Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG’s) are a hobby of mine, no, a passion. I started when I was very young. Sitting behind my older brother and watching him play games like, Ultima, back when the Commodore was king. I liked the idea that the grown ups were into things where they would use their imagination just as much as I did. Today the grown ups are playing more games than the kids. That’s changing little by little each year with the recent upsurge in free to play MMOG’s. Already the online marketplace is filled with free to play MMO’s.
- Free Realms
- Spine World
- Club Penguin
- Wizardry 101
That is just the short list. There’s multiple titles out there aimed squarely at the 8-10 male and female demographic.
Now here is my problem, with free to play games on the rise and our children the intended audience, what are these developers doing to ensure their safety? At least in the real world if I take the kids to the playground I can see who is out there and who I’m dealing with. When you take a product and focus it so intently on an extremely young audience you do two things. First of all you force your company to ensure the parents and guardians of your audience that it is in fact, “safe.” Meaning you police your virtual world at all times and some how have the technology in place to keep the wolves from the sheep. Failure to do this means you only hurt yourself on any potential ad campaign. Secondly, and most importantly, you cut out the older audience from wanting to have anything to do with the experience to begin with.
Here’s the scenario, take a child aged 3-6 years old. Place them in front of the television with the Sprout network on and watch as you become invisible. Sometimes that’s a great thing to have but should we have that with our online games? The great thing about the Wii console is that through its technological gimmick it draws the entire household into the experience. The reason for that? Simply the fact that the content is fun and the mechanics are easy enough for anyone to try. The problem with online gaming is that social interaction is going to happen, it’s how the system is designed. When designers publish content for our children that cuts the adults out of the equation it’s the equivalent of dropping your kids off at a crowded park and leaving them there. They’re going to interact with other children and also other adults.
The great debate will go on about whether or not parents should supervise online interaction, television and any other activity that adults aren’t the targeted audience for. Where companies can profit from this though, is by taking a page from Nintendo’s playbook by designing content that involves the entire household.