How I Started a
Narrative Based Game for Kids
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Ben, the founder of Wide Awake Pip. Wide Awake Pip is a mobile game for young kids. It’s designed as an interactive storybook. It helps kids with storytelling, reading and problem solving.
The app responds to speech and there are mini-puzzles to illustrate the narrative. The story follows Pip, a young squirrel, who finds the world too distracting to stay in bed. She chases a passing butterfly but gets lost. You need to help Pip find her way home.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
At the time I had two young kids (now three!) and, as a parent, if you’re leading a busy life, you get to a point where you need to buy yourself some time – just to do some life admin if nothing else. My kids weren’t at an age, or an inclination, to quietly play by themselves so we’d put them in front of the TV. That works, TV does distract them, but it doesn’t exactly engage them.
It was at that point that I started thinking of games they could play, that would make them think and interact more. There are games for kids out there already, but they generally have simple repetitive mechanics. I wanted to create the digital equivalent of a children’s storybook. Storytelling is such an important part of children’s development as you practice memory, empathy, reasoning, reading and communication skills. Which is why I created Wide Awake Pip.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I actually never really set out for Wide Awake Pip to be a business. It’s sort of like writing a book. You know the odds of success are stacked against you but that’s not really why you do it. You do it because you love the process of creating and making – and yes you hope a little bit that you’ll make some money back – but deep down you know that it’s unlikely.
I also knew that it’s not the type of idea you could raise investment for unless you had a track record of doing it already – so the only option left is then to do everything yourself. Which means I had to write the story, teach myself to code, draw the illustrations and create the animations myself. I love the process of making and learning which is lucky – if I didn’t I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. I also got completely stuck when it came to sound effects and music. That was definitely a bridge too far for me. But luckily I came across Landon Trimble who’s a very talented musician and sound director who produced the beautiful soundtrack you can now hear.
But actually, creating the product is only half the battle – the other half is finding a route to market / aka a way to sell it. This is something that I’m still struggling with but I’m slowly making inroads.
Who is your target market?
The target market for Wide Awake Pip is tricky – the end user is ultimately kids up to the age of 6 but the actual buyer is obviously the parent. So you need to appeal to both parties. The price point is currently only $2 (I’ll put it up shortly) so the game is really available to anyone with an iPhone or ipad.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Marketing Wide Awake Pip is tricky. The acquisition price point is so low (and even lower once Apple has taken its cut) you can’t afford to spend much, if anything, on marketing. This cuts out a huge number of potential marketing options. The only real options left are then to hope word of mouth sharing kicks in, the product goes viral and try to get picked up by an influencer with the right audience who’ll back you.
Indie games and books often need to win awards to get noticed and even then there’s no guarantee of commercial success. So the approach we’re now taking is to change the business model so we can justify investing in marketing and reverse engineering Google searches to find keywords that will send people to the website.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
The primary route to market to date has been getting Pip listed on various websites and social media accounts. These drive a spike in visitors when published but (very) gradually build up a number of visitors over time.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We’re very small so culture is not something we have to think about. We created Wide Awake Pip because we enjoy doing it. If we didn’t we wouldn’t. So I guess enjoyment is the core culture at this very early stage.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I’ve learnt a lot and am still learning. The key thing I would have done differently is almost to reverse the business. Find a route to market and then create a product to fit it. Relying on traditional routes to market for indie games is a long hard slog.
If we’d been smarter from the start we’d have found a niche route to market first and built for that (this is stage 2 for us perhaps).
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Making things. I’m an engineer by background and I just love building things – whether that be animations, games, software or businesses.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The chances of commercial success versus effort input. It’s a long and uncertain slog before you find product market fit. And you may never find it. This obviously puts cash flow pressure on you personally, which you may be able to justify as a lifestyle choice, but it also puts pressure on your family and relationships.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
The Mom Test is a great read and helped clarify a lot of things for me when trying to get feedback for my idea. Then there’s the usual startup stuff such as The Lean Startup, Zero-to-One, all of Paul Graham’s essays.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
The direction for us is to produce a series of smaller games. Get much more feedback on each one and really hone the idea down. The demand for children’s games comes largely from an educational angle, at least for young kids, so we’ll produce more content directly addressing that demand.