While Motion Math has garnered numerous awards and a reputation for excellence, many adults don’t understand the gameplay that proves very intuitive for children. During his presentation at Casual Connect USA, Gabriel Adauto shared his experience with designing for kids, tackling the parent market and Motion Math’s reasons for focusing on teacher users. One of the lessons he learned during play testing was this: “1. Kids aren’t very good with words (as instructions). 2. They won’t necessarily tell you to your face that whether they are going to like your game or not if you are sitting right there next to them.” Tune in below to learn how to solve this problem and others when making games for kids.
Gabriel Adauto is a man with a mission: to instill in learners a sense of wonder and empowerment that motivates them to combine math, technology and creativity in their everyday lives. Gabriel, CTO of Motion Math, claims, “I have the best job in the world.” His work includes a wide variety of things that he really enjoys, including coding, architecture, specifications and management. It is his responsibility to ensure the team gets the product out as efficiently as possible.
He appreciates working on extremely difficult problems with some of the smartest people he has encountered. Additionally, Gabriel enjoys teaching millions of children about the beauty and interconnectedness of math. Best of all when he researches video games, it’s like turning his work time into play time. As he says, “What’s not to love?”
Merging Teaching and Engineering
Gabriel’s current career is a natural extension of everything he has experienced in life. His parents were both teachers, and he too was teaching from an early age as he helped siblings and cousins with homework. He began developing into an engineer equally early as he helped others repair their electronics or understand how they worked. And as a bonus, as a teenager he purchased the first computer in his household.
When he attended Stanford University, Gabriel became enthralled with computer science during his first class in the subject. After graduating he continued to develop his engineering expertise in enterprise software development, providing stable, scalable and user-friendly infrastructure for large institutions worldwide. At the same time, for five years he taught technology classes such as video game design and computer programming. That said though, the pace was simply not sustainable. He was spending his vacations teaching and his weekends were consumed with coding the modules he used teaching classes.
He decided to change the situation and returned to Stanford to get a master’s degree in education in order to fully develop his teaching skills. While in this program he met the co-founder of Motion Math and, in his second quarter, the two began working on a project together which became their company’s first product. Ever since then, they have been working together as a team.
A Changed Mindset
Initially at Motion Math, Gabriel found his enterprise engineering mindset, relying on test-driven development and well-engineered code, a hindrance to rapid prototyping. He had to change how he thought to move into the follow-the-fun world of video games. But now he finds his engineering expertise an advantage in building out the infrastructure underlying all their games.
The biggest challenge Gabriel finds in his work is a UX problem he calls “player vs payer”. It occurs both at home, with children (the players) vs parents (the payers) and in schools with students and teachers (the players) vs administrators (the payers). Each of the games Motion Math created has evolved for both these audiences. For example, at first the games had no written words because many kids don’t or can’t read instructions, however, they discovered adults became confused without words. So they added words to the games, targeting them specifically for adults.
Their method of monetization has also changed to meet the needs of both groups. Initially the games were free. Now, they use “paymium”, allowing parents to customize the experience to the math level of their children. As well, they focus their marketing efforts on the payers but their focus in feature development is on the players.
Seeing the Rewards
Gabriel receives his greatest personal satisfaction from making a difference in children’s lives. While user-testing games in classrooms he can see this difference in action. In one of these classrooms he talked with a boy who was playing Motion Math: Wings. His excitement was evident as he described learning to use the nighttime islands in order to get more wings for his bird. He discussed the game for some time with Gabriel, and although he could earn more rewards at easier levels, he preferred middle levels and trying new things even though they were more difficult. At the end of the conversation he told Gabriel, “Thanks for making such a great game.” Clearly he is not the only one earning rewards!
Even though it might seem that Gabriel’s passion for his work fills his entire life, the reality is quite different. He and his wife recently bought a house in San Francisco, so he spends much of his free time improving it. In the process he has developed a new philosophy for backyard landscaping; he eliminates the weeds he doesn’t like and retains those he does, nasturtiums with their bright orange flowers and morning glories with deep purple flowers. So the backyard is now filled with color and no watering is needed!
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.