INplay 2012: Keynotes from Mozilla’s Mark Surman, Pancake Mountain’s Scott Stuckey, and More

The landscape today’s children grow up in is a world apart from the one we knew. With today’s mobile devices, games that reward our kids for learning, and a mountain of other changes, we are going through what some would call the “golden age” of digital media.

INplay 2012 was a conference designed to showcase and build innovation within the digital community for kids. I’m very fond of my own childhood memories, but I do have to say, I wish I was a kid that could try out today’s technology. But even through all the digital transformations, we can still find many commonalities—like the ever beloved and familiar LEGO pieces.


Surman’s main analogy was viewing the digital world we live in as made of LEGO. He pointed out that by design, the web was made to be collaborative and very easy to connect: That’s why the View Sourceability is still embedded in every browser, and code is often difficult to hide. Here are some points from his presentation:

  • Prediction: We will be moving back from proprietary systems, like mobile, to the web in the next couple of years – just because we want stuff to work across all devices (i.e. through HTML5).
  • People should expect media to be changeable: this is similar to remixes or parodies on Youtube, or Valve’s level editor for its game Portal. Remixes add value!
  • Tie accounts to remixes to keep a limit on inappropriate content.
  • People will learn enough to modify the environment: a quarter of Tumblr users tweak their blog’s theme, which is based on HTML and CSS.

Also, Surman pointed out some projects: check out Meemoo, an awesome HTML-editing catalyst, as well as Mozilla’s latest project to keep kids tinkering called Hackasaurus.


Pancake Mountain was a family show that was themed around “Fat Albert programming”: it focused on appealing to the imagination, entertainment, and joy. It focused on being something that the entire family could watch and, more importantly, enjoy together. Here are some of their major points:

  • On street cred: Pancake Mountain gained street cred when a punk band, previously sworn against music videos, created a music video for their show.
  • On promotion: As other artists started talking to Pancake Mountain, Pancake Mountain started tapping into these other audiences and artists’ fans.
  • “How bad would it be for us to change ONE thing?” leads down a rocky road, because then people start considering more little compromises which end up changing the entire show. Never settle!
  • Kids TV often sacrifices entertainment for education and other metrics.
  • If you make a show that everyone finds appealing, you make a show no one is passionate about.

Have a look at this performance by Tegan and Sara on this charming show.


Schell started off his keynote with a hilarious clip of Louis C.K. complaining about playing board games with family. It set the stage for his keynote: making games that are fun for parents and kids to play together. Amongst his points were some keystones:

  • Nostalgia bridges the generation gap. This is an example of a common theme that parents and kids love. (Pirates is another common theme.)
  • Families want shared accomplishments, meaningful and useful experiences, and kids want to be more emotionally connected to families. Find out what else families want, and provide it.
  • Kids want to understand the grown-up world and grown-up jokes. Kids are aspirational. Parents want to teach: so connect this demand for learning with the supply of teaching.
  • Safety is paramount.
  • Deciding to pay is a collaboration between kids and parents. Parents should, at the very least, see kids enjoying your game (or at least your brand) – or else they’ll pull the plug on the subscription!

Have a gander at Jesse’s book, The Art of Game Design.

Photo: Simone Maurice