There was a time when a move to the ‘kids games’ department of a large development studio was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a soldier being sent to the Russian front.
But times have changed: titles now aimed at pre-teens are not only among the highest selling, but can often be the most innovative and vibrant on retail shelves. Think Lego: Star Wars and Pokémon as just two examples.
Established in September 2007, Kuju’s NiK NaK studio prides itself in developing for six to 12 year-olds and wants to change the perception of what kids games can be.
“It sounds simple but we are focused on our target audience,” says studio head Kevin Holloway. “We want to make games they want to play, not the games we would like them to play. The response from our new recruits has been refreshing: we all want to make the best games possible, not just take the usual route of dumbing adult games down and making them shorter.”
The philosophy is clearly paying off with three titles already in full production and others in the pipeline. Two already announced are Dragonology and Wizardology, due to be published by Codemasters and based on the popular ‘Ology’ books that have been wooing both parents and children in the last year. Both games are due out on Wii, though the robust tools and technology at Kuju mean the company is well placed to produce titles on any format.
“One of our major strengths is that we have access to the tools and technology across all Kuju’s studios,” adds Holloway. “The turn-around on our games is also quite rapid, nine to 12 months, which means we can be very flexible and creative. We place great emphasis on outsourcing and technology to empower our artists and designers – it’s all about the gameplay, not just developing cutting edge visuals. This is why we can produce three games with just 25 people, but get everyone involved while fostering a creative environment.”
Holloway believes that there’s a common motivation among all the staff: they want to make games that can appeal to their own kids as well as millions of other gamers. Interviews are rigorous, but Holloway believes it’s important to find people committed to what children want rather than “coming up with the latest all-singing, all-dancing FPS”.
Indeed when the studio was first announced Holloway was pleasantly surprised by the reaction and several enthusiastic recruits were taken on after directly contacting the company. With such a strong ethos and identity Nik Nak is already making waves and now has ambitious plans to expand considerably, work with some ‘major IP’ and compete with the biggest kids’ game developers in the world. If Holloway’s enthusiasm is anything to go by then you wouldn’t bet against it.