You’re the Boss: new game for CBBC’s The Dumping Ground

Content Producer

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How do you make a game that tackles the serious issue of living in a children’s care home and is fun and engaging for our CBBC audience? I want to explain how the new game for CBBC does just that – it’s to support the new series of The Dumping Ground and it’s called ‘You’re the Boss!’

I’m a Content Producer for CBBC interactive and I produced the game with the BBC in-house team and indie agency Somethin Else.

The Dumping Ground is now in its third series. The show follows the trials and tribulations of young people in a children’s care home called Ashdene Ridge.  It deals with tough emotional stories in an accessible and entertaining way and follows on from the successful Tracy Beaker programmes based on the books by Jacqueline Wilson. 

We knew that "nurture" games (i.e games in which you have to look after characters) are popular with our CBBC audience, and particularly with girls aged 10 -12 – a key demographic of the viewers of The Dumping Ground. It seemed a perfect fit.  With 14 young people with different passions, desires and needs all living in The Dumping Ground and the chaos that constantly follows – what better game story could we find than to try to keep everyone happy?

We created a clear definition of what we wanted the game to be: “You’re the Boss is a resource management game with soul, in which the user must create, nurture and maintain a positive environment to achieve harmony amongst the well-loved residents of the ‘Dumping Ground’.” 

So how do you keep young people happy? We were keen the game reflected all aspects of happiness – not just short-term quick fixes. So we collaborated with Somethin Else to develop a mechanic that measured happiness in three ways: fun, fairness and love.

Fun was easy – you can buy the young people things for the house (like a telly) or give them activities to do with their friends. Players are rewarded for knowing the characters of The Dumping Ground; you wouldn’t please Tee if you made her play football!

Our audience really care about the characters and their lives. Keeping the Dumping Ground characters believable in-game was paramount. We worked closely with the Script Editor Phil Gladwin to define the likes and dislikes of every character so when they are featured in the game they are true to their personalities in the show. This was built using a matrix to ensure that characters behaved appropriately within the game system.

Love and fairness were a bit trickier. Players have to deal with events that might happen in the show. This may range from a simple conflict “Jody called Harry a cowbag!” to a situation that is unique to young people living in care. For example; “Tyler’s mum was due to visit but she didn’t turn up.”

We were keen that these events didn’t become too repetitive so we built a database of variables for each part of the sentence to keep the game entertaining. For example Jody might call any number of characters a ‘cowbag’, but she might also call them a loser, a nerdface or a big fat baby! Every event also had a list of characters it might apply to – so a visit from mum would only happen for the children in the show known to have a mum.

Players must choose how they deal with each situation – spending hard earned stars from completing chores to send the young people to Mike or May Li; the care workers, or by ignoring the problem and risk making the young person unhappy. We were keen to show that everything is a balance!

Any game must be challenging and replayable to encourage our players to return as often as they do to the show. We developed a series of quests that will be released every week after The Dumping Ground show is aired and tie in with that episode’s story. Completing the quests will unlock more rooms, characters and furniture in the house – and add to the complexity (and chaos!) of the game.

Finally, something we are really proud of; the accessibility feature. The game is built in Unity; a cross platform game development system. The benefits of a cross platform approach using Unity are clear: the potential to reach our audience with a consistent experience across mobile, tablet and desktop. However, it was not without its challenges. To create an accessible experience, Somethin Else had to build a bespoke voice over mode and auto scan mode for the game because we could not use the device’s in-built features with Unity for a non-native app. They rose to the challenge and we look forward to evaluating the success of this feature in the near future.

I really hope our audience enjoys the game as much as we have enjoyed making it.

The Dumping Ground- You’re the Boss is available in the Apple app store and Google Play store and as a desktop game on theCBBC website now.

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