Three tips to consider when designing games for tweens

On the verge of leaving the safe childhood, we find tweens. They are somewhere in between still being silly children and becoming savvy teenagers. Tweens are busy finding out who they are and who their friends are - it can be quite a job! When we talked to Maurice Wheeler, Managing Partner of The Little Big Partnership, he explained that especially kids in the age of 9-10 can be characterised as ‘identity explorers’ where they want to be part of a group but still try to explore their individuality.


Design for small screens

Further, we begin to see differences between the genders at this age in regards to digital media behaviour. Girls are more likely to use a smartphone, whereas boys are using a tablet - either the family’s tablet or their own. Since the amount of smartphone users are expanding, first hint is that it’s crucial to make sure that a game experience fits small screens. In addition to that, here are three tips on how to design for tweens:

"Tweens want to be part of a group, but still try to explore their individuality.”

Maurice Wheeler, Managing Partner of The Little Big Partnership

Tweens love being experts, and they don’t spend much time on reading instructions and rules. That’s why providing them with feedback on completed tasks works better than informing them up front. These kids won’t use instructions until they fail anyway, so no need to bother.

1) Provide feedback rather than rules

A way of integrating this feature can be seen in Cargo-Bot by Two Lives Left. In this game, kids are introduced to the world of programming by having to move boxes with a robotic arm, which they program themselves. It’s possible to jump right into action, but a tutorial is also available. In addition, hints can be requested during the game.

Tweens are capable of time investments

Tweens aren’t necessarily looking for an app or a game they can master from day one. Tweens are able to take into account several aspects of a problem and that is a trait to consider: Designing games for tweens allows one to keep the complexity rather high as long as they aren’t set up to fail with unrealistically difficult tasks. The challenge is to make the goal as interesting as possible and allow tweens to use their creativity to find their way through. Tweens tend to like games which let them keep on learning with content and elements to discover within the game as they progress over time.

2) Follow Bushnell’s Law - make games easy to learn, but hard to master

An example could be Does Not Commute. You are controlling all vehicles in the game. The core interaction is deceptively simple, and through gradual introduction of additional meta systems, the game is successful in keeping players engaged and interested. The game is open-ended in its problem solving.

Tweens like to be experts

Tweens like to dive into opportunities rather than following strict rules. Rules and tweens aren’t a great combination. Let the tweens explore and investigate on their own. They have an interest in what’s odd and silly, and they like to challenge the norms defined by adults and parents. Give these kids autonomy to rule within the app environment and make it possible for them to be experts of the field.

3) Make room for exploration and let the kids rule

This autonomy is given in the game Minecraft: Pocket Edition where kids are to build their own world - exactly as they see fit. If they want purple sheep, they can make purple sheep. If they want a world full of zombies, they can create it. Only their imagination sets the limit.

The growing independence among tweens is also reflected in their digital behaviour, and their interest for communicating with people whom they don’t know is on the rise. In addition to the three tips above, this trait is important to keep in mind as a responsible game designer. This is different from how to design for toddlers, pre-schoolers and primary schoolers which you can read more about here.

Sources: “Design for Kids” by Debra Levin Gelman, Maurice Wheeler from The Little Big Partnership, “Cognitive Development in 6-7 Year Olds” by PhD. Michelle Anthony at and our own research and experience.



Published: 24.01.2017

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