Welcome back, fellow Sandbox Summit Alum! I know you’ve spoken at the event before regarding your work on Animal Jam. Can you share a bit about your history with MIT’s Sandbox Summit, and your previous experience?
Sandbox summit is a great forum of Creative Professionals from the Kids’ Entertainment and EdTech worlds. This is one of the more inspiring conferences I attend – all of the attendees are so invested in making high-quality content for children and families. You really get to engage with high integrity folks at this show.
Following the conference on Twitter was great (#Sandbox2015) — and it seems to have really blossomed this year! Can you share any high-level insights on the conference overall from last year to this year?
I think everyone has completely embraced the APP world at this point – that seemed to be the biggest platform of discussion. It was more about how we can leverage this medium for more engagement, fun, learning, play, etc. The Maker movement was another theme that recurred – robotics, circuitry and other tinkering sorts of activities were prevalent in many of the demos.
I LOVE the theme this year — ‘Imagining a Playful Society.’ There seemed to be a stronger app/game approach to the conference. What interesting products or speakers did you see that support the approach of using games to inspire play?
“Play” was a great way to engage the audience of the conference. There were a couple audience participation moments – a room full of execs playing patty-cake, and a full-room dance party were definitely both memorable moments. There were also some thoughtful conversations around AR/VR and if/how/should they fit into gameplay. Also – if you haven’t checked out Caine’s Arcade yet – click NOW and watch this.
There were a few big content themes this year: Education (as always), Health, and Digital Usage. Please share a bit about how you saw these areas fit with the overall “Imagining a Playful society” theme?
Education is always a big theme at Sandbox, but expressing how FUN and PLAY could fit in is important. When are games right in the classroom, how to incorporate into curriculum and how to measure efficacy were all topics of discussion.
Google Play Store did a great presentation discussing the tools and resources they have for app developers. We (the community and social media folks) love the Play Store’s ability to respond to your app customers reviews – as it gives you a chance to thank them for your feedback or let them know you heard their issues and are working on them.
In the mass market, we don’t always see the huge success rates with educational tech as we do with licensed entertainment products. What was the conversation like around educational tech this year?
Seeing as these are the people who make and market those types of games – it was a positive conversation. That said, they are a practical and critical bunch. They do not accept the status quo, but rather keep wanting to push the industry forward. Many of them have come from the entertainment arena and have migrated to the educational tech space, so that spirit of fun/entertainment drives them as much as the learning.
For the parents and teachers who could not attend – what do you think is important to knowledge to share from the Summit? Do you have any concerns that blossomed from the Summit for teachers? Parents?
PlayScience released their new report regarding how parents show gender bias toward their child’s tech use. It’s definitely worth a read for both parents and teachers as they raise kids with the growing advancements and opportunities of digital products and technology.
Also, I saw a very cool app/device management program from Intel called K-12 Blueprint, that should be especially helpful in those school districts utilizing the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model. It’s a program that can benefit many types of districts, including low-income.
Is there anything else you’d love to share with us about the Summit?
Just a shot out to one of the sponsors DonorsChoose.org. It’s a great site that I have been donating through for a while. It allows teachers and schools to set up Kickstarter-style campaigns for crowdfunding. The organization generously gave each attendee a $50 gift-card to help us start funding our favorite projects. I already have my eye on a couple great opportunities for my step-kids’ school.
That’s right – after over 4 years helping build and manage over 20 million worldwide players on National Geographic Animal Jam, I have switched to another organization. I am proud to be leaving on fantastic terms with the Animal Jam team – I’m actually working for one of their vendors now – Metaverse ModSquad.
Truth is, I was ready to become a multiple-brands-at-a-time gal (sounds so risqué!). I wanted to use the skills I have developed over my long career in customer service and online strategy to help as many other brands (and to that effect, people) as I was able. I am super proud of the time I have spent as a one-brand-at-a-time gal, but it’s time to broaden my reach.
So… as the number of new brands I am going to be proud of working on grows and I can talk about them publicly – I will. Metaverse already has an impressive pile of great clients that I get to work with and tons more in the pipeline – so excited to share the successes I am already seeing!
Consequently, feel free to give me a call/email if you want to join that illustrious list of clients. Those of you who have been within hearing radius of me in public know, I LOVE talking about my job. Now my job is to hear about your brand and your customers and help you figure out how to make them even happier. Lucky both of us! ;)
So I took a couple long planned vacations this summer – one of which just ended. We were at the awesome Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado and our amazingly sweet server came to our table with the most enormous bowl of homemade mac n cheese we had ever seen. Apparently, the chef was testing out specials and gave it to her to try. Alas, she’s hoped off the gluten train, so she offered her bounty to us. And I devoured it. I have little self control when it comes to mac n cheese, so I rarely make or order it. But the vacation gods saw fit to bestow this unto our table – who were we to protest.
Now chocolate, I like that too. But I usually only take a bite or two at most and I am satiated. Most sweets are like that for me. I like them, but they don’t move me, not like a cheesy pile of starch can. (Don’t even get me started on how fried chicken speaks to me.)
So do I eat cheesy starch goodness daily or even weekly? No. Because it’s not good to do that for waistlines, arteries and a host of other healthy, albeit annoying, reasons.
Why I am I writing this? Because I would like the tech-shaming masses to slow their roll.
Guess what else I do all the time – use tech. And not just my trusty cell, no, I am on tablets, laptops, old devices the kids are using – you name it. Gadgets are ever-present. And I am working, I am liking and sharing things, I am documenting with pictures, reviews and ratings. I am interneting all over the place, all the time!
EGADS! She must be so unengaged! Her poor family and friends!
But wait – I am also walking the dogs, making dinner, going for runs/bike-rides/hikes, helping (forcing) the kids with their homework/reading minutes, cleaning the house, lounging in the pool/hammock, traveling all over the world/country/state. Basically, all of the things.
And yes – sometimes, I am doing the tech things when I am doing the non-tech things.
Send positive thoughts to her loved ones!
Actually – It’s ok – because I have been able to practice moderation in my actions with tech, just as I have been able to do with cheese covered tater tots, nachos and fried chicken.
I can check Yelp or Pinterest and then check back into the conversation I was having – usually with more information to add to the conversation, as I was using the network to reference or enhance said conversation. Because I am usually not disengaging for the conversation at all – more multi-tasking.
I upload tons of pictures of my various adventures to Facebook – not because I am a braggart or narcissist – but because I now live 1000 miles from my parents, siblings, cousins and other extended family who share the deep craving I have to connect in the same way we once did at monthly family bbqs. Liking posts/pics and making silly, seemingly benign comments helps make that craving sting less.
And yes – I too can feel my step-kids eyes on me if they walk into the room and I am killing time on a game on my phone or tablet. But guess what?! – I can also turn the game off! Because I am a grown up and I have control over my actions.
If someone you know truly can’t multi-task in a conversation or is not paying attention to their kids because of the new phone-game-du-jour – they may have an addiction problem. See if they need help.
But lay off the rest of us who are embracing this brave new world of information, engagement and, dare I say it, CONNECTION with other humans. Some of us can handle it – we can email/tweet/pin something for you about it. :P
A dear friend of mine asked me on Facebook if I could share with her my “top 3 safety tips” she needed to know, now that her oldest was 7 and her youngest was fast approaching internet age. While I could talk for hours on this topic, I think I came up with the 3 things that parents of young digital natives should think about as they brace themselves for the years ahead.
1. I would start with thinking what you want your family rules about internet to be.
– Are they allowed to download things to the computer/device? If so what/when?
– Are they allowed to talk to other people on sites, games, etc? If so, who and when should you know about it?
– Who is in charge of passwords – you or them?
– Do they really get what privacy means and why we keep our personal info to ourselves?
2. Think about setting up a transparent dialogue about tech and digital activities.
Casually talk about different sites, games, devices, etc so that it’s known that those things are under your watch, just like other offline toys, games & relationships.
3. Think honestly about your kids naiveté and innocence.
Are they on the younger/more doe-eyed side of that spectrum? If so, make sure they know not to trust everything they see on the internet.
Are they more street smart? Make sure you are having the early conversations about bullying and how you expect them to treat others, even when they can’t see the other person’s face.
Just like with all parenting – there is no silver bullet, but the earlier you start taking the benevolent authority role with digital, the more they will see you as a resource rather than an adversary.
I was on a panel at GDC this year called “Monetization of teens in a safe and legal way.” I was joking before the panel that it sounded like “How to make money off of kids.” Then I found out that it was QUITE the controversial session pre-conference. If only I would have known, folks, I would have spiced it up a bit more. ;)
But in reality, that’s what all of us in kids entertainment are doing – making our living from figuring out ways to get kids to like our stuff and have their parents/caregivers pay for it.
Sounds insidious, but we ARE in a capitalist society. If you are going to pick something to make money off of, kids entertainment is a pretty fun choice for your own work happiness levels. And it IS possible to do it in a non-sinister way, with high integrity and keeping an eye on your ethics. It’s easy – just make games/cartoons/toys that don’t suck.
LOL right? But really – make products that kids will love AND their parents will love. Parents will be more prone to not mind paying for your product for their kids if it’s beautiful, fun and their kids like it. Add a layer of learning in there and you are good as gold. Make any of those factors superficial or not focus on it at all, you are going to start to see that revenue/profit fall.
Of course, you will have to make it legally and safely too. But these should be pretty “Duh!” statements, right?
Legal – It is not difficult to comply with the regulations. You will get fined or shut down if you are doing things illegally, so figure out what features trigger what laws (or hire someone who can help you), then decide whether to comply or remove the feature. Easy as that.
Safe – It’s also not hard to make your game or toy safe, either. Figure it out. If you can’t, seriously, don’t make it at all. If you aren’t safe, or don’t have that as a priority, why are you making things for children in the first place? There are tons of other demographics you can work with who are less concerned with safety being a priority. Go there and make your money. Please. Leave the kids space to those of us who care and will continue to bend over backwards to keep the kids safe – not because we have to, but because we want to and we feel it’s the right thing to do.
Stop busting the balls of the person(s) on your team who are fighting for these things. Thank them for being that person and having that drive. Don’t make it a hostile environment for someone to bring up those sorts of concerns. If they are bringing it up, chances are one of your audience will too at some point, so consider it a fortuitous heads up, not annoying nuisance.
And give that person a raise too while you are at it (or at least buy them lunch sometime). Most of those people fighting for the underdog aren’t making the big bucks, so a little goes a long way. :)
You threw my daughter out of Animal Jam when she was making plans to meet a friend for lunch, which I thought was a pretty impressive catch. She thought she had mistyped “duck.” What other kinds of behaviors or activities have you interrupted?
Thanks – I always love it when we can turn a discipline from the game into a positive parent interaction. As far as other behaviors/activities, where do I start? Obviously, for COPPA compliance, players trying to give out personal information is a very high priority – that’s addresses, emails, and phone numbers – but even Skype and other instant messaging usernames, FaceTime handles, and any other methods where players would be communicating outside of the game and potentially sharing that personal info.
While there is no law around it (which most parents are surprised to learn) we are also very diligent regarding inappropriate behavior and conversations, including cyber dating, drugs/alcohol, violence, vulgar language, cyberbullying and anything else we have deemed inappropriate to be associated with our brand and within the younger demographic we attract.
Read more here: At Least 17 Reasons Why Your Kid May Be Playing Animal Jam
My dear friend and awe-inspiring colleague, Anne Collier from ConnectSafely.org, recently spearheaded the US Safer Internet Day event. Along with a fun campaign called One Good Thing, where people sent in their multimedia good deeds or promises to help make the Internet a better place, she helped host an event in DC to celebrate the initiative.
And they taped it (yay!). Here’s one of the videos, but check out the whole days coverage at their site.
Yep, that’s my big blonde head in the foreground of the audience… grumble…