The Truth about Third Party Development on the LeapFrog Leapster

Now, I’m really not interested in just complaining about the fact that LeapFrog hasn’t made this move. It’s a massive strategic issue for them, and they do have shareholders to answer to. At the same time, I refuse to accept one justification I heard at the conference, namely that shelf space pressure was one reason to shrink from third party development — LeapFrog products get a full aisle of shelf space in Target and Wal-Mart. Rather, I think the good folks at LeapFrog just need an outside perspective on the matter. And why shouldn’t that perspective be a public one? —Ian BogostThe Truth about Third Party Development on the LeapFrog Leapster (Water Cooler Games)

I’ve exchanged a few comments with Ian, who asked me, “What kinds of games might change your mind about the value of the Leapster as a supervised computer activity?”

The Amazon reviews of Leapster praised the concept and quality of the software, but there were more than enough problems with durability to make me pass on the hardware. Since I’m not really comfortable (yet) with the idea of letting my son have unlimited access to his games, I’d rather buy 3 or 4 edu-games for the PC we already have than risk a Leapster.

My son is not that picky about graphics, so he’s happily playing some old (mid 1990s) games, and he prefers the 1994 (or so) Star Wars X Wing vs Tie Fighter to the more recent X Wing Alliance… So the fact that I can share with him games that I enjoyed means something to me.

In terms of content, what would it take to get me to change my mind? I don’t know… I’ll know it when I see it. We don’t get cable TV, so he doesn’t know who Spongebob or Dora the Explorer are, so the branded content is actually a liability in my eyes.

Some educational games make a funny blooping noise when you make a mistake or get a wrong answer. My son enjoyed trying to knock Curious George unconscious so much that he never paid attention to the letter-recognition game, and besides, he already knew his alphabet. So he got stuck on a level — by his own choice — for several days.

I would love to have been able to tweak the level of encouragement the game provides.

I know my son prefers games that feature a plot with an opponent to overcome… For several years he has been enthralled by Lego Stunt Rally, which has completely captured his imagination (to the point that we have to limit his access to that game, or he will make car brake squealing noises for hours at a time, re-playing races in his mind).

Sometimes I’d like to see the “plot” suffer an extreme setback if the kid is careless…

Oh wait — I just thought of a game that might make me buy Leapster.

My son needs some work with penmanship… I had, and still have, terrible handwriting, so I’m senstitive on this issue.

If there were a game where you played… I don’t know… a construction foreman, and you traced out shapes on a blueprint, and then construction teams built the roads according to the layout you designed, and then you had to drive on the roads, wrecking your nice cars if the wobbly lines drawn on the blueprint were too far from the norm. A game like that might also include map reading, simulation, basic math, and abstract thinking. Oh, and of course there would need to be random citizens with fruit stands to be smashed.

Throw in a villain with a handlebar moustache and a cool car that can spew smoke screens and drop oil slicks, and I’d buy it.

Planes, ants, Chewbacca making the calculations for a jump to hyperspace — anything that moves in a boundary would work. It’s drawing on the touch screen that would make the difference. But it’s that touch screen that seems to be the source of a lot of frustration from consumers.