CMC rebooted: VR, audience-data, hands-on play and lots of kids!

By Phil Stuart, Events, How we did it

This year’s Children’s Media Conference (CMC) brought the excitement of emerging platforms and a newfound emphasis on data and user research as inspiration and validation.

Whilst there was only one VR talk, the cinema and Hub’s corridors were buzzing about the possibilities. Dubit presented their fantastic research on VR for children, and announced their new platform for children’s VR apps: Bogglebox. A brilliant move to consolidate and curate a safe VR destination for children.

Clearly the BBC’s 2016 investment in VR content has gone some way to ‘warm-up’ the wider industry, but the question of ‘what does this do for linear storytelling’ was never far off. Perhaps this was a reflection of an industry still obsessed with making TV, and not fully embracing interactive media.  In our experience, linear storytelling can work beautifully in VR, but the immersive qualities don’t counter the limited installer base compared to more conventional (and established) methods such as TV. VR will justify the hype when it establishes new types of experiences only possible on VR, moving from traditional storytelling to interactive ‘storymaking’.

Toys also featured much more this year as the heart of the IP as well as an extension of it. The Connected Toy Story panel explored the role of physical play as a means to augment the digital experience and improve childrens’ ‘play diet’. A fantastic panel full of insight and practical experience. Lucy Gill expands on some of the toys she discussed in our blog on How to fail and succeed with digital / physical play.  It’s clear this space is a point of convergence for toys, games and education, and one that will benefit from strong collaboration across the industry. It’s exciting time to be involved.

The Playground – a space dedicated to a range of physical and digital play installations – was a much welcomed addition to this year’s conference and felt like CMC embracing play – and most importantly children – in a much more open way. Highlights for me included Robin’s Baumgarten tactile spring-controlled Wobbler, in which you chase enemies along a linear set of LEDs. Also the thoughtfulness of Chloe Meineck’s Trove designed for children to keep their memories safe. Developed with Coram, a leading-adoption agency, Trove allows children to attach stories to objects, providing continuity in their ever changing and uncertain world. Definitely the conference hit for me!

Masterclass: How to design games children want

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My Wednesday masterclass set out to answer the tricky question: How do you create games children want to play? I did a deep dive on the children’s needs and behaviours and reflected on the challenge of designing for an audience when every child is unique and constantly changing! I presented the principles we follow in the studio which engender an inclusive approach to game design as a means to engage and sustain a wide audience. It’s fantastic to be able to test out some of our thinking here – my experience of CMC has always been that it’s where conversations and future partnership discussions start.

For anyone who missed the talk, or for those that want to continue the conversation, we will be running a webinar which will explore and expand on its themes. If you want to get involved, find out more here.

Thanks CMC. Till next year.

Phil is the co-founder and Creative Director of Preloaded. A fanatical gamer and a champion for the power of games which do more than just entertain, he is responsible for the studio’s ‘Games with Purpose’ vision.

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