasks were often reminiscent of some more traditional play or even simple cognitive tasks.

Developers of popular games also appeared to put a lot of effort into making a game non-violent and non-threatening. For example, in the game Toca cars from Toca Boca, the entire world is made out of cardboard elements that the child can add to the environment whenever desired. Since the entire world and the animals are made out of cardboard, the entire game, despite of the collision feature, is not violent or threatening.

Elaboration also appears of great importance. The actual tasks in the most popular games are logically extremely simple, and from an adult perspective, even boring to some extent, but the level of detail is striking. The most popular games motivate children by offering opportunities for exploration and for satisfying their curiosity.