Nickelodeon’s Two Virtual Worlds
Last July, MTV Networks’ Nickelodeon Kids and Family Group announced that it would invest $100 million into casual games and virtual worlds. Today already saw the announcement of World of Neopia, the first to come out of the newly formed Neostudios. Today the company also announced that it would develop another virtual world deveoted to SpongeBob SquarePants as well as a social network and MMOG called Monkey World, based on entirely new concepts, all supported by paid tiers for premium content and additional customization. “Now a virtual world is putting its foot out there as another viable medium, not just to extend brands but to create brands,” Steve Youngwood, executive vp digital media at Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group, told Hollywood Reporter.
I’m PUMPED for the Monkey World MMO!!!!!! WOOOT. It just SOUNDS bonkers. I’m eagle eyeing this. I can’t wait to see how it will compare in age, action, and brand play with the future rockstar Fusion Fall from Cartoon Network.
As for Sponge Bob’s? I’m skeptical, yet hopeful? I was a huge SB fan. Haaa-uge. And then it kinda jumped the shark. Lost it’s sweet goofiness for a mean, snarky under tone. They make fun of people instead of delight in the joy of silliness and absurdity.
Plus it makes me think about the problem with having a virtual world for character brands – much like the Muppets. Think about it– if you were going to be in a virtual world like the Muppets, or Sponge Bob… you don’t want to look like some average guppy or weird pseudo-human/muppet, you want to look like the main characters. I’d be insulted if I were to join a muppet world and have to look like Janice, or Scooter. Booooooo. I want to BE Ganzo. Just like if I were in Spongebob’s virtual world I would want to BE Spongebob or Patrick. Not anyone else. Everyone else is lame compared to the focus characters. And if everyone was fozzie/ganzo/patrick/spongebob? Booo. I’d feel gyped. I would want to be just as unique and personality-fueled as the beloved main characters.
Pirates of the Caribbean worked because the romantic wish to be a pirate is a long-time play pattern. And the desire to interact in a pirate world can trump the need to BE Elizabeth, Jack, or William. You still get to be a pirate, go on adventures, and make a name for yourself. But if I wanted to be someone in a virtual world for spongebob? If I looked like a guppee or a sponge of a different color (for uniqueness)– it doesn’t give me the same sense. I don’t want to be in Bikini Bottom to be a fish resident. I want to be in Bikini Bottom to be Sandy the Squirrel or Patrick StarFish. As for the muppets– even if I COULD be a muppet that doesn’t look pseudo-human (ala Scooter, Janice, Skeeter, Dr. Teeth), what the heck would I look like? Henson’s boundaries were numerous. And would I still get a thrill out of being a chicken in Carmilla’s flock? Mmm.
The MMO for Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends worked. But again– the idea of being dreaming up some whacked out imaginary friend is a long-time play pattern. Growing up I had “Herbie” who had the head of a watering can and sock hands (my dad used to randomly honk the car’s horn and wave at nothing, claiming Herbie was hitchhiking again, lurved it!). Can the thrill of the brand’s main characters supersede the so-so brand’s world (when the society is less than a main character)?
Sure a Spongebob‘s world would still gain some momentum. It’s Spongebob… a marketing machine for the wee ones, and even (in image at least) the alterno-teens! But in the grand scheme of things? Boo. Will it have long lasting momentum with return users who feel empowerment & tv-show-play-pattern fun?
I guess that’s the million dollar question.
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