You Know, for Kids!

Despite the abundance of MMO’s on the market today, one constantly hears about the “aging MMO player base” and the speculation on how that will affect the development of MMO’s in the coming years. MMO gamers in their 30’s and 40’s are typically harnessed by time constraints which leads to a more casual play-style. Casual play demands goals that are more attainable with less time invested. Meanwhile, the younger player base becomes frustrated by the simplification of a game that can no longer hold their attention for more than a couple of weeks, and starts turning towards the instant gratification and re-playability of MOBA’s, further contributing to the “aging MMO player base”, and placing the MMO’s we know and love in danger of eventual extinction.

However, I may have a solution.

The title for this post was lifted from from the Coen brothers movie “The Hudsucker Proxy”, and it brings to mind an interesting question for the future of MMO’s. Sony Online Entertainment recently shuttered several of it’s MMO-type games aimed at the younger audience. In a recent Reddit conversation, SOE President John Smedley was asked this question:

Are you planning on adding more family-friendly options? First there was Toontown Online, then there was Free Realms, and CWA. Is there another youth-oriented game planned?

to which he candidly responded:

No. No more kids games. Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game.

In other words, it costs too much and the return is not good enough. But I wonder if that line of thinking isn’t a bit short-sighted. After all, wasn’t Apple computer’s initial success due to their ability to get a computer into thousands of grade-school classrooms, thus convincing parents that having the same computer at home would be an educational boon to their developing children? I know that’s why my first computer was an Apple IIc growing up. It’s also no secret why churches with great children’s and youth programs tend to thrive while those without tend to plateau, or worse, wither away. Get the kids and you bring in the parents.

Perhaps hooking parents into playing the same MMO as their kids is a long shot. Even so, targeting kids with your product is a good long-term strategy, even if you disagree with what’s being sold. Phil Vischer, founder of Big Idea (of Veggie Tales fame) recounts a media conference he once attended that simultaneously opened his eyes and turned his stomach:

Viacom sells Blue’s Clues with one hand and MTV with the other. Disney sells Mickey Mouse with one hand an Desperate Housewives with another. …. Why do they sell good values to preschoolers? Because there’s money in it. Why do they sell lousy values to the same kids ten years later? Because there’s money in it. When faced with the choice of doing what is beneficial and doing what is profitable, these companies choose profitable every time. Their shareholders require it. I sat at a media conference in New York and listened to Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone explain to a roomful of Wall Street analysts how he intended to hook kids with Blue’s Clues and lead them through Nickelodeon straight to MTV.

Troubling images of selling values to toddlers and teenagers aside, “hooking kids in” in the hopes that they will grow with your product lines is a solid strategy. How many thirty-something’s play MMO’s today because they started in their teens or pre-teens playing paper and pencil or text-based RPG’s? It was a natural progression of integrating something they loved (and knew about) with technology mixed with just a dash of nostalgia.

To recap, the potential benefits of producing kids/family MMO’s are:

  • Short term: parents of children who play MMO’s will see the educational/entertainment value and perhaps even be curious enough to start looking into MMO’s for themselves, or at the very least support their children’s gaming desires financially if they are a reasonable (read: very low) amount.
  • Long term: children who learn to love MMO’s now will be long-term customers who are loyal to the genre and will pay dividends in the future when they have means of income and the ability to choose their own forms of entertainment.

Surely, a company as large as Sony has some long-term strategic planners who would be excited about this notion, even if the current expense of supporting children’s MMO’s is steep. I suppose kids games are hard, Mr Smedley. Perhaps you should give KingsIsle a call and ask them how they manage to do it with so fewer resources than what you have at your disposal!

Ignoring kids as a market segment is to concede that your target demographic will continue to be a more casual, busy and distracted gamer. It could potentially have a long-term impact on the continued success of the MMO genre.

Featured image by Melanie Holtsman on Flickr

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6 thoughts on “You Know, for Kids!

  1. Fredelas Fairfodder (@BrandywineFred) February 19, 2014 / 9:50 pm

    I don’t think for-profit television programming for children would be an option if advertisers didn’t want time in front of their eyes, too. How do you feel about ad-supported gaming for your children?

    Without this, I think studios would have to make their individual brands much more distinctive and their games much more addictive to leverage children’s titles as loss-leaders. Unless we want Sony to start behaving like Philip Morris, this might not be as good a thing as you think.

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    • Braxwolf February 20, 2014 / 9:25 am

      It’s funny that you mention old Joe Camel, as that’s an image I had in my mind also. Though unless you think gaming is as damaging to one’s health as smoking, I’m not sure that’s such a terrible thing.

      More addictive is one approach, familiarity with IP is another. Many brands do this very well: Marvel, Lego, Star Wars. They sell toddler toys in happy meals all the way up to complex robotic systems costing thousands of dollars. Lego becomes a trusted brand from an early age. Kids form affinity to certain Marvel characters by watching “super hero squad”. Also, it’s not like video games aren’t already targeted at children. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of examples of this in browser flash-based games and in mobile app stores. It’s just that most MMO’s continue to ignore this market.

      As far as advertising goes – doesn’t this also already happen? Not only in the browser and mobile games mentioned earlier but every time we’re met with a screen with a little turbine point or mithril coin logo?

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  2. tsuhelm February 20, 2014 / 4:11 am

    Or the other aspect of parents introducing the MMO of choice (OH I will say it, LOTRO..he he!) to their kids. Mine are as yet way too young 😦

    But as we are yet to fully grasp what this generation of gamers will like in the future it would be prudent to be involved with them as early as possible to see how those tastes develop. I know from first hand how much more exposed kids are to gaming nowadays…I was shocked how addicted to a tablet my 3 year old became but also amazed at how naturally he was able to use it. Kids with exposure to this kind of interactivity may find games us ‘old’ gamers like a wee bit mundane…time will tell. (Oh and thankfully he broke the tablet and is now enjoying more active 3 year old pursuits!)

    As I also pointed out recently elsewhere a RETRO factor will also come into play where hard-core players will seek out and revive the ‘old’ classics…

    Interesting times…

    Like

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