Turn a real-time map into an educational roadtrip game. The game must build geography and navigational skills. Kids have to want to play this over regular games.

An Israeli startup in the MindCet accelerator. MindCet is inside the Center for Education Technology (same building as the country's board of education).

Utilize company's existing mapping technology. Users can't control the car or map. Must be fun whether first or 20th time through a location. Encourage the child to look out the window while still coming back to the app.

My prototype was presented on stage at SXSW, EdTech conference. It helped RoadStory get offers from
Disney, Pearson Ed and other potential partners.


RoadStory had incredible technology that could overlay a real-time map with procedurally generated graphics and interactive points of interest (POIs) associated with those locations. However, they weren’t sure how to apply the technology beyond “educational game”. That’s where I came in, I had to find a way to turn a map (this foreign language to a child) into a truly fun and habit inducing experience.

We did this by turning a real-time map of the user's location into an educational treasure hunt. By controlling the balloon, the user can uncover the map and the treasures it hides. By limiting the range of the balloon, the child can now connect what they are seeing in the game to what they are seeing out the window.


The Hooked Model

In the book Hooked, Nir Eyal and Ryan Hoover lay out the model below as a method for developing habits. The more someone goes through the cycle, the more likely they are to form the habit. In this post, I use the model, to explain how we turn simple actions into lasting habits. 


The Triggers

RoadStory's internal trigger is a combination of boredom and curiosity. Whenever a child is bored during a car ride, they can look to the app for entertainment. If a parent sees that their child is bored, they can encourage them to play RoadStory and feel safe, knowing their child will not just have fun, but will be learning. 

If they are curious to know: 'Where are we heading?', 'What is that building?', 'Are we there yet?', or many other curiosities, the app is there, not simply to answer these questions, but to teach them that they can find the answers themselves. It can be vexing, when children constantly ask these questions. Consequently, parents appreciate the ability to encourage their child to look in their RoadStory for the answer. Obviously children can often tell when they are frustrating their parents, so they are naturally enticed to check the app before asking. 

Since RoadStory is an educational game, our initial trigger was to market it to parents, so that they could download it for their children. We planned to later implement collaborative social game dynamics that would stimulate sharing and enhance gameplay for advanced players.


A natural external trigger for RoadStory was entering the car. We tried to establish a habit so that:

Every time a child got in a car they'd think of opening RoadStory.

This was the clear advantage of our more targeted use case. The benefit of restricting the user to only being able to access the majority of the app’s functionality during car (and bus rides), means the user instantly associates this setting with our app. This gives RoadStory a huge advantage in winning the battle to be first to the user’s mind when in that setting. This also forms a natural restriction on play that ensures users want to continue to play it, as they don't burn out from using it too much. 


Restricting Play

Scientists* gave two groups of people chocolate. The first group were told not to eat any more for two weeks. The second group were given more and were told to enjoy all of it during the two weeks. When they came back, the group who abstained, loved the chocolate. Unsurprisingly, the group who were gorging on it, were indifferent to having more. This shows how we want to restrict users from gorging on our game so they don't burn out from the main mechanics.

Advent calendars have similar psychology.

Advent calendars have similar psychology.


Many games, such as Candy Crush, try to manufacturer this restriction to play, but this creates a love-hate relationship between the player and the game. When users are kicked out of the game on a loss, they aren't left with a good feeling. It can lead to feelings of manipulation and frustration. This often leads to 'rage quits' or being seen as malicious mind control. RoadStory intentionally avoids this. 


With RoadStory the child leaves the game when arriving at their destination. Since RoadStory knows the destination we wanted to purposefully design it so they leave on a high note. This is done through game progression having a peak and relief points in terms of challenge and rewards. They should be excited to go enjoy the real physical environment they are about to enter. This is something they should naturally already be feeling so RoadStory is just enhancing that experience.



With RoadStory we made the action real simple, just drag the balloon around to eliminate the clouds and uncover the map. For performing this action, the user is rewarded with information and treasure. They can now see a (child friendly) map of their actual location. For example, on the left you can see a user uncovering a Hotel, bus stop and a Museum. Each of which can be tapped to show a treasure unlocked via mini-game. Badges are used to ensure more common findings, like bus stops, still excite the user.

A Trivia game based on user's location. 

A Trivia game based on user's location. 

This is important for areas which lack POIs. Treasure is typically unlocked via mini-games. They are designed to be fun, but also to deliver a different form of learning. Some of the mini-games are: trivia, matching, racing, find the optimal route, direction testing and hidden object games.

Eventually with power-ups, like cord extensions and free roam, children can uncover areas they would have otherwise missed or have yet to pass through. This makes it easier to look out for the POIs coming up and it allows them to get a better understanding of the places they just passed.



According to Hooked, there are three types of rewards: rewards of the hunt, of the self and rewards of the tribe. To fulfill a win seeking brain, the game starts out really easy, giving variable rewards that release dopamine in the user and then progressively gets harder and harder. This is a typical of most skinner boxes**.

Rewards of the hunt: stem from our primal instincts such as for finding food and resources. Money and information are examples of new types of resources we hunt for in the modern world. For example, when scrolling through your twitter feed you are hunting for information and that activates our reward center. 

Part of what we are doing is also getting children excited about exploring. A child’s anticipation for going to new areas not yet mapped to their RoadStory (activates the nucleus accumbens*), can make a child excited to explore and learn (both in the digital and physical world). 

To ensure it was still fun to come to an area time and time again, we planned to introduce a capturing system not unlike Pokeballs. This meant that every time a player leveled up, they could go back to these areas and rediscover them, uncovering things they hadn't the first time through.


Reward of the self: feel good in and of themselves. We don’t need other people for these rewards, they are not about information or material rewards they are often the search for mastery, completion, competency etc. We see these in games i.e. getting to the next achievement. E-mail does the same thing when you try to check off that unread message or your "to do list" of getting things done. 

RoadStory stimulates the reward of self with its cloud game mechanic. Users' intrinsic drive for mastery, consistency and completion is rewarded in their uncovering of the map. As the user uncovers the map, they find treasure (a variable reward). Treasure comes in the form of points, parts (for the balloon/car/character) and power-ups. I intentionally wanted to link the treasure to the education/knowledge. We did this by unlocked treasure via educational mini-games. The idea is that a user looks forward to finding treasure and therefore is looking forward to finding education. Hopefully over time we would subliminally encourage children to see the knowledge and education as a reward of its own.

Rewards of the tribe: feel good and come from other people. We had a lot of ideas for a more social collaborative game play but before we could start focusing on these modes, we wanted to ensure the game was fun to play on your own. A user shouldn’t need someone else to play the game, but it can enhance the gameplay.



Although most investments were not consider to be within the scope of the minimum viable product, we came up with the methods we would later implement to ensure they fit holistically. Users would be able to personalize their car and the balloon allowing them to connect more deeply with the app, thereby increasing their likelihood of returning. Eventually we wanted users to be able to input information on POIs but this was much further down the line.

We specifically wanted to create instances that encouraged parent-child interaction. There were a number of different ways this could manifest. One way is for parents to invest in the game by inputing POIs specifically for their children. Such as: Grandma's home, where mom grew up, elementary school, park etc. 



My prototype was presented on stage at SXSW, EdTech conference. It helped RoadStory get offers from Disney, Pearson Ed and other potential partners.