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Role Playing (Games) Businesses The Internet Toys

Disney, Stuffed Animals, Draw Kids to Online Games 20

CNN Money has up a piece looking at the next defining force in online games; neither Blizzard nor Lord of the Rings Online has their attention: it's all about stuffed animals. 'Tweens', as they're called, are a hugely influential market and game-makers are finally responding with online spaces keyed to their interests. Titles like Club Penguin and WebKinz allow older kids their freedom while still providing a safe place to play. Outfits like Disney and Nickelodeon are getting into the fray, and with good reason. Tweens, the article estimates, are a $40 billion demographic. "Club Penguin and Webkinz trumpet their sites as safe, ad-free environments. Disney and Nickelodeon are more frankly commercial and--in a big shift--ad-supported. Marketing to kids is always tricky; no one wants to be seen shilling to children. And whether the kids will buy the branded content, or the products advertised, remains to be seen. But the biggest question hovering over this whole market is what the kids will want in the future--like next week. The most carefully crafted strategies can be blown up by an overnight shift in whatever adolescents deem cool. "
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Disney, Stuffed Animals, Draw Kids to Online Games

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  • Finicky market (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vulva R. Thompson, P ( 1060828 ) on Monday March 26, 2007 @04:42PM (#18492691)
    I cancelled my 8-year old daughter's Toontown account this morning because she hadn't been playing for a while (at $9.95 a month). The cancellation went smoothly and we got to the point where they asked why we were cancelling.

    I said because she's into the "penguin" site and just lost interest in Toontown. "Oh yeah, I've been hearing about the penguins quite a bit lately" was her answer. (i.e. clubpenguin mentioned in tfa)

    Note that there was a lot of work put into her Toontown character. It's like WOW in that the character needs to be developed and leveled. However, my daughter and her classmates had no problem simply dumping their character and moving on en masse. The time investment is viewed differently at that age.

    Before penguins, Webkinz was all the rage but it now also sits idle. It's a classic fad where there's a window of opportunity to grab the market but the finicky age demographic here makes it really brutal to keep them like WOW does. There are grownups I know that would literally cry if they lost their WOW account whereas these kids would just move on to the next thing without batting an eyelash.

    On another topic, all of this was accomplished with a strict one-hour a day regimen, after homework and casual reading time, etc. Imho, the positive aspect is that they focus intently and stick to the tasks involved for an extended period of time (i.e. one sitting). The negative is that after a month of play, they don't reach an endgame where there's a complete sense of "getting the job done". But there's still a pretty good sense of accomplishment along the way (for what you could expect in this age range).

  • Re:My favorite quote (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 26, 2007 @04:42PM (#18492695)
    I think the bigger problem is marketing to young kids who have just gained (some limited) purchasing power.

    Friends of mine have three boys, aged 8 to 12. They're allowed 20 minutes of screen time per weekday. They can allocate it all to TV, the computer or a combination of both. This solves many things:

    - the boys don't fight over using the screens as there's only an hour of time to divide between them
    - they learn to be selective of what they want to do with their time
    - they learn to be very efficient at answering e-mails and browsing the web
    - they get limited exposure to the commercials on TV
    - the computer is set up in the kitchen, so the parents can monitor the content

    It sounds very draconian and oppressive, but it works very well. Kids at that age need a lot of guidance and it's the parent's role to give it.
  • Re:Furry alert (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikeyTheK ( 873329 ) on Monday March 26, 2007 @04:48PM (#18492777)
    My eldest daughter is a tween, and she is all over this. For her and her friends it's a fun social event, much like online console games are for us adults. She is constantly on Club Penguin, and, and Webkins, etc. and is frequently making "dates" with her friends to "meet" there. For them it is much-appreciated social time that they wouldn't otherwise get because we just aren't going to make play dates for them every single day. As parents we appreciate the diversion that this gives them, and we definitely are more brand-loyal due to furries. Just one good example is All the kids, from the three-year-old on up are on it all the time. It's safe. It's fun, just like Disney Channel, which winds up being one of only a handful of channels that we let them watch. No commercials: Big bonus. No commercials causing them to ask awkward questions when we aren't ready to talk about some topic: Big bonus. When the kids get together, furries are what they talk about (although today is the first time I've heard that term applied), and adults take notice that they enjoy the fare that we serve, so we naturally support their interest in the products connected to these sites. Nickelodeon is generally less popular in our circle, as we don't appreciate Spongebob and many of the other characters as being too "below" the kids' level, and encourage the least common denominator (there are some Disney shows that do as well, but we don't let them have all-they-can eat of those, either). The only thing than safe online places to play is the safety afforded by a kid-proof browser. We have used Bumper Car for OSX for years, and swear by it. It's easy enough for the three-year-old, but by a whitelist and hueristic system, lets me control what the older kids can get onto. Since each user has their own account, I can easily customize what each kid is allowed to access. If I don't trust the hueristics (uh, I'm a geek and they're still young, so I don't), then they are even more locked down than they would be with the use of a filtering firewall, because as they get older they won't be able to overcome the router, even if they know how.

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