What’s the future of play? Sustainability or technical innovation? Getting back to basics or getting moving with the First Lady? Blooloop asked five experts in different areas of play from around the world to tell us what they think the significant trends are.
Simon Egan, BeWILDerwood – BeWILDerwood is an award winning “wild and imaginative adventure park with magical treehouses and an extra layer of story, which introduces our own intriguing characters" in Norfolk, UK
"When we started out in 2007, Tom [Blofeld] and I wanted to recreate the elements of outdoor play that we had both enjoyed so much as children – building dens, exploring and playing imaginatively with friends outside. We were frustrated that there seemed to be nowhere, or no opportunity for children to play like that today, so we created BeWILDerwood really for ourselves and our own families.
Of course we don’t think that children should be forced to play outside all the time, we all take shelter in the worst of the weather, but there seems to be an almost irrational fear of the outdoors now. For us what is perhaps more important than being physically out of doors is the opportunity it presents for interactive play for the whole family. At BeWILDerwood we love to see siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents and friends playing together and having fun, interacting. That just doesn’t happen in the same way when you’re sitting side by side on the sofa in front of a screen, on a computer or even sitting (often with your eyes closed!) on a roller coaster. There will always be a place for all of these things, but what's needed most, is balance.
We’ve had a very positive reception right from our first season during which we surpassed our wildest expectations and welcomed over 100, 000 visitors. We will, in the next year or, with a reasonable year weather wise, reach our threshold of visitor numbers in our current location and are considering developing further sites. In particular we’ve been encouraged by some of the statements made by the National Trust around getting children playing outside within their own estates and more generally and we’re very hopeful that we will be able to work with them in the future.
Although our current location is in quite a rural part of the UK we believe that our model would work equally well, possibly better, nearer to big population centres where people are further locked into their everyday life indoors.
The single biggest change that we’ve made, the lesson that we’ve learned over the years as we’ve watched people play, is to recognise and encourage the power of the imagination. We always thought that people would enjoy playing in our treehouses, whizzing down zip wires and building dens, but we didn’t really forsee how important that layer of imagination would be. When I think back to how I used to play as a kid, even on my own, if I was kicking a football around I would be pretending to play in a match and have an internal commentary going on in my head. It is the element of story that children adore to believe.
We added the story of Boggles and Twiggles to BeWILDerwood, as well as a series of books and theming to support it. Crucially you never actually see or get to meet Swampy and his friends, that would spoil everything, but you can spot evidence of them, maybe see where they live, as you explore. The people who enjoy us most are 4 to 9 year olds and their parents who love the innocence with which their kids believe and immerse themselves in our play. The children are just desperate to imagine Swampy and the characters we’ve created. They’re always looking for them and having returned to their schools and homes, email and send us their own pictures, stories and poems of Boggles and Twiggles suggesting they’ve even seen Twiggles at home at the bottom of their gardens!
We made a real effort as a family last weekend to go to the beach. It was rainy and cold, but when we got there we thought, “Why don’t we do this every day?” It’s like that when people come to play at BeWILDerwood, they come out of their bubble. That’s the future of play in our world."
Stephen Hamelin, President and CEO, Vortex Aquatic Structures International
"For us, the future of play lies in sustainability. In the future we need to take a sustainable perspective on all aspects of design when building play opportunities into our communities and commercial spaces.
The future of play must take into consideration ecological, social and economic sustainability. When these three criteria are met, play designs work for everyone – ensuring the longevity of the installation, community connectivity, environmental protection, budget constraints and at the same time, promoting physical and emotional development in our kids through play.
We all want to get our kids moving more, but social sustainability is more than that. While kids flock to aquatic play areas because of their high fun potential, water playgrounds and parks happen to be ideal venues for them to develop and maintain active bodies and minds. The future of play design also needs to be focused on inclusive play that goes beyond accessibility, and further into creating play environments that include everyone regardless of age, abilities or economic status.
The other social aspect for the future of play is the huge impact that an aquatic play space can bring to the revival and vitality of our communities or commercial spaces — bringing families and communities together, prolonging the stay of hotel guests and generally enhancing the quality of life. For example, the Splashpads we built in Tacoma, WA have become a huge draw, not only within the neighborhood but from across the city, and they are seeing about a four-fold attendance increase in each location, compared to the community pools.
Our products rely on a precious natural resource to provide fun: water. That is why as leaders in the aquatic play industry, we have our team of designers and engineers continuously examining and developing innovative sustainable options for the use, reuse, and disposal of water consumed in our installations. The future of play is about offering balanced and sustainable solutions to minimize our impact on the planet. For us, that means minimizing water usage through intelligent technology and product selection, from high-efficiency nozzles and spray heads to selecting play products that require less water.
Another important aspect for the sustainability our installations is the management of effluent water. Through research and development, we have developed new options for managing effluent water that are both eco-friendly and cost-efficient. These water management systems capture effluent water and repurpose it for percolation, above-ground irrigation, or sub-surface irrigation – effectively returning water to nature.
During these tough economic times, we all need to be conscious of our budget constraints. That’s where economic sustainability must make sense for both the short and long term life of a play installation. At Vortex, we try to get our customers thinking about creating a long-term sustainable operation by looking at their park or commercial space from a growth and maintenance perspective. Essentially, getting the biggest impact from a modest initial investment, yet incorporating flexible designs that offer expandability without disrupting infrastructure. This makes future expansion economical and makes it possible to stretch the overall cost over several years.
Of course, we can’t talk about economic sustainability without addressing ongoing maintenance. Design must include structures and materials that are long-lasting and durable. Reliability is about making repairs and part replacements minimal, having low maintenance and labor costs. In the end it all ties together, because the real economic advantage of a sustainably designed play space is that it should increase water park usage, attract new families and boost fun all around."
Yuval Golan, VP Marketing & Business Development, EyeClick
"While children clearly benefit from traditional forms of play that have been around for generations, I believe that we will see the nature of play change dramatically in the coming decades. The emphasis will be on new technological innovations and adaptivity. Games that emphasize healthier lifestyles will also be prominent. The importance of safety and overcoming obesity will only continue to grow as major concerns in society and I believe that we will see games change to reflect these issues.
Innovation can be quite transformative for children. Of course, kids all around the world are now accustomed to having videogame consoles at home. Why not take those systems outside of the home? In doing so, the experience can improve by becoming far more social in nature. With our EyePlay system, 8-10 children can play together. This is quite a different experience for a child than sitting alone in front of a television in the dark. Our games emphasize teamwork and working together to solve goals.
New forms of media offer a tremendous potential to customize and change games. It is now possible to easily change and adapt themes. For example, they can be updated to various holidays and occasions throughout the year. Both children and parents appreciate this interactive element where games constantly metamorphosize into something new.
Safety is another aspect that I feel is important to play. There is a great deal of concern circulating around about disease. Many parents worry about allowing their children to play with others for fear that their children will contract germs and become sick. In the future, I think we will see more activities that emphasize germ-free environments. This is one of the reasons that the EyePlay has been so popular with hospitals that are seeking a way to allow patients to play without actually touching objects or one another. Plus, since our system lacks physical parts, kids can't trip or fall.
I also feel that the future of play involves encouraging kids to move. When youngsters miss out on activities like running, dancing, twisting and jumping, it can encourage them to be sedentary and ultimately set them down the path towards obesity. The First Lady has really shown the spotlight on the importance of fitness and good nutrition with her Let's Move! initiative. The President's Council for Fitness recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Sadly, many kids are coming nowhere near that amount. We can raise a healthier generation of children if we start blending physical activity into play. Since many of today's children gravitate towards immersive videogame experiences anyhow, it only makes sense to make these experiences interactive and full of physical activity."
"At Park Games Equipment (PGE) we’re seeing a strong trend towards customized play design. For LEGOLAND Malaysia, customization has added creativity and freshness; kids are totally engrossed in the storyline while playing with the customized play environment. Similarly, the made-to-order Safari at the recently refurbished Safari Playground (First World Theme Park, Genting Highlands, Malaysia) is a big hit.
However, a lack of talented designers is one of our major concerns. This is an issue for most industry players in our region. We would really like to see the Asian theme park industry endorsing an educational program to train the next generation of designers required by the growing market."
Nathan Jones, VP of Sales & Marketing, Americas for Prime Play
"In today’s world, family time can be hard to juggle; we believe that the current and future landscape of ‘play’ will continue to be more interactive between family members in a fun environment … emphasizing active. Active play is increasingly important, as our culture focuses on so many of the sedentary, isolated escapes that can tempt children and lead them away from healthy fun.
Many of our clients are researching ways to engage a wider demographic range of park visitors. By creating interactive and physically active areas, it drives length of stay, participation amongst all family members, and creates new experiences, drawing in new visitors.
The convergence of interactive wet and dry experience zones will be integral in ‘the future of play’. We have designed our new Family Adventure Parks to offer family time where everyone can climb, zip line and explore wet and dry adventure zones. Products like Adventure Trail, Sky Trail® Ropes Course and AquaCourseTM are prime examples of attractions that are fun, active and family oriented. In the past year, we have launched these products and added different levels of water to create completely new attractions that have added new ways to play. By adding water to these traditionally dry attractions, it gives operators a new promotion to showcase during the summer months, and in the shoulder season, the water can be reduced or turned off all together and still be a fun and interactive dry attraction.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are used constantly by today’s youth. Teens and tweens can relate to videos and imagery much easier than ever before and is their main form of communication. They know about each and every ride often before ever stepping foot in a park. Embracing this technology will be the key to attracting and retaining this key demographic. By incorporating mobile platforms and making them part of an attraction, the experience takes on a new dimension that can be an individual adventure or shared with their peers.
The layering of technology is a natural evolution that has already taken place in retail around the world; that has not changed what we have shopped for but has revolutionized how we interact when we shop. Image recognition, scanning barcodes, and augmented reality apps have all been used to empower consumers to create the shopping experience catered around their needs. In all these cases, the store and merchandise stays the same; it is the consumer that has the power to change how they utilize technology.
We are seeing the same changes in the amusement park sectors with the inclusion of technology; it will continue to bring together the active play experience with a layer of technology to engage a wider demographic. These applications add to the experience, and are not necessary to enjoy a amusement park attraction. That way, the purists are still satisfied with being able to climb, zip, and explore while the tweens have a whole other world that comes alive through technology."