A Partnership with PlayDate Digital
We first began talks with the partners of PlayDate Digital at GDC in 2012. As a younger studio, they wanted to match our experience in developing apps for kids with their experience in promoting products to the same market. With Hasbro Publishing as the first licensing partner in our collaboration, our team at Graphite Lab began working on concepts for a My Little Pony app for kids in late 2012.
We knew first and foremost that fans of the MLP franchise are incredibly passionate. If we wanted the app to be successful, then we needed an app that would show off the best looking MLP animations that had ever been seen on a mobile device. Because our partnership was with the publishing side of Hasbro, a learning component would have to be an essential part of the app design as well. But what that learning focus would be was still up in the air in the early stages of pre-production.
Initially, we did concepts for coloring apps and counting apps, versions that taught words and letters – but none of those seemed to fit really well with the MLP brand. Around this time PlayDate Digital developed a great relationship with education expert Michael Cohen and the Michael Cohen Group in New York. Michael and his team were instrumental in helping surface the educational potential of the app along with being a second set of eyes on the entertainment portions of the app. They also aided in setting the learning goals that would be eventually added to the Parent’s Page portion of the app.
Early concepts for the brand included spelling, counting and creative learning goals.
As conversations continued, we started talking more and more about how the MLP brand is all about navigating different social situations, understanding relationships and the special bonds of friendship. We began to refine our app concepts so they could feature those themes more clearly. So the more we confirmed those as learning concepts the more certain we became that an interactive story could be the right choice to teach those themes. We discussed how different words could be learned throughout the story (making language learning a secondary goal) complemented by awesome character animation. We also developed the Word Round Up section to follow the story as a way to reinforce the learning. The next step was to find a story that captured all of these themes the best.
Through PlayDate Digital, we received a loose script for the Mystery on the Friendship Express episode and started detailing all of the features that our storybook would have – beautiful art and animation, professionally recorded narration and voices from the show, simple navigation tools and of course, it would be cross platform so we could support iOS and Android devices. Since we were targeting a younger audience of 5 and under, we wanted the story and scenes to be simplified and got supporting feedback from Hasbro that they should be simpler for the younger audience.
With our app concepts approved, our learning targets defined and our pockets filled with pony power, we set out to assemble the most pony-rific storybook app known to ponyville…
Next Post – The Engine that Drives the Game!
Check back to read posts about the development of this product such as the Engine that Drives the Game, Animating the Ponies, and the App Launch itself.
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