Last Thursday my very first app launched: Dino Dog – A Digging Adventure With Dinosaurs. I love that so many years into my career I am still finding whole new experiences and this was absolutely nothing like sending a television show out there into the wild. Here’s roughly how it went…
Is the app actually going to be released tomorrow? Really? No, something will go wrong.
Hang on, apps release on a Thursday but it’s Thursday in New Zealand right now. I message my good friend Simon in NZ – “Hey, check your store for Dino Dog!” No reply.
Wake up groggy. Check messages. He replied – it is there! Back to sleep…
Check local app store. There it is. It shows up in a search. Is it featured? No. Oh but the internet tells me that Apple only change their featured apps much later that day.
Must tweet app. Must tweet app. Must tweet app. The publisher StoryToys have not tweeted app yet. Why not? I won’t tweet until they do in case it’s a breach of app launch etiquette.
Why aren’t they tweeting the app? Is there something wrong with it? OMG, do they hate it?! Hey, they just tweeted it! TWEET, TWEET, TWEET!
StoryToys’ Chief Product Officer Emmet O’Neill gives me one piece of advice for psychological well-being: don’t obsessively flip the decks in the App Store to see if it has been featured.
Obsessively flipping decks in the App Store to see if it has been featured.
Overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. I’ve only tweeted about it 576 times so far. Shouldn’t I be phoning people up and getting them to mention the app on their websites? Shall I call in to my neighbours to tell them about it? Should I get a t-shirt made up and just go out and wear it? Surely there must be more I can do? Will I phone Apple? I’ll phone Apple. Anyone have Tim Cook’s number?
Dino Dog is featured in the Kids section of the Irish and UK App Store! A big banner and right up there in the listing order in Best New Apps & Games. Wow. It almost looks like a real app.
Obsessively flipping decks in the App Stores around the world to see if it has been featured. Featured heavily in the German store and some others. The artwork looks really good. Someone might actually be tempted to give the app a go if this continues.
Taking a short break from obsessively flipping decks in the App Stores, I get a mail from Gavin from StoryToys who has been very busy obsessively flipping decks in the App Stores. Dino Dog is featured on the home page of the US App Store, getting the first slot in their Kids Apps & Games section. At this point, Dino Dog appears to have been featured in most of the App Stores around the world. People at Apple actually like it. I am filled with a sense of calm. I can stop flipping the decks now. It is done. Over.
Obsessively checking the App Store charts.
And that, it seems, is how an app is launched. The big thing throughout the day was this feeling of helplessness, that I should be able to do more. I’m not great at just waiting around to see what happens. I need to be doing. But at this point the hard work StoryToys had done would mean that the app would be given a chance by the right people and, from there, the app would have to speak for itself.
Since then, the app got a great write-up on Apps Playground, was in iLounge’s Apps of the Week and also featured in The Guardian’s Apps of the Week as well as some other lovely reviews and write-ups. Just as important, the feedback from friends (parents and otherwise) has been fantastic. It appears all those lofty goals for Dino Dog that seemed so out of reach at various points in the production had all been reached. One tweet even said the app “just raised the bar on quality”. Could that really be our little app?
And that is one huge difference between apps and television right there. You can work for years on a television show and then you send it into a void. Sure, millions of kids see it but the direct feedback is slow, sometimes non-existent. Not many people review preschool TV shows. It’s just the odd surprise email from parents months later. But this was intense by comparison. Very rewarding in this case but could just as easily have been devastating had the feedback been negative or the app just hadn’t been noticed at all. It is a tough space, no doubt. But I won’t dwell on that. For now, I’m just enjoying this launch.
Thanks to the Dino Dog team, StoryToys and all involved, especially Emmet O’Neill in StoryToys who was instrumental in making it happen and making it a better app than it ever would have been without him, Ciara Moore who worked so hard on it, Giant Animation who brought their dedication to quality and everyone who worked on, tested and advised on the app and those people behind the scenes on contracts etc. who often get missed. But also thanks to everyone who supported us – Meabh (who did some casting and voice direction on the app), friends and family and my old colleagues in Geronimo Productions whose enthusiasm and support keeps me going more than they’ll know.
If your kids have played the app, I do hope they have enjoyed it! If not, it’s HERE so what are you waiting for?
Space or dinosaurs? Space or dinosaurs? Two of the most fun things for kids. I had tackled space before (and likely will again!) so I felt it was time to bring some awesome dinosaur-themed fun to kids and what better way than bringing together a good story, funny characters and games and activities so children can take part in the adventure themselves?
So I teamed up with top app publisher Storytoys, who specialise in merging narrative with interactivity for kids, to bring Doug the Dog (Greatest Adventurer Ever, according to him) and Bonnie the Adventurous Little Bear to life. These two intrepid explorers began their quest to travel the world, dig for fossils and assemble amazing dinosaurs.
At its core, Dino Dog is a fun digging game in which kids guide Doug deep underground in search of bones, breaking through soil and hard rocks while enjoying air vents, crossing hot lava (Hot! Hot! Hot!), moving boulders and so much more. Look out for Dig Claws which will help Doug dig extra fast.
When kids have found enough fossil pieces, they get to break open the rocks to see what bones they have discovered – it’s like unwrapping a present. Then it’s time to clean the bones and assemble the dinosaur. So each dinosaur is a new surprise and each one is amazing. Back at the Museum, kids can learn about their dinosaurs and hopefully this introduction could spark a whole new interest or feed an already-existing one.
It’s all wrapped up in a funny cartoon story that takes Bonnie and Doug around the world facing daring challenges such as: putting up a tent, choosing an ice-cream flavour and finding Doug’s mysterious Great Uncle Grit. The stuff of legends!
The app is brimming with content with lovely animation (gorgeous work from Giant Animation) and great sounds and just a lot of fun. StoryToys have a video here so you can check it out.
So when will Dino Dog be coming out? It’s out right now for iOS! Click this link to take you to iTunes HERE or search your Apple App Store for Dino Dog. It will also be out on Android devices in the not to distant future so keep an eye out. If you like it, spread the word!
This time next week, I’ll be at the Children’s Media Conference. One of the things I love about the CMC is the wide scope of the M: media. It is not the Children’s TV Conference, App Conference or Book Conference. It is a place where people delivering good content to children in any form can come together in a relaxed setting and just learn from each other.
A couple of years back, I posted about a CMC talk from Ian Livingstone on gaming. It got me thinking about my views on narrative and just how that works for children. I come from a television background and, personally, I love narrative. I love telling stories and children love hearing, watching or experiencing stories. But it is not the be all and end all of children’s content. Not by a long shot.
Toca Boca, Sago Sago and more show that you can give children a toy and let them construct their own narrative through play. Any experience can be a narrative. A town built in Minecraft may carry a fictional narrative in the head of the builder or it can simply be that the trials of building that town is a narrative in itself, with its own challenges, failures and successes. This isn’t new. Lego of old didn’t come with a backstory. A Fisher Price garage didn’t need an accompanying comic to make clear who the characters were.
When it comes to imagination, kids simply don’t need our help.
But they still love a good story, which opens the door to merging these approaches: narrative-driven interactive content. We have been making faux-interactive entertainment for many decades in children’s television and the next natural step is of course genuine interactivity. A child still experiencing a story, a constructed narrative, but being part of it through the characters or getting to take part in activities or games. As both a content creator and as someone who just loves gaming, I find this mix incredibly inspiring. And now I have something fun in the works that will be revealed very soon – a partnership with leading children’s app publisher Storytoys, who have made the merging of storytelling and interactivity their specialty. More on that another time but, for now, Storytoys have released this teaser image:
So this year, I attend the CMC with the buzz of some exciting Mooshku projects, as script editor on wonderful TV shows, this new dino-filled collaboration coming soon and, most importantly, with a far wider picture of the M across all of that. And this is what I love about what we can do for kids. We can sit them down and tell them a story or we can throw them some blocks and see what they come up with themselves. Or we can do anything in between. If you’re attending this year, I hope you pick up some fascinating insight and maybe I’ll see you there.
So we’re all about Facebook these days. Twitter. Google+, anyone using that? They all eat up a lot of time but they’re fun and, at times, really useful. The speed at which news travels over Twitter is astounding and it’s not just that we’re there as readers – we’re participants. We’re involved. We add our views, they get retweeted and now we’re part of a growing story.
It’s audience participation.
In fact, it’s more. Because in many cases, the audience IS the content.
While much of this is relatively new, audience participation certainly isn’t new to entertainment. I’m a big games fan, for example. I remember many years ago watching a whole bunch of dull horror films in a row and thinking, these wouldn’t scare anyone. Then I played Silent Hill on the Playstation and it terrified me. I actually had to play it in short bursts because it creeped me out so much. And the reason? I was in control. I was the one leading that character through those hideous places. I made the decision to turn that corner.
Interactivity changes the entire experience. It is real personal involvement and very powerful.
And I liked that even back in the Pac-Man days. We’ve come a long way since then. It’s now not just games, it’s games with friends all being part of the experience. And now, with Facebook, Twitter and so on, it’s like life is this big interactive game.
It’s all about the audience participation.
The passive experience for me, like with those old horror films put against Silent Hill, often has a hard time comparing.
Applying that to children and, with Blue’s Clues and Dora, interactivity has became the standard across a lot of children’s television. It’s not real of course. It’s faux-interactivity but it does the job well enough that children can feel a part of it. Going back further to when I was a child in the ’70s, Playschool on BBC spoke directly to me and I was a part of that. Sesame Street too. And you only have to look at the tradition of pantomime and how much children enjoy that to see the power of audience participation has for kids. Like I wrote in a previous post, good children’s entertainment is not one-way communication. It is a conversation.
And now we create websites and apps that offer genuine interaction. Not the fake stuff. And while there are many questions that comes with that, it seems to me like such a natural step.
The current generation of children are being brought up with faux-interactivity all over their television screens and genuine interactivity on every other screen. From birth. They are connected to media, stories and each other in ways we never were. This is standard.
And I wonder, in fifteen or twenty years time, will those children be satisfied with passive media? A TV show that doesn’t talk back? A movie with a character you don’t control? When everything can be a pantomime with you as one of the stars, what place is there for just sitting down and watching or listening to a story?
I found the Children’s Media Conference took me back to my roots in some ways. An event like that always helps to inspire and remind me why I love to make children’s content but this went even further back. In a talk on gaming with Ian Livingstone, I suddenly remembered creating Fighting Fantasy-style adventure games in BASIC on old Apple computers. Games programming. From there, my life could have gone in a very different direction and a career in the games industry would actually have been a very natural move. With content now merging/diverging/transmediaing and so on, perhaps I’ll end up in that direction eventually.
With all the talk of apps, many more traditional TV folk were thinking about how they might fit in, I guess hoping they don’t get left behind. And one of the things I heard said over and over was this: it’s all about narrative. The story. TV, books, games, apps – it all comes down to narrative so the same thinking and the same skills apply.
In Ian Livingstone’s talk, he had a slide. On the top was written ‘Gameplay, Gameplay, Gameplay’ and underneath that was an image of Pong.
Hmmm… narrative? No. In Pong, narrative didn’t apply. Nor in Pac-Man. Even now, does the narrative really make a contribution to Angry Birds? Tiny Wings? When we’re talking games, it’s usually about gameplay. Sure, narrative can be woven in beautifully and contribute – many heavy hitter games have a very strong narrative. Others succeed in spite of incredibly weak narratives. In many games with barely a written narrative to be found, the playing of the game often creates its own narrative – for example, in multiplayer games it is the gameplay coupled with the experiences of real people that leaves players with their own stories to tell. That’s something that needs to be allowed for by the developers, even nurtured, yet not really something that can be imposed upon the player.
So when it comes to games, it really doesn’t always come down to narrative in the same way it might in a cartoon (and even that’s something I would question).
That is just for games of course. Every app is different and every app has different strengths, weaknesses and needs. But the one thing I can be certain of is that a TV show is not an app. They aren’t the same and the same rules or skills do not apply directly, even if sometimes the strengths in one medium may compliment the other.
Narrative in a traditional sense, as it happens, is often entirely optional.
I imagine when creating an app, or really anything else, the important thing is to find that which is not optional and then you have your focus. In gaming, that’s gameplay. Your answers may vary.