Rosie Linder dreamt about creating a game that would encourage emotional development and help prevent bullying. This is the story behind Peppy Pals.
Why do children bully each other? It is not an easy question and something I’ll not even try to answer in this article. What I will do however is tell you a little story about a mother’s mission to do something against it. And doing it with games.
But first of all, let’s take a step back. Empathy and the ability to understand another person’s feelings is sometimes summed up in the term “Emotional Intelligence” or “Emotional Quotient”, EQ. These are just words made up of letters, but they highlight that emotional maturity is something that we can talk about just as intelligence. And it’s something that children acquire as they grow up.
Let me introduce Rosie Linder, a businesswoman and mother of two girls. As countless other mothers, Rosie was a bit concerned about the games that many children play. Even a former gamer such as myself can agree that there are much pointless violence, stereotypes and other crap out there that might not be optimal for a child. Meanwhile, opportunities for doing good with games are just laying there in front of us. “Why can’t games be more nurturing for the young minds?”, Rosie thought for herself.
“Let’s create a game!”
Rosie wanted to create a game that would encourage emotional development and, maybe in the long run, help prevent bullying. At the same time it was important that the game would be just as fun as any other. “The game had to be fun. The EQ-part would be a bonus.”
Having a dream is one thing. Following it is another. Working at a large Swedish traditional company, Rosie slowly began her transition down the entrepreneurial path. She needed capital, time and above all: people. “Creating my own business have always been a dream for me, and I thought that it was now or never. But I realized I couldn’t do it on my own.”
So Rosie began networking and pitching her idea to everyone she met. She founded her company and gave it the name “Eqidz”. She talked with experts in various fields. All this while she was still working at her regular job. “I’m astonished that I was taken seriously by all these people, ’cause I didn’t really knew anything at the time”.
“I’m astonished that I was taken seriously by all these people”
Next, funding. She contacted Almi but came back empty handed. “They wanted more papers”. In order to satisfy them Rosie ordered a market assessment report, which concluded that her concept was new and innovative.
“They wanted more papers…”
Around this time she teamed up with Talawa Games. It was a young gaming studio, led by Jesper Engström and, according to Rosie, a perfect match. The team sparkled with energy and with Rosie they had a new project that they could take pride in. With her new friends at Talawa Games, Rosie delivered a report and a working demo to Almi in May 2013, who finally gave her the loan.
Although the original idea came to her in 2011, things didn’t really take off until 2013. She got in early at co-working-space SUP46, enrolled in Sting Fastforward, formalized the partnership with Talawa Games and lo and behold – in fall 2013 Rosie went down to 50 % workload at her regular job.
But there is more. Quite recently, Eqidz got into the “Reach For Change” program, backed by Kinnevik. This is no small feat, and it translates into additional funding, strong networking opportunities and access to renowned advisors.
Lucky? Well, she applied three times.
So what about the game itself? Peppy Pals. A friendly experience designed for 2-6 year old children. The game feels like a playground, and has a range of animal characters with own personalities. They interact in scenarios and give visual feedback about their feelings. If the horse eats all the apples the owl might get upset, etc. “The idea is that the game should encourage and initiate discussions about feelings and emotions. If the child can identify an emotion and put a name on it, it’s a starting point for a dialogue. Why is the owl upset?”
I tried the game myself and since I managed to get the owl happy again I concluded that my emotional maturity is at least that of a 6 year old’s. But I also noted that the game has no high score list, no competitive elements. It’s really more of an explorative game. It’s also worth noting that there is no written language anywhere in the game. “We couldn’t afford the translations necessary for going global, so we scrapped the whole language element. In retrospect this was a success factor since it put additional pressure on the quality of the visuals”
“We couldn’t afford the translations necessary for going global, so we scrapped the whole language element. In retrospect this was a success factor since it put additional pressure on the quality of the visuals”
When asked about whether the game actually works at engaging the children emotionally, I got loads of examples of experiences from the field (which in context means kindergartens). To further strengthen the scientific basis Rosie has involved psychologists in the game design. And not to forget, the children themselves. “We don’t want to force a game upon a child that is designed with an adult in mind, and it was important for us to involve the children in the design process early on”
Her main challenge right now is to cut through the noise. “There are just so many apps out there”, she says with a sigh. But her energy level is high and with a new set of strategic partners (have you heard of McDonald’s?) the future looks bright. The plan is to keep a pace of two game releases per year, and accompany these with an extended product line such as books, toys and more.
What should you make of all this? I’m no parent and might therefore not be the ideal judge. But I do have a sweet two year old niece who will evaluate Peppy Pals for me. I’ll let you know what she thinks.
Hugs for all of you! /Einar