According to cliché–and confirmed by experience–when you work for a startup, you take on a bewildering variety of tasks. That includes making ads, and making ads might include print advertisements. Print Advertisements? For a mobile game?
Experience also confirms the expression “it takes forever to do anything.” While the ad below looks simple, it sure took a lot of time and work to produce. Is it worth the investment of time and money?
Let’s compare the new ad to an earlier attempt. Here’s one of our very first ads, from a bit less than a year ago. It’s not bad, but it’s not as strong as the more recent one, either in terms of graphic design or in the ad copy (writing). I learned an awful lot in the time between creating those two ads. Of course, adding color draws attention.
Nuhubit Software Studios LLC has bought print advertisements in the past. We placed them in local kids’ programs that make sense for an educational-game maker like us. However, I can’t help feeling a little skeptical, wondering how effective print ads may be for software. If we sell the product online, shouldn’t the advertisements be online? Maybe, even though that’s certainly true, it’s not exclusively true. After all, who would dispute the value of online advertising for non-digital products? Most of us seamlessly transition between online and real world existence all day long. The more fluently we transition, the more relevant such ads might be.
This point takes the discussion beyond print. Lately, I’ve frequently been passing by a billboard that’s currently advertising an entertainment video game. Huh? A billboard for a phone game? When I pass it, I wonder how well it works. Are they running the billboard because they know it works? Or because they want to collect data about whether it works or not? I suspect they think it works for them. I wonder how they measure its effectiveness.
Big video-game companies run ads for mobile games on TV and in movie theaters, and they have been doing so for years. They’re not just collecting data at this point; they must know that it works for them. Or maybe not. A 2016 marketing survey revealed that “28 percent of U.K. & Ireland marketers said traditional print, outdoor, and broadcast advertising was overrated.” On the other hand, a large number of respondents to the same survey concluded that “the most ineffective tactic is paid advertising.”
As much as big companies, with access to lots of great data, might seem like knowledgeable monoliths from the outside, remember what they look like on the inside. People make decisions based on intuition, based on incomplete data, and based on perverse incentives set up by management that sometimes see complex people as simple machines.
And, I’m afraid that whether or not data supports a definitive answer for a given product, it’s dangerous to draw conclusions that are too sweeping, because as online ads change in effectiveness, so do offline ones. The specific eclipses the general.
Right now we only purchase print ads in very relevant (and local) markets. After all we’re a startup. In fact, we’re a “bootstrapping startup,” which means we don’t have lots of money for experiments. Also, we don’t have lots of data or experience with advertising. Does that sound dire? Not really. As always at Nuhubit Software Studios LLC, education is important and that even applies to us learning about advertising! When we don’t know about something, we go out and learn about it.
We read some books. Here are some recommendations that could be helpful to other novices in the world of ads. Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy is considered a classic. It’s easy to read, and the observations are, presumably, timeless. The presentation is usually concise and interesting. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan & Edward Boches is far less concise, but dense with insight. Finally, although it’s not a recommendation (because I haven’t read it yet), I am looking forward to reading Designing For Print by Marina Joyce. I haven’t read it yet because it hasn’t been printed yet. However, I heard Joyce interviewed on the excellent podcast Creative Honey, where she pitched the upcoming book and provided useful advice.
What anyone with a small budget can do, in addition to educating themselves, is learn by trial and error. Make an ad. Run it. See how it works. Collect data. Analyze the results, and use any knowledge gained the next time around. Back in 1923, seminal advertising writer Claude Hopkins advocated this very approach in his book Scientific Advertising. Anyone can do it, but, no, it’s not easy. As with any real-world experiment, collecting the data, determining its reliability, and separating signal from noise may be hard.
The trick is figuring out which variables helped the campaign or hindered it: The visuals? The message? Or the medium?
Last Monday, while shopping, I was buying peanuts which they sell in 13-ounce bags and 16-ounce bags. (Thirteen ounces?) I don’t normally think of myself as having math anxiety, but on the other hand, I don’t usually attempt to divide by a number like 13 in my head. I’ve been testing Bubbly Primes recently at work, and by no coincidence, the peanut’s price was close to a number I recognized from the game. In a flash, I saw that it was actually easy to figure out the better deal. It was the smaller package.
The whole incident reminded me of something that I already knew, namely that in everyday life we’re constantly applying the same skills and knowledge Bubbly Primes helps us acquire. It’s more than a fun way to improve our grades in math classes.
Speaking of which, we’ve recently added a series of articles to the Bubbly Primes website that answer math questions, focusing on ones relevant to people who play Bubbly Primes. For example, there is an explanation of “What is a Prime Number?” “How do you Cross-Cancel,” “The Sieve of Eratosthenes,” and more.
Here’s a list of the current articles. As time goes by, we’ll try to add additional topics, and keep an up-to-date list on the About Bubbly Primes Math Help page. If you have ideas for math-help topics, please send them to us.
Before putting the Math Help pages online, I showed drafts to a few people to see what their reactions might be. Most people liked them, but some people were uncomfortable simply because the topic was math. I reworked the pages over and over, in an effort to make them less intimidating. I’ve also been adding drawings, photos, and examples. I’ve been writing in a friendly, conversational voice to ease math anxiety, and build comfort and enthusiasm.
Sometimes I have conversations about math with people who had bad experiences as kids, experiences that make math hard for them as adults. They avoid reading, learning, and doing things that are well within their actual capabilities. It can be hard to discuss math topics without activating their anxieties. This is a significant problem for many people, and one of the goals of Bubbly Primes is to help adults and kids become comfortable with math.
How can we avoid triggering anxiety in a math game? In this blog, we’ve discussed the calming effect of the music. The floating playfulness of Bubbly Prime’s undersea world is also designed to reduce anxiety. There’s another tactic too, involving the numbers themselves. The idea is to make the bubbles in the game seem more like game characters than abstract numbers.
Think of it this way: we could have created an entertainment game in which players learn that “pale green dragons go after eggs as soon as they appear.” Instead, in Bubbly Primes (without focusing on the abstract numbers) you learn things like “51 splits into 17 and 3 whenever you tap it.”
The great thing is that math facts are useful in real life, even in the grocery store!
Since releasing our first educational game, we have received excellent press from local sources including the KHTS Radio Station, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal, Santa Clarita Magazine, SCVNews,com, and the Santa Clarita City Briefs. We are very thankful for this; good press, recommendations, and reviews are so important for a startup.
But, even though we are a local business here in California, receiving mostly local press, our goals are global. We believe that we make the world a better place the more kids play Bubbly Primes. For the first step, we can thank the App Store; we sell worldwide. But now, we’ve got great news. We’ve made international sales, to customers on 4 continents, including Oceania!
Bubbly Primes features a small fish named Pepper. Animator Alex Bozman drew these character design sketches.
Although we originally designed the game to help kids, we believe that playing Bubbly Primes is both a productive and pleasurable use of time for almost everyone. Almost? Who is the exception? Someone who doesn’t know multiplication can’t really understand factoring and prime numbers. Once the times-tables are learned we believe anyone can benefit from the game, no matter their age. We are well aware that the parents who are most likely to see the value of the game are the ones who are willing to go out of their way to support their children’s education.
That’s why it’s exciting that we have received mention from slightly different quarters this time. Bubbly Primes was recently recommended in a parenting podcast: Parenting Beyond Discipline (Episode 7 “Media Guidelines by Age”). The producer of the podcast used to be in the same business incubator where we are located (there’s that local angle again), which is how she knew about the game, but she recommended it in response to a parent’s question about kids and technology. There’s a wide audience of parents for the podcast, and there’s parents all over the world watching their kids interaction with technology.
Most parents probably worry about the impact of spending so much time using phones and tablets on the young generation. Some however, see all that energy lavished on technology and think, “How can this be focused in a positive direction?”
That’s the way we think about it, and that’s why we make the kinds of games that we do. We hope that parents and kids find more good educational games. We put our hearts into making conscientious, forward-looking educational games.
Nuhubit Software Studios LLC proudly announces the release of our first educational game, Bubbly Primes.
Bubbly Primes is a fun math game that provides help with factoring. Although the game was designed for kids aged 7 and up, it has turned out to be appealing for a much larger audience.
Bubbly Primes is about factoring and Prime Numbers. It was actually conceived of as a way to help with fractions, one of several critically important math topics usually taught between 3rd and 7th grades. Fractions can be hard to learn, and hard to teach.
There are a number of reasons that fractions are difficult. They require more abstraction than whole numbers and integers. Also, numerous multi-step procedures must be learned for fractions such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, simplification, and converting them to mixed numbers and back. Some of the procedures are similar to others and some are different. Students get them confused.
In analyzing how kids learn fractions, we identified lack of facility with factoring as a critical commonality between many of the procedures, which often lead to students getting bogged down and losing track of the bigger picture.
Knowing the multiplication table is enough to know how to factor. However, we had an insight that the level of familiarity with factoring, when greatly strengthened, has a major impact on facility with fractions. When adding or subtracting numbers, factoring is the main skill needed to arrive at the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD). When multiplying or dividing, factoring is the main skill required for successful cross-canceling. Bubbly Primes players acquire this familiarity quickly and deeply. We had an additional insight that a powerful analogy is formed between how numbers factor, and how, in Bubbly Primes, the bubbles split up when popped. This naturally reinforces how the math works while providing elements present in good game designs.
So, in the words of game designer Alex Bozman “Bubbly Primes is actually an arrow to the heart of a major barrier to mastering fractions.”
We hope you enjoy playing Bubbly Primes. We are delighted to have created an educational game that is fun to play, and we are proud to have created a game that makes the world a better place when people play it.
Apart from practicing factoring with Bubbly Primes, here are some additional online resources we found that may help with learning fractions:
Here’s an interesting question. Suppose two teams started with the same carefully thought out moderate design for an educational game, and went their own ways with it. The starting point would be a reasonably concrete and carefully thought out plan, but then creativity and serendipity would be allowed to make their influences on each project. How similar would the two projects end up?
We have done just this with two independent companies each coding independent math games based on the same design. The design clearly describes the game, but not in precise detail. For example, although ideas for the graphical content are explained in prose, the actual artwork was left to be realized. Gameplay was done in the same way. General functionality was described well enough to convey basic ideas, but technical detail was left to the realization. Two parallel projects were then undertaken by professional software engineers, each of which with decades of experience building production software. Prime Escape, Randy Schenks’s Android game has just been released on Google Play. Nuhubit Software Studios LLC’s game, Bubbly Primes, for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch is just a little bit behind.
The two math games are similar but different, in interesting ways. They both accomplish their educational goal (the player becomes adept at factoring, recognizing prime numbers, and so forth). Gameplay is similar on a high level. However, the pace, the look and feel, and strategic play on deeper levels is extremely different. The artwork is definitely different.
I wonder to what degree people might feel they are different versions of the same game or perhaps different related games. Having played beta versions of both, I’m not sure what I would say myself. Although, I’m not exactly sure whether I would consider them to be different games or different versions of the same game, I do think that what is different makes sense, and really, is what I would have expected. At their core, the games are pretty similar, and yet, beyond that, they ended up very different.
Organizing ideas into a design is hard. Implementing computer software based on a moderate design is hard. Shepherding a software project to completion is hard. Our approach acknowledges difficulty at every step. Instead of attempting to front load the difficulty of the project by putting together a foolproof design ahead of time, conceptual work is spread out more evenly over the project, requiring experience, judgement and hard work from beginning to end, from the top-down and from the bottom-up. And occasionally, it permits an invigorating glance past the threshold of chaos.
Unfortunately, Prime Escape seems to no longer be available on Google Play, and its website is down. It was fun while it lasted.
As our first educational math game, Bubbly Primes, approaches completion, I’ve been reflecting on some of the philosophical aspects of software development. Although I’m writing about some technical aspects of the software creation process, I have the goal of this being interesting to non-programmers.
The threshold of chaos provides a wellspring of art, source of beauty and inspiration, and catalyst of revelation. Artists in many fields grow familiar with this.
Software development is rarely thought of as art outside of a few non-mainstream subgenres like musical compositional algorithms, and experimental games. In most software fields we simply don’t spend much time thinking about artistic issues, despite shocking parallels between the disciplines. And significantly – we usually try to keep our software safely away from the threshold of chaos.
One of the most powerful tools for keeping this distance is formal design, which occupies a lot of energy in the software world, and raises a lot of the same issues that are of eternal concern to artistic work. There is a fortuitous pun here on the word formal. “Formal Software Design” connotes weighty official documents in massive notebooks, beginning with a page of legal-looking approval signatures, like formal dress at a ceremonial event. However, formal also refers to a description of structure, as when composers or musicologists discuss the form of a musical composition.
To me, good formal design really means carefully thought-through creative thinking and planning. We need it for the same reason it’s difficult to do. There’s a joy in implementing ideas as they come along. They build onto each other, and can create wonderful inventions that would have been hard to conceive ahead of time. However, even the simplest of software can quickly grow out of control, like a cute little baby pet alligator in a tiny apartment. Software design attempts to predict and organize complexity in ways that avoid the unwieldy tangles that spell trouble.
There’s plenty of common wisdom (and folklore) on the topic. The Joel on Software blog has a series of excellent blog posts advocating the value of up-front software design, as well as smart, practical advice on how to do it. But beware: medium and large projects are continuously tempted with overweight designs which attempt to pin down all the details, which they can’t, subsequently leading to a wide variety of flavors of failure. It’s a cliché that such software, when successfully completed, is frustrating for the user because its goal became “meeting spec” instead of becoming a useful tool for accomplishing user goals.
One excellent approach, like with so many things in the world, is moderation. Insufficient advance design can wend its through the gates of chaos, and continue deep into the kingdom. Too much advance design wastes time, chokes creativity and suppresses serendipity. Finding a balance? Well: somehow moderation can be easier to talk about than to achieve. A thoughtful analysis of this topic was written by Tynan Sylvester in his fantastic book Designing Games. Actually, Tynan proposes a much more sophisticated solution than moderation, advocating an adaptive approach. There’s some great thinking there, but it is not necessarily a generally applicable solution, and in fact probably wouldn’t have made sense for Bubbly Primes. We used the simpler solution of an appropriately moderate design that not only provided the right level of structure, but allowed a fascinating experiment to take place.
I’ll write about that experiment next time.
To Be Continued …
Nuhubit is a local place name.
It’s amazing how hard it is to find a good unused name for a new software business – or probably any business. This even extends to some very obscure ideas. One’s initial impulse is to look for something that conjures the field of the business. For us that’s educational games for phones and tablets, so, early on I searched math books for terms that weren’t already used as the names of software companies. The ones I found were far from recognizable. I did find one I liked, and even thought of a great logo in a dream (I woke up and drew it on some scratch paper so I wouldn’t forget by morning), but a month or so later when I checked on it again, it was already taken by a new startup that was a few months ahead of us!
One idea was that the name somehow tie our business to our community. We are located in Newhall, a former small town that is now one of the half-dozen-or-so areas that comprise the modern city of Santa Clarita, California. We have a number of local geographic features and place names that could make good business names, and due to their locality, they are relatively unique. Following this line of thought, I started considering the connection, not only to place, but to our history as well. The story of California is an interesting one, so there is a lot of material to choose from.
At some point I came across the name Nuhubit. Nuhubit was probably a Tataviam village close to where downtown Newhall is now situated. Here is a quote from one place it was mentioned, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Assessment report:
The Tataviam are a Native American group that resided in and around the area encompassing the project site … The name “Tataviam” means, “People who Face the Sun.” The Tataviam belong to the family of Serrano people who migrated down into the Antelope, Santa Clarita, and San Fernando Valleys some time before 450 A.D. They settled into the upper Santa Clara River Drainage. Some Tataviam settlements in the Santa Clarita and upper valleys were Nuhubit (Newhall); Piru-U-Bit (Piru); Tochonanga which is believed to have been located at the confluence of Wiley and Towsley Canyons; and the very large village of Chaguibit, the center of which is buried under the Rye Canyon exit of I-5. The Tataviam also lived where Saugus, Agua Dulce, and Lake Elizabeth are located today. This places the Serrano among the larger “Shoshonean” migration into southern California that occurred 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.
I like the poetic music in the sound of the word. I have to admit that I was also partly attracted to the name Nuhubit because it sounds like a modern made-up computer word, ending with -bit which is a technical term in Computer Science and Information Theory. Of course, paradoxically, it is actually a very old word tied to our geography and history. I was interested to learn that some historians question the historical existence of Nuhubit, so it may actually be an apocryphal local place name. Fortunately, that doesn’t make it any less interesting! (In fact if it didn’t ever exist, our use of it today reminds me of some of the fascinating fiction of Jorge Luis Borges.) So far, the main argument I have seen is the lack of multiple reliable sources documenting the existence of the village. To my knowledge, the single surviving primary source of the name is a document referred to as the Van Valkenburgh map:
That may be insufficient for historians, who have a duty to accurately describe the past to the best of their ability, and to discriminate between that for which there is or isn’t adequate evidence. However, it was an excellent find in our quest for an interesting unused name which provides a link to place and history.
It has a nice ring to the sound. It is local, tied to our place and history. It bears an interesting story. It is presently not being used by another business. Perfect.
Kids spend too much time playing on their phones and tablets.” Heard that before? And, even though I try not to say things like that, sometimes I do anyway, and I’m certainly guilty of thinking it. All too often.
I’m someone who doesn’t believe that technology is inherently good or bad. To me, what matters is what content the technology presents. Alas, people, whether adults or children, like to be entertained with mindless content. The producers of that content have found ways to build profitable businesses on it. It’s not always bad, although sometimes it is. It tends to be formulaic and predictable. And, although it appeals to us, when we think about it, we often don’t like that it appeals to us.
However, people of all ages also like mindful content. We like to think, to learn, to gain useful skills and abilities. And, when we stop to think about it, we tend to feel good about ourselves that this kind of content appeals to us. This is the kind of content that we want to present at Nuhubit — educational games: math games, music games, games that help people learn things that might take a lot of effort to learn. The aspects of human nature that enjoy and appreciate mindful content are the ones we would like to appeal to.
Among adults who agree with all of that, it can still be hard to cheerfully embrace the large amount of time kids spend on their phones. One reason is that content that is both beneficial and enjoyable can be rare and hard to find. Another explanation is that each generation is naturally comfortable with how they grew up, and suspicious of the environment faced by the next generation. It’s probably always been that way.
When I was a kid, people used to say almost the same things they do now, except the villain was television. Back then, it was “Kids spend too much time watching TV.” It was probably true in many ways, but, in my opinion, that was also a question of content. Recently, I had the chance to watch Schoolhouse Rock, a show that was popular when I was a kid. What a good show! I sincerely hope that we can develop games that follow in those footsteps.
I’ve been using an image with a grid of tiny colored squares on websites related to Nuhubit Software Studios LLC. One may wonder why; in fact I’ve already been asked about it. The image is a small excerpt from a photograph I took of a tile mosaic decorating the front of the Santa Clarita Business Incubator building.
The building was originally built to be the library for downtown Newhall, which purpose it served for many years. When the beautiful new Old Town Newhall Library opened in 2012, the old building was closed. The City of Santa Clarita decided to renovate the building and repurpose it to house city offices and a business incubator for tech startups. Nuhubit was chosen to be one of the four initial businesses at the incubator.
According to Katie Knybel, a City of Santa Clarita employee who was involved with the renovation project, the original plans for the city are dated 1956 and the building was completed and opened in 1957. The tile decoration on the front was part of the original design when the building was first constructed well before pixel oriented computer graphics had become ubiquitous, and possibly before they had even been invented. Here’s one of the places in the original building blueprints specifying the tile decoration.
According to wikipedia, the use of the word pixel in regards to graphics was first published in 1965 and was in use as technical jargon as early as 1963. It appeals to my poetic sense that the little colored square tiles in the mosaic function exactly like pixels in this pre-computer-graphics art piece on the front of this building. The building now houses technology companies in this day and age in which pixels are taken for granted as graphic atoms. Manipulating pixels on a detailed level is certainly a basic part of our work designing educational games. Reinterpretation of old or ancient entities in surprising modern ways seems to be a theme at Nuhubit. In fact, the very name “Nuhubit” embodies that same pattern. I’ll write about that in another blog post – coming soon.