It drives me nuts when I see a group of friends or family and they are all staring at their phones instead of each other. It is a bit ironic since I create mobile apps. I make my living by strengthening people’s engagement with their devices. I love the power of the technology that we all carry around with us every day, but I feel strongly that this technology should enable connections not strain them. Brainstorm uses these same devices to pull groups back together. We designed Brainstorm so everyone was making shared memories together and the device is in the background.
The influences for Brainstorm started a long time ago…in a neighborhood far away…My friend and co-developer, Shawn, and I have known each other since kindergarten (trust me that was a long time ago). Growing up we spent a lot of time playing classic party games with each other’s families. Shawn's family was always uber competitive with the games. His brothers even worked out a series of codes for Pictionary. Basically they could draw three lines and the other would correctly guess "African Safari".
Now that Shawn and I both have our own kids and families finding ways to interact together is even more important to us. With our shared game playing history the solution came naturally. We wanted to bring back the types of games that we used to play with our families: the games where we would laugh together, the games we could tease each other about how terrible their duck looked. In short we wanted the games where we interact directly with the people we are playing with.
Turning our desire for a group game into a mobile development project was also an easy choice. Over the years the two of us have started work on several different games together. Our first game attempts go back to high school. During the past seven years we have worked together on a variety of major projects, but it was always building someone else’s application. At last we had the time and experience to actually build our own game together.
Brainstorm is exactly the type of game we wanted to play with our families. It has a variety of challenges so everyone on the team has something for them. For instance our kids are scary good at Match-it (based on memory). Then my mom loves the acting challenges, but hates drawing so she is happy to have another teammate draw while she guesses.
Throughout development and testing our primary focus was on how the users interacted with the game and with each other. We knew that for Brainstorm to be successful the players needed to be laughing with and focused on each other. While the device was a critical part of the game, our goal was to keep it in the background as just the medium serving the experience.
As we went through the many incarnations of Brainstorm, we constantly evaluated our challenges against this goal. We found that with certain challenges only one or two of the players were engaged in the gameplay. We either dropped these challenges or tweaked them to require the whole team’s involvement.
One category that needed tweaking was our first version of the memory based game, match-it. Memory worked fast and easy as an electronic game. However, testing quickly revealed that one player was doing all of game play while the rest of the team was regulated to spectators. In order to encourage the rest of the team to participate we started periodically swapping the tiles.
The new match-it makes it difficult for one player to keep track of everything, and the team really needs to help remember where tiles are located. The dynamic of the challenge changed and not only did we meet the interactive goal but also the game became more fun.
Making Brainstorm together with my lifelong friend was a fantastic experience. After many years building systems for other companies it was special to be able to put our efforts into something that was truly our own. We were constantly facing new challenges, but that was just part of the adventure. Our hope is that enough people enjoy Brainstorm that we can keep making more games.
With so many options available on our phones there will always be a temptation to pull them out instead for focusing on those around us. However, with Brainstorm we can also use those devices to strengthen our connections with each other. By laughing and creating shared memories our gatherings can be so more than using your phone at Grandma’s house.