Motion Math is a small San Francisco company (5 full-time employess when I joined) that makes mobile games to help children with math. The company works with teachers and parents as much as it does with children. While my role was officially as a software engineering intern, I took on user research and design work. Two of my contributions are expanded upon below.
In November 2017, Motion Math was acquired by Curriculum Associated.
The company's fourth release is a multiplication game, built around the belief that learning multiplication is not just memorizing times tables. To this spirit, the game works to build a strong understanding of multiplication by presenting numbers in six different visual formats.
The game is presented as a story of a bird that has lost its nest and colored feathers. To gain them back it must fly across islands collecting twigs and feathers. On each trip the bird runs into a series multiplication problems each of which it must get right to progress. The player moves the bird towards the correct choice by tilting the device.
While the primary game mechanic was simple, a number of interaction issues around the main gameplay made the game difficult to use. I was tasked with removing frictional interaction elements. We began by studying usage funnels, paying specific attention to points where it appeared that usage dropped off indicating the pain-points of the experience. We augmented this with verbatim feedback from in-person user studies, reviews and other customer feedback. Our surgery of the interaction was meant to lighten the cognitive weight of the game's narrative flow and to reduce the distance between various frames. We did this by adding a brief introduction on first launch, removing unnecessary frames, communicating the game's rewards more effectively and making it easier to act on the rewards, and making the navigation tree less linear and more stellate. Our changes increased session length despite faster loading times, improved uptake of features that required extra purchases, and reduced support requests.
The company's sixth release is a round-based estimation game. On each round, a player creates a question using common objects and their properties, such as "how many jelly beans would it take to fill up a soccer ball?"
As we designed the game, we showed prototypes to kids, parents and teachers and weekly user test sessions. In our debriefings after these sessions our conversations often revolved around moments in our studies that made someone laugh out loud, and we found that was what kept us going.
I designed a format to record observations from these sessions. This served to collate and organize the team's observations, and to identify moments in the gameplay that positively or negatively affect the players' mood. We used this graph of the feel of the game to identify what sorts of questions make the game more fun to play.
Shown below is the form filled out as part of a sample study. On it is a sketch of the graph tracking the mood of the game across turns, annotated with the associated event that triggered the change.