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‘Pok Pok Playroom’ is a handcrafted kids’ app from Alto’s Odyssey veterans | Engadget

There are no rules in Pok Pok Playroom, the kid-focused iOS app built by a handful of developers at Alto’s Adventure and Alto’s Odyssey studio Snowman. Pok Pok Playroom is a living suite of software designed to foster creativity, curiosity and calm for children ages 2 to 6, and it’s due to hit iPhone and iPad on May 20th. Access to Pok Pok Playroom will cost $4 a month, or $30 for a year-long subscription, and it will not have any in-app purchases.

With Pok Pok Playroom, the idea is to offer kids an app that’s engaging but not addictive, and self-explanatory without being predatory. It features hand-drawn art and real-world imagery, eschewing fantasy elements like talking animals. Most importantly, it’s a creative canvas that encourages curiosity and play, and there are no success or fail states. Unlike many child-focused apps, Pok Pok Playroom is devoid of flashy animations, constant sound effects and repetitive reward loops.

“Most of the kids’ games actually do reward kids with unicorns and rainbows, and sparkles, and a big applause, and everything,” creative directorEsther Huybreghts said. “We worked so hard to avoid that, everywhere. There are no rewards whatsoever, except for the innate reward that’s in the game, of whatever that means to the child.”

Pok Pok

It’s no surprise Pok Pok Playroom is launching exclusively on iOS devices, considering it was incubated at Snowman, an independent studio with a long and lucrative relationship with Apple. Five Snowman developers have started a new company, Pok Pok, that will focus on building fresh, creative experiences for kids, starting with the Playroom app. 

Pok Pok was founded in part by Huybreghts and Melissa Cash, who is CEO of the new studio. Cash is a former product designer at Disney, where she helped create toys for babies and toddlers. Huybreghts has been an artist at Snowman for more than two years, and she’s also a mother to two young sons.

Huybreghts and her husband — who happens to be an art director at Snowman and a co-founder of Pok Pok — developed the first iteration of the Playroom app because they wanted to design something together, and they noticed a lack of quality kid-focused software on the App Store. Pok Pok Playroom is the program they were looking for, offering self-guided, inclusive and relaxing spaces for their sons to explore.

Pok Pok Playroom (May 2021)

Pok Pok

“The game doesn’t tell him what to do, and we don’t tell him what to do in Pok Pok,” Huybreghts said. “I think that’s a big reason why it’s not addictive to him, and why it’s a calming, not-riling-up experience whatsoever. But we’ve also heard it from other parents and other kids. Something about it must be very calming.”

Pok Pok Playroom is just the start for Pok Pok. In addition to consistently updating its debut app, the young studio has dreams of expanding to offer more software and even physical toys with the same goal — providing creative outlets for kids that their parents can be proud of.

“When we first had the idea, we all thought this could be much more than just a product,” Cash said. “Over the past few years, as we’ve been developing it, it’s just become more true. We feel that there’s a huge opportunity to grow Pok Pok into this beloved, hopefully, trusted brand of kids’ experiences that are centered around creative play and creative learning and imagination. This is really the first of hopefully many different kinds of products that we can make.”

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