Putting the fun back in children's games

Putting the fun back in children's games
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

December 10th 2010 at 2:00PM

Plug-in Media shares what it takes to make a BAFTA award-winning children's game

Children’s games are often taken for granted as half-baked licensed titles that are made with minimal effort for maximum return.

That view couldn’t be further from the truth for award-winning digital production agency, Plug-in Media.

In a week that has seen the BBC’s Panorama ridicule games as dangerously addictive, it should not be forgotten that games are excellent educational tools that many schools, and the BBC itself, are utilising.

The Brighton-based digital producers have won the Children’s BAFTA for best use of interactivity in two consecutive years. This year’s winner, The Big Coconut Adventure is a web game created for CBeebies show ZingZillas. It teaches children about music through four different areas that help to appropriate sounds with instruments and animals, culminating in a band jam that can detect their movements via webcam.

To find out what it takes to make an award-winning children’s game, we contacted Plug-in’s production director Juliet Tzabar and creative director Dominic Minns.

“Here at Plug-in we’ve got over 10 years experience at creating children’s games and websites and it’s a really exciting sector of the market to be working in. Kids are well ahead the rest of us when it comes to this kind of stuff - so producing content for them is a great opportunity to really let your imagination run riot,” says Tzabar.

Privacy and safety are important concerns for web games aimed at children. Plug-in’s clients include the BBC and Boomerang owner Turner Broadcasting. Tzabar says, because of the kinds of experiences they are creating, these broadcasters are not as strict as you might expect.

“There are some brilliant examples of companies who are producing wonderfully moderated and safe social online environments for young kids, such as Moshi Monsters or Club Penguin. Our work tends to be focused on delivering entertainment rather than creating an online community so safety is less of an issue.

“With projects such as ZingZillas and Big and Small, which are intended for pre-schoolers, we’re often creating content for a dual audience where parent and child are online together.”

And playing together is something their titles modestly encourage, as they experiment with technology from 3D Flash to augmented reality. This willingness to use new technology to enhance the game experience for players has impressed their clients. Plug-in have enjoyed a healthy relationship with the BBC so far and produced over five games for the broadcaster.

“Our relationship goes back a long way, in one guise or another. We first worked with BBC Children’s Interactive back in 2001 making a website for a show called Xchange, which gave kids ideas of things to do in the school holidays. They moved on to creating the games for the groundbreaking multi-platform TV show Smile. The games all starred Nev the Bear (now a star in his own right) and both played both on the web but were also TV content in their own right as they were played live on air.

“However, for every project we deliver to the BBC we’ll have gone through a pretty hardcore pitching process to win the work in the first place.”

Plug-in Media have achieved lots for a relatively young company. They’re award-winning web titles are testament to the fact that games do have positive benefits. And Minns concludes that this is just the beginning for this up-and-coming agency.

“We are fantastically happy with the way Plug-in Media is going and so proud of the work we’ve produced. We want to continue doing what we’re doing because we love it. However, in the future we’ll also be putting our experience and expertise of the kids sector onto new platforms, into new markets, and using it to help develop some original IP for Plug-in.”