A Potential Future of Kids Games on PlayStation 4
PlayStation and Xbox have historically been consoles aimed at an older demographic. This new generation of consoles including the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are no different. Especially with a launch line-up including venerable mega-hits like Need For Speed, Call of Duty, and Battlefield greeting our future generation of gamers. But what are the young ones to play if not a Nintendo console? What does PlayStation 4 offer the kids right now and what demand is there for kids games in the future?
Right now, there is not much. I feel it’s safe to say there is just one game not only safe for children, but ideal. The Playroom comes preinstalled on every PS4, though requires the new PlayStation Camera accessory to be fully realized. With the extra $60 peripheral connected, The Playroom’s augmented reality is exactly the type of immersion kids love most. This is not because there is no controller — sorry Kinect, you’re not that unique anymore. Moreover, it’s because they can see themselves.
Look mom, I’m on TV!”
I had my two year old son and his three year old friend at my house playing The Playroom and they can both use the DualShock 4 and the touchpad to everyone’s amazement, they were after all born into an era where this technology is all around them. With The Playroom, you can see how advanced their mind must be to actually believe there is a robot floating just a few inches from their head. But then to place that virtual robot in their immediate space and imagine they are punching it is something else entirely. To believe for even a moment that the controller they are holding may actually have tiny robots inside is something that comes very easily to them.
For the slightly older kids that may demand a bit more entertainment value there are the LEGO games, with the first next-gen release being LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and two more to be released in 2014 with LEGO The Movie The Videogame and LEGO The Hobbit. Ubisoft launched Just Dance 2014 alongside the PS4, Sony released Knack, and Activision thinks Angry Birds Star Wars is worth $50. But none of these games are truly safe for kids. With mature themes in lyrics, fantasy violence, complicated controls, adult imagery, and more, it’s slim pickings on PS4.
What about games on the PlayStation Network? Flower is the most recent PS3 game to make the upgrade to PlayStation 4 and is completely safe for all ages. Utilizing the tilt sensors in the DualShock 4, the controls come easily to any age with little to no explanation required. Also from indie dev thatgamecompany comes flOw, which controls somewhat like Flower, but on a 2D plane. It’s also multiplayer versus Flower’s single player experience.
Looking back, it’s unfortunate how untapped even the PS3 remains as far as games for kids. On the PlayStation Network, there is really only a handful of games designed for what the ESRB likes to label as Early Childhood or “EC”. There are plenty of E for Everyone games, but knowing which are safe for young kids and which have those “suggestive themes” becomes the challenge. And while the E 10+ category is meant to clarify the appropriate age, I will be the first to argue that Disney Infinity is perfectly acceptable for my 6 year old to play alongside me.
The future of PlayStation 4 needs to be filled with more games for younger audiences. This is the time for independent developers to step up and make some games that young kids and their parents can enjoy together. My kids want to see themselves on the TV. Their favorite games on PS3 required the Move motion controllers such as Carnival Island and Start the Party. With PlayStation Camera on PS4, the potential is there to make similar experience without the need for Move. What’s more, at nearly a month after launch the PS4 has delivered millions of consoles in over 30 countries. If priced right and delivered on PSN for PS4, copies will sell.
Here are a few guidelines to consider when making or buying games for kids. The requirement for entry must be brief, or better yet nonexistent. No lengthy character creation screens, or load/save screens, or frilly FMVs. Menus should be brief and easy enough for a child to navigate. Devs could even use the new fangled voice commands on PS4 to start a game. “Say, Play Bowling Please.” Sure, games could
teach reinforce manners.
Games for exercise, sure! A game full of mini-games is not a bad idea at all, so long as the mini-games don’t suck. No one wants a repeat of the Wii’s shovelware era on PlayStation 3 or 4. But make my kids jump over virtual logs or swat at flies and they are going right to bed with no fuss that night. What parent wouldn’t appreciate that on a rainy winter day?
Camera…check. Controller? Like I said, my two year old can use a controller. He’s playing his older sister’s Leapster Explorer with ease. Your children probably know how to use your smartphone with greater efficiency than you. If that’s what they are exposed to, that’s all they know. If you are playing shooters all the time, what do you think they know about games? Something to consider when playing games around your kids, and also a topic for another day.
The touch pad on the Dualshock 4 offers something familiar to today’s youth. Tap it to pop balloons, swipe it to color something in, pinch-to-zoom to…pinch-to-zoom. Turn off the lights and watch the lightbar put on a show for the kids. Have you ever had something that was glow-in-the-dark and your kids insisted on shutting themselves in a dark bathroom just to see it light up? They love that stuff. The microphones in the camera would work great for input as well. There are at least a few Nintendo DS games that ask gamers to yell into the microphone.
Remote Play and Second Screen are two big selling points for the PlayStation 4. I do believe Sony will eventually offer a PS4 with Vita bundle at some point in 2014. As of now, there is a high probability that those gamers with a Vita were also amongst the first million or so to get a PlayStation 4 in November, or who got one in December. PS4 Link on Vita allows Second Screen functionality and this could prove to be a winning combination for engaging kids in any scenario where creating something is the task.
I can just see a family-friendly mystery adventure game where the kids must listen to a secret through the DualShock 4’s speaker, then repeat the secret into the camera to a virtual kid leaning his or her ear into the screen, ear wax and all. Emulating real life is one way to make games, and it’s done all the time, just not with kids in mind. How about a PlayStation 4 version of Nintendogs? You know you want it! I know I do, and would gladly pay $50-$60 for a fully-fleshed up carbon copy if Sony made it happen.
The dangers of playing games on PlayStation 4 are not to be overlooked, but something all parents can control. Instead of allowing your children to play games on your PSN account (selfish trophy collector’s pay attention), create a child account for them linked to your account. By doing this, you can easily control whether or not they can buy games from the store, chat, message, or share with the outside world. Kill the Share button without the need for duct tape and protect them from the scary zombie games you might be playing when they are asleep.
In a nutshell, there is massive potential for kids games on PlayStation 4. I challenge the best developers to make a game that is safe for younger children while still fun for an aunt or uncle to play. But don’t stop there. Remind parents that it’s fun for the whole family for these specific reasons. Tout it’s usage of the PlayStation 4 hardware and software so that more developers will jump on board. If we work together to push the genre forward, the demand will go up. But if we continue down this path of relentless shooters and kid-unsafe gaming, the industry will never truly evolve.
Why did I write this? Because I enjoy playing games with my kids. I enjoy going outside and riding bikes too. We like to camp and have snow days in Tahoe on occasion, but gaming is very much a thing we do in my house. We are consumers and we consume a lot of video games. I’d posit that most gamers’ backlogs are at least 75% of the games they currently own. And with PlayStation 4, there is a void in games for kids. Someone needs to fill it.