The Kids First Approach to Co-creation

Written by Emi Gunér, Maria Hallgren and Petter Karlsson of Toca Boca

Why and How Toca Boca Facilitates Kid Participation

Toca Boca’s main guiding principle is simple: kids first. This kids-first approach means we consider everything we do and say primarily from a kid’s perspective rather than a grownup’s.

It’s a fine line to tread between being the true childhood ally we want to be and being someone who tries too hard to be down with kids. Luckily, we have expert help, and yes, that means kids. Since the launch of Toca Boca, involving kids in our work and world has been at the top of our agenda when creating our apps. It’s the only way we can be sure what we make is relevant and fun for our target audience. It’s also a lot more fun for us since kids bring joy, curiosity, and energy to the process.

We have an extensive framework in place for idea development and play testing that helps us get qualitative feedback and input from kids around the world in a constructive, fun and safe environment. The user generated content created by kids is extremely valuable for our understanding of how our audience actually uses our games and how we should develop the games to suit kids even better. Kids are also regularly invited to come over to our office to share their ideas and get hands-on with our game prototypes. Since our apps are designed with the intent of being as intuitive as possible, we need to check that our assumptions work. If kids start playing in a different way than we had perceived, it’s back to the drawing board to figure out if we need to change the game plan or the basic game idea.

Every game and app we create should primarily be interesting and appealing to kids and designed in such a way that they can figure out how to play them on their own. They should never have to ask an adult how to play the games (unless they want to do so).

We have other important guiding principles too. Without exception, our games are non-competitive, gender-neutral, and aim to reflect the diversity of both our player community and the world at large. If we swear by the kids-first principle, then kids must also feel seen, heard, comfortable, safe, and at home in our world… otherwise, our ambition doesn’t make a difference to the kids we want to reach.

With this in mind, Toca Life World (our biggest app to date) offers the player hundreds of characters to choose from, as well as a character creator with which the player can tailor additional characters to suit their own ideas. Our characters come in all ages and ethnicities, with a wide variety of dress, looks and aids, such as glasses, hearing aids, prosthetics, and wheelchairs. Our communication features same sex parents and all kinds of blended families, as well as households with a kid and a grandparent, since we know no two families look alike, and we want all kids to feel included. In the same way, we want kids and tweens to know and feel that social and emotional representation is just as important to us as physical representation.

Matters of inclusion and representation are crucial and lie at the core of our games and everything we do. But are we doing it right? It seems we’re on the right track. The feedback kids (and their families and caregivers) have given us regarding the diversity aspect of Toca Life World has been phenomenal.

One clear signal we’ve been getting from kids is that they appreciate and desire more ways to co-create and impact game design and development. We’ve taken that to heart and have implemented kids’ ideas into the games and asked kids for input regarding character and location design. For instance, we recently asked kids what new character expressions we should incorporate into the game. The result: four new expressions built from kid input, released in late 2021.

Toca Boca was founded in 2010 and has enjoyed steady growth over a decade. But in the past two years, the number of players and subscribers to our social media channels has grown in an unprecedented way. Toca Boca’s games now have over 74 million monthly active users while 1.4 million (and counting) subscribe to Toca Boca’s YouTube channel.

But more important than counting followers is the content the kids are creating. Every day, we’re amazed by what the kids make with the creative tools and interactive content we present them. They compose, design, act out, record, edit, and add soundtracks in ways that are mind blowing.

It’s the ultimate proof that our belief in providing kids free reins and letting them figure things out their way is something that works and, even better, sees their creativity thrive.

Learning Along the Way

Like all companies that create products and experiences for kids, we must ask ourselves:

1. How do we reach the kids whose opinions we need?

2. How do we (ideally) reach kids of all socioeconomic standings and backgrounds all over the world?

3. How do we know we get the most honest replies from kids when their parents are around?

4. When performing interviews over video or audio, what input do we miss that doesn’t translate the way it would if we met in person?

We don’t have the full answers to these questions, but we will keep trying to find them to do what we have always done and always will: transform the input from kids into creative, relevant and innovative game experiences that resonate with them, the kids-first way.