Passion of The Audience.

AntiUS_Rally_Held_b4b2Massively 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.

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7 thoughts on “Passion of The Audience.

  1. Matthew, I loved your wrap-up paragraph at the end over the “great debate” of parents supervising what their children are doing. I am of the belief that parenting is still in the hands of the parents. Great post!

  2. I think good parents would definitely monitor their kids while playing online games, and if they don’t then shame on them. I like playing online games all the time, and it bugs when when little kids get on with me at 12 midnight. They here all kinds of things that kids shouldn’t here.

    I also feel that companies have a moral responsibility to make sure that kids don’t get themselves into lobbies that they shouldn’t. I would love developers to start implementing some kind of age limit on lobbies. Let parents create a profile for their kids, and only allow those kids to play with other kids their age. It would be similar to what Microsoft did with the Xbox, and having the ability to choose what type of gamer you are (I chose Pro). Anyway, just a thought.

  3. My oldest (7) plays both Club Penguin and Wizard 101. It’s a difficult thing to do, cater to both adults and kids, because they are two very different audiences. Penguins caters to kids plain and simple. Other than helping him occasionally I have no interest in that game. Wizard 101, however, while not deep enough to hold my attention for long periods is a fun game and I have a family account so that we can play together. I have no concerns about safety in either circumstance.

    Part of my ease comes from the safety mechanisms built into the games. Like you say, the developers recognize the issues and build the game to accommodate with chat and naming restrictions. The other part is his age. At seven, he can’t yet read fast and still stumbles over big words and slang. To him the chat window doesn’t even exist. He’s just focused on the game. Kids don’t play these games in the same way as adults. He knows other people are moving the characters around the screen but he’s not paying attention to what they’re saying at all. He will use the emotes to make his characters do funny things but the only time he’s social in penguins is when he calls his seven year old friend on the phone and they visit each other’s igloo.

    The Wii is great for kids at this age. It’s a very social gaming experience within the house. We play Boom Blox, Mario Carts and Mario Galaxy all as a family and have a great time. It’s a completely different animal from computer MMO’s. MMO’s have potential to be fun family experiences but have major limitations for the non-enthusiast audience. For a family of four to actually play together requires four copies of the game, four subscriptions, four computers networked together and still lacks the intimacy of the Wii because those computers are likely in different rooms.

    You touch on two issues here. One is what is fun for families to do together. In this respect, for all but the enthusiast crowd, the computer can’t touch the Wii. And that’s fine. While it can be fun to sit with your child and play an MMO, a game developer would have to work some serious magic to get the family around a 22 inch monitor for a Wii like experience. If you want a Wii experience, buy a Wii.

    So with that in mind I say make games for kids. Make it easy for parents to quickly understand what the game is about and what restrictions are in place for safety. Give parents tools to help them do their job and allow them to feel comfortable leaving their children to play unsupervised. The two games above do this pretty well. As a parent I’m far more concerned about a few years from now. Kids in those pre-teen years are far more socially aware and far more interested in participating in adult activities, preferably out of sight where those pesky parents don’t get in the way.

    • First let me start off by saying, thank you everyone for the comments!

      It does start with the parents. It is our responsibility as parents to make sure that our child isn’t playing something that’s out of their league or that they’re playing with someone that they should not. I stand firm in my belief though, that we as consumers, need to be more vocal about the creation of games that are aimed at our families as the intended audience instead of only our children. While it may seem difficult to accomplish today, a year from now, new technology will make it even easier to design games that enable us all to share the experience from one console or one computer. Companies want more sales and they’ll accomplish that goal immensely if they continue to get the kind of involvement that simple board games used to enjoy.

      • Yes I think you are right on that point. There is room for all types of games but there is a real shortage of games that you might call “family co-op”. I would love to see more.

  4. Hey Matt, I liked your entry very much and also the comments left by the readers. Everyone seems to have interesting things to say about the subject which shows its relevance.
    Not being a parent, I don’t have much of an opinion on gaming companies targetting children. I do think there should probably be heightened security on games targeted to adults so that children aren’t exposed to adult material but on the whole I think the big companies have done an adequate job with a product that has become so popular so quickly.
    I like your idea though that gaming companies should try to produce games that target familes instead of just kids or parents. However, I think that might be tough as family oriented games, atleast those that a family would play at the same time, might mean that said family would need to own more than one computer? A possible hardhip, perhaps. That’s why the Wii, or other console, might be the best idea for familes and children, not MMOGs. As other noters and yourself have said, it’s up to the parents ultimately to decide what type of gaming and games are suitable.

  5. I agree with you. It’s an interesting subject. I am curious to see how kids grow up and how the internet evolves around them. As parents and adults it will be important for us to keep a close eye on our children. There is a virtual world out there that is not child friendly and when you think about it.. It’s very easy for them to get mixed up in Websites where they do not belong. I enjoy online gaming as much as the next person. It does take a lot of my free time. Kids should be allowed to play online video games but they should also have to interact physically with other kids and people. Making games that require physical interaction like the Wii is a great idea. It’s just interesting to see where the internet will lead us next.

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