I look forward to the Sandbox Summit every year.  Hosted in Boston at MIT, this two day conference is smaller, focused and connects a great blend of experts across kids TV and digital media, emerging technology, education and toy manufacturing.

This year was no different! With so many interesting talks and panel, I thought I’d share my takeaways from three of the talks.

RJ Mical – Playing with Augmented and Virtual Realities

RJ Mical is a game pioneer who helped invent the Amiga Computer, was a co-creator of the Atari Lynx and currently holds one of the most awesome job titles in the world: Director of Gaming at Google.

Mical’s talk focused on his vision for the future of Machine Intelligence. He considers it as the most important invention of the next decade and reflected on how it will impact our lives.

He does not see Machine Intelligence (his preferred way of referring to  ‘Artificial Intelligence’) as a race to develop machines and androids that replicate human features and emotions.  He thinks there should be less focus on ‘realistic avatars’ and more focus on perfecting natural language interfaces.  He sees these conversational agents as being added to machines and devices we use in our everyday lives, from computers to fridges and cars – even our wallets. It’s all about connectivity.

His talk got me dreaming and geeking out about all the great opportunities in the kids media, education and play spaces.  Merging IoT with natural language interfaces, I can see great opportunities for creating and connecting new experiences around existing and new kids IP, driven by  non-linear narrative experiences.  These new forms of entertainment and education could allow kids to interact in the real world in brand new ways, providing a means for promoting cooperation, play and learning to help them  “level-up” in their lives.

Even more exciting is that here at Two Moos our super amazing team of creative and technical experts have the experience and know-how to make these dreams a reality.

Michelle Lee – Designing Interactive TV Experiences for Today’s Kids and Families

Michelle Lee is Head of Kids Digital at IDEO.   Michelle gave a practical talk on their experiences and outcomes kid testing the new Apple TV’s SIRI enabled remote control.

Unsurprisingly, they found that kids use the remote in a completely different way to adults. While adults use the remote with one hand and let their thumb do the navigating, younger children hold the remote in their dominant hand and then use a finger on their other hand to use the remote’s touchpad.  Kids didn’t differentiate between tapping and clicking, and found it really hard to swipe.  As a result, they found that kids gestures using the remote are more likely to blend together.

Michelle’s main UX tips when thinking about game experiences for young children on Apple TV were:  expect that some kids will want to use the remote and others will just want to watch, be sequential, make any gesture an actionable event, make sure the response on the TV is immediate to reinforce cause and effect and finally, be sure there are multiple ways to get to the end goal.  

Clark Stacey – Kid KPIs and the success of Animal Jam and Play Wild!

Clark Stacey is CEO of WildWorks, who developed online playground Animal Jam.  His talk was around what it means to be successful in the kids app space. Their app, Animal Jam – Play Wild is a freemium app for kids aged 9 -11 with with what he called ‘durable’ In-App Purchases.

Rather than advise on best practices, Stacey simply shared their data, sales figures and outcomes from their experience with the app over the past year.  For example, they decided to go against subscription model for the app as they found the most profitable subscription models were focused more towards preschool and educational audiences, but not so much for older kids.  They found that revenue was very content driven, but also driven by school schedules.

What I found especially interesting was the huge amount daily revenue falls even in the top 5 ranking. In their experience they found when they were at #1 they were earning $25K a day. However, just dropping to the #2 spot saw that daily revenue reduce by a staggering 78%.  At #5 spot, it’s just 10%.

My personal takeaways from this year’s Sandbox Summit?  

The current batch of emerging technologies, especially AI, have the potential to meaningfully impact the way kids learn, play and connect. There are also really interesting opportunities with these technologies to blend traditional kids IP with interactive play in ways we’ve not done before.


As always, we need to be careful not to use a new technology just for technology’s sake.  

Testing new technologies and approaches with kids is more important than ever as the number of ways kids interact with technology is rapidly expanding.

And finally, there’s a lot of fun to be had with new tech – and it’s vital we have fun making it!