Okay, thought I’d take a wee moment to point out some of the things people are doing well in the market.
GREAT CHAT PRESENTATION:
Club Penguin still takes the cake here. Let me explain:
1. It doesn’t show users what words are spelled in correctly, or not approved. Many use “red out” words to show the user what they can’t say. The problem with this is – IT’S A TIP OFF. If I can’t write numbers, I will phonetically write them (one becomes on, two – too, three – tree, four – fort, etc). It no longer becomes “we’re trying to help protect you”, and instead “this is a challenge for you to work around”.
2. You can write whatever you like an submit it – and just because YOU can see it in world doesn’t mean anyone else can. My Mod Lead and I sat in my igloo on Club Penguin last week trying out as many innocent & not-so-innocent phrases as we could. Maybe 5% of what we said could be seen. Yep. It’s nuts.
3. Obvious swears – they get submitted, but you’re automatically punished.
4. If you’re just wanting to cause problems – you can write write write all the nasty things you want (non-obvious curse), and just air your issues without hurting ANYONE else… but it keeps you active and in the world with little frustration (other than the fact no one is paying attention to you – which is the most ideal scenario. When no one pays attention, usually the naughty give up).
5. Don’t even try pressing any of the number keys, punctuation, or symbols. They won’t even show up on the chat text line, pre-submission. Heck, go ahead and try – press that 7 key all you wish. You’ll not see a 7 show up. Awesome!
My only problem with Club Penguin is the viewpoint. If I’m testing the swear filter, and I can see my curse word pop up over and over again, I assume everyone else can see it. Okay – so this is good and bad. I feel the pay off of seeing my curse word live, and the site protects everyone else from my language without my knowledge. However, what happens when an adult passes by, looks over my shoulder, and sees that certain things can be said in the world? Ugh, again, gives the wrong understanding to a parent. “You can swear here? Tsk tsk!”
Can’t win ’em all, can ya? Le sigh.
GREAT MINI GAMES:
Okay – I’m currently addicted to the mini games found in Pixie Hollow. They’re calm, sweet, and really addictive. In 2008, I might have said Neopets, because I was addicted to their Blocks game, but Pixie Hallow does a rock-solid job of providing a very theme-oriented, thorough mini game experience. Well played!
Also to note – if you’re willing to search ’em out, Free Realms also offers some addictive mini-game experiences. I get hooked on the farming & cooking games. These games are built in a way where it doesn’t feel separate. Often minigames are like branches off – just areas to work and get coins, but not really connected to the overall game play. Free Realms and some of the Pixie Hollow games both offer a breath of fresh air in this department. Cooking/Farming for Free Realms and Tinkering and clothes creating for Pixie Hollow – you’re doing these for the greater good of the quest play or customizations, not just for coins. Keepin’ that fourth wall of fantasy in place 🙂
Buildabearville has made some improvements! Their world just keeps getting bigger!! Okay – so now you can travel by train and boat, but it’s not as simple as just clicking on an environement. You have to find a train station, wait 30 seconds or so for a train, and then get on board. Once on the train, you can sit in a virtual car with others. If you don’t wish to hang out on the train, go ahead and “skip” and you’re now where you were wishing to travel to! Same with the boat – find the dock, take a seat and wait for the next boat, catch it in time and you will be transported to a whole new island that you wouldn’t be able to travel to from the map. They have mini-clips of the travel scenery, and they’re thorough with the seasonal changes (icy waters right now, and the island is closed due to the season – but don’t worry, you can still mill around and check it out).
Also, thanks Buildabearville for tossing a mini game in there – the beginning “load” time was nearly un”bear”able before, but now I’m distracted. Well played.
Wizard101 all the way. The style, content, and constantly changing environment – it’s fantastic, AND it stays on topic (something Free Realms confuses for me – race cars and fairies? Reminds me of apple sauce and mayonnaise combinations, but hey, sometimes it works). It’s a HUGE world, but the way they have it set up makes it relatively easy to navigate, and with the constant quests – there’s organization to the sprawling madness. When I first joined (two years ago now?) it was overwhelming, but with the structure now – definitely helps!
GREAT COLLABORATIVE EVENTS:
Working together – giving kids group activities w/o forcing them into it, is always brilliant in these environments. There are many ways of doing this – so I’ll just name a few: Dizzywood is great at making creative problem-solving adventures, and Club Penguin has really kicked into the collaborative unlockable VIP environments. Garden Party World has group puzzles that also invite competition (last one puzzle piece gives unlockable). I always love OurWorld’s café – become a barista and interact with others. Free Realms has dance off areas, and racing games, and game-play-trading (creating food plates for others to buy for their particular occupation path).
GREAT COLLABORATIVE GAMES:
Wizard101 is great at making challenges that require community aid (quests) (as does Toontown), Action AllStars has a really great series of sports trivia & fantasy gaming that involves large groups of users, and even though Pirates of the Caribbean is often too buggy for me (among other things), I will ALWAYS be enthralled with the sailing/pirating aspect of the game and how quickly and seamlessly users are willing to band together to roam the seas and really get into that game play with cheering & payoffs. There are a BUNCH of virtual worlds that invite community, competitive game play through minigames – Poptropica makes this process the simplest out of the batch.
GREAT USE OF JEDI-MIND-TRICKS:
Moshi Monsters continues to work around the community play with additions like forums, pin boards, e-card presents, voting, room visits, etc. Watch main street – you see all those monsters walking around? Yeah, well they’re very cleverly created bots that help keep users circulating and visiting other monsters. It’s a whole new approach to virtual worlds/mmo experiences.
GREAT USE OF SELF-REPORTING:
Club Penguin still owns this area – from the easy reporting system, to the Secret Agent crew, which puts pride into the community and encourages self-policing without being all lecture/teacher/goody-goody (not that goody-goody is bad, it’s just discouraging for a kid free environment without the “man”, lol). Awesome-o.
FYI TIP: WHEN MAKING A VIRTUAL WORLD, DO NOT FORGET TO ADD THE ‘IGNORE’ FUNCTION TO HELP USERS SELF-SILENCE THOSE WHO ARE BOTHERING THEM.
GREAT USE OF IP:
Wizard101. Seriously. So smart.
BORDERLINE CRAZY APPRECIATION:
Omg, fyi I am like so enthralled with Sweetyhigh right now. Yeah, it’s more for older tweens/teens, and it’s more of a multiplatform, social network and NOT a virtual world… but I love it. Their safety videos on youtube are brilliant. BRILLIANT. And their webisodes on the Sweetyhigh site make me nervous-giddy, like I just drank too much jolt and I’m ready to run around in circles while crushing on that cute guy and worrying about my soccer game later. HAHAHA – TIME WARP to HIGH SCHOOL 2.0.
I’ll add more later, but I think that’s a good start.
IF you’re making a Virtual World in 2010, here’s a few tips I’ve seen happen throughout the industry over the last few years:
- Make sure the user’s experience stretches from the tip of the toes to the tips of the finger nails to the Tips of the hair. What do I mean by this? Everything should be visually in sync. Example: chat font should be your choosing, headers/footers/bumper pages, text, news, parents sections, etc. If you can see it on the screen, it should be a seamlessly enjoyable visual experience (or at least in line with your theme / art / font choices).
- MODERATION COSTS A LOT OF MONEY. You may “think” you understand this… but you do not. I promise. It’s EXPENSIVE to host moderation teams, and users demand more chat freedom than canned chat, and dictionary chat does not cover the job. CS can be included in this. And, fyi, I’m not talking 1 year expensive, I’m talking EVERY MONTH expensive. And if you dont’ staff appropriately, you are putting yourself at risk. If you cut corners, you are putting your business as risk. Please, please oh please heed my warning on this one.
- Brands – kids come to the sites for your brands, but they DO NOT STAY because of your brand. Make sure you game/experience can stand-alone on its awesomeness, and never think that a simple brand word will do the job for you.
- If you say “We will be the next Club Penguin” you’re already at a disadvantage. Good luck.
- If you say “we will be the kid World of Warcraft” you’re already at a disadvantage. Good luck.
- Watch how the kids play on your site. If you see nefarious behavior – don’t flip out. Just find what it is they’re looking for (competition, engagement, etc) – and find a way to give it to them in a walled-garden, fully understood kind-of-way.
- If you create private chat, you will have priiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiivate chat. In other words, avoid.
- If kids can see what they can’t say, they won’t be deterred, they’ll find a way to say it and it becomes a game.
- Love your game, love your product, love your possibilities – but do not drink your own koolaid. Be smart about what you have, and keep on swimming forward.
- Hire people that have a) worked in gaming ONLINE, b) WORKED IN THE KID REALM, c) understand and appreciate the passion and goals you have for your experience.
- It takes time to build a game… and its very, very rare for a game to launch on time. Please prepare for this, and be patient. 🙂
- “VIRAL” CONTENT DOESN’T REALLY WORK FOR KIDS (so save your energy on all those widgets, fancy email campaigns, etc – they’re not that appropriate for the U13 audience). It just doesn’t, so don’t bank on it. TV ads remain the best method of contacting an audience.
Improvements to watch in 2010:
- Parent Account / Dashboards. I have heard rumblings of some GREAT ideas in this area, and I’m excited to see where this goes!
- Moderation tools & chat levels of security & safety. I’ve got my fingers crossed on this one!
- Ads – a growing evil, but often necessary to sustain a virtual environment. I’ve heard some interesting concepts in this area – ways of making this less offending? We shall see 🙂
- Offering wider options to larger age audiences, but without compromising safety levels. I’ve seen a few dribblings of this with sites like Free Realms. Time will tell.
- The full 4th wall experience – finding ways to keep the user involved with the story, and not break them off (reminding them once again that this is a computer game).