If I was in an audience and the speaker asked who felt like they considered themselves a “Kidult” (kid + adult = kidult), my Ghostbusters loving, game playing, Simpsons DVD owning hand would have to go up.
That would make me part of Seedling’s key demographic according to CEO Phoebe Hayman. I went to chat with Phoebe at the Seedling offices in downtown Los Angeles because I heard about Maze and thought they’re tapping into an exciting space.
The blending of a physical and digital experience through VR with a focus on accessibility for young audiences.
CEO Phoebe Hayman, with Maze
From browsing their online store, one may get the sense Seedling is the go to place for young artists and makers. There’s a lot of toys and ‘design your own _____’ kits. Nice ones. That originally was the wheelhouse for Seedling, which started in New Zealand in 2007. Then in 2014, Seedling merged with PS XO and a stronger emphasis on digital seemed to emerge. “The reason the merger was super important was because what that gave to us was a really amazing group of engineers and very well established route to market,” said Phoebe Hayman, CEO of Seedling. Next thing you know, they have 3 apps in the app store and are dipping their toes into VR. “We’re not a toy company, we’re not a craft company…we see ourselves as an experiential play company and it’s about the experience.”
Over the last several months Seedling has been testing Maze with kids and I was curious what the responses were. “Kids are there, they love absorbing anything that’s new. The one piece that’s important to them is functionality…I think as an adult we see VR as a lot of novelty, this just mind blowing, this is cool that it exists. And we know from a historical understanding of our history how significant it’s evolution is…I’m impressed, when I get into Vive, and I get into google paint, I can be there for hours. I’m just impressed with the nature of that. The problem with kids is they’re not. They’re impressed for the first couple seconds, then they think it’s all normal…The key for us is that it has function and purpose. When we think about VR, we can’t get away with novelty. Kids see through that.” Phoebe was saying that some of the wildest reactions kids were having were to the ability to build their own map and the empowerment of being able to share that map with friends through social channels.
It seems like whenever a new technology hits the market, companies will rush to submerge themselves within it because it’s the new hot thing. VR/AR/MR/3D/4D/etc is all awesome, but when the tech becomes more of the focus than what it can be in service to, it can deflate enthusiasm. It was pretty clear and quite refreshing that technology is purely a tool in the construction of their desired experience. “There’s a great purpose for VR. I think that’s where we talk about how does technology fit the story and where it integrates so it’s not some cool trick, it needs to have a function…So wherever VR plays a place in an environment, that’s our go to. Wherever it’s about transformation of objects, AR is our go to. Wherever it’s about creating objects in space, there’s different ways of projecting and holograming which are interesting to us.”
There is definitely a rush to blend physical with virtual experiences. We have VR roller coasters, VR battlegrounds as just a few of the ways these worlds are coming together. Maze does a good job of introducing this to a younger audience in a very digestible and empowering way through the simplicity and individualization of the experience. Having tried the game, was it the most beautiful piece of VR I’ve seen? Can’t say it was. But was it wildly fun that I could build a map on an old labyrinth, like the one my aunt had, and then experience it on a headset where I can customize numerous aspects of the experience? Yeah buddy.
Seedling does truly seem to have a deep rooted interest in bringing engaging and creative experiences to people because they recognize the value games have in our society. “In terms of the kids space and how we think about play. Play is an old idea, since the very first tribal kids, they play. There are some great anthropological studies showing they spend most of their time until they’re 17 or 18 just role playing. And it’s really important that they understand how to work in society since there’s so many skills that come out of that. And some of those skills are fantastic things that we kind of neglect when it comes to play in modern values.”
What’s next? “We’re thinking about connected homes and the internet of things and how can we make it interesting for this experience to exist in a much wider field…At the end of next year, we have something for that middle aged group, where we’re big on magic and mythical pieces, I can’t say too much, but they are different and similar technologies.”
Seedling is a fun company. Their office space radiates it, their employees look of it, their products reinforce it. In their journey of bringing play to “kidults” everywhere, they took the blossoming tool of VR and built a simple, fun and personalized way for young people to experience it. Maze may be the first exposure a child has to virtual reality and the exciting part is not just them experiencing VR, but imagining what they can build within it.