Lipa is based on the idea that children and families can benefit from the technology in their lives. Creating learning apps for preschoolers, they want kids to gain skills they can use in the real world while enjoying fun adventures alongside their parents. As a product manager at Lipa, Zdenek Klůc’s job is to help transform sparks of ideas into something meaningful, and pave the way through every stage of development. Sometimes the way is smooth. Sometimes it’s a roller-coaster. And sometimes, the best ideas come from unexpected places.
It Was In the Cards
Back in 2014, my boss, Martin, invited me over to his house for a Christmas lunch. He wanted to discuss new ideas about future products, specifically about new learning apps. But first, we played a card game with his family – which turned out to be one heck of an important card game.
To play this card game, you had to find matching pictures. Whoever had the fastest reaction, won. Immediately, Martin and I were struck by how much this kind of game put children and parents on the same level – I had to concentrate really hard to defeat Martin’s two boys, and even then they beat me a few times! We thought a matching reaction game like this could be so amazing as a digital app, especially with all the excitement animations could add to it. Most importantly, an app like this could really bring families together to play basically anywhere.
Soon after that lunch, my team talked about what kind of theme our game should have. We considered cowboys and cowgirls at first, since the gameplay involved a duel – but then Martin rightly asked his two boys for their opinion. Kids are, after all, our most important critics. They scanned the options but didn’t find one that suited them. So they came up with their own: magic wizards. We loved it, especially because wizards can cast spells, which could be another element to gameplay.
Tut tut, Tutorial
Developing Lipa Wizards didn’t come as organically as the initial idea had. With the addition of magic spells, a split-screen interface and specialized characters, I realized that we couldn’t avoid putting a tutorial in the game. Tutorials don’t thrill kids that much, so this was a challenge for us. We tried making it without voiceovers, as it’s an extra step in production (especially since we localize into many languages) but it was unavoidable. We even had to create a whole new character, a fairy referee, who would explain the tutorial. Then testing began. We had to redo the tutorial over and over to get the right length and level of understandability for the kids. Months later, we finally found a happy medium.
Storytime in the Product Room
The game was almost done (in alpha version) when I was approached by our educational team, who said we couldn’t proceed unless there was a story in the game. Stories are valuable to kids developmentally, so we had to agree.
But that meant we had to hold back production even more, to ask our writers to come up with some mythological story as to why the wizards were trying to match the little monsters. We prepared all sorts of alternate universes explaining the story. Something about how the monsters had misused the Earth and jump-started the apocalypse and the wizards had to renew it by catching the monsters and harnessing their powers for good. Way too much info, in other words. Only a fragment of what we came up with is actually in the game.
No “I” in the Team
Creating Lipa Wizards made me realize even more that game development is a team sport. I think it’s very important to involve many people in the game design process, because each team member can see the game from a special angle, as a programmer or artist. For instance, one of our programmers came up with the different types of spells used in the game while he was coding the prototype. As a product manager, I don’t want to be a person who says, “No. Do this, not that. We’ll make it how I want.” Every person involved should have a say in the production.
Moving On Up
Lipa Wizards has come a long way, and we actually launched it worldwide on the App Store during Casual Connect 2016 in Amsterdam. There, the game was nominated for an Indie Prize, which was a huge honor. Now all our game needs is the right marketing agency to get it in the spotlight, so families can find out about it and enjoy it to the fullest.
If you’re interested in connecting with Lipa, or if you represent a marketing agency or are an expert in this field that might be able to work with the game, please shoot Lipa an e-mail. They’re always up for new ideas and partnerships!