Okay. Honesty here. I used to despise club penguin. I won’t really get into it, but let’s just say I couldn’t understand why boy & girl tweens would be interested in something that seemed to young.
That was quite a while ago. Now, I’m in awe of the community manager/strategist/PM… WHOMEVER it is over there making that gem of a world. Why????
SIMPLICITY. And Imagination.
There seem to be quite a few things in life that make me giddy. GIDDY. I think I’ve established that in the past. But I’ll tell you what– it’s uber-hard to trump how giddy I get when I see kids living out their imaginative play– uninhibited and free-flowing. It makes me proud to be in this industry– whether or not I have a bloomin’ thing to do with the project. Why? Because people like me are attempting to offer quantities of similar opportunities.
But I digress: Back to the splendor of Club Penguin’s progression. About a month (or more) ago, Rockhopper (Club Penguin’s “celebrity” in-house penguin, of piratey nature) was sailing his ship through the seas. Rockhopper’s ongoing storylines have continually brought new levels of realness– or pretend play– to the world, giving kids someone to aspire to meet, greet, be like, hang with, etc. Grounds them a bit more in the surreal nature of the penguin world. You could see good ole Rockhopper sailing his ship in a low-tech flash video by climbing to the top of the lighthouse and peering through the giant telescope. Well… tragedy struck a few weeks back, having poor ole Rockhopper crash his boat. In response, CP provided PFD (personal float device) for penguins to sport around– which they did in droves. Nothing like giving cool-factor to otherwise lamish safety devices (however, that Titanic camp sound about the PFD’s always made them cool for me, and now I’ve the sound stuck in my head, lol if you know it).
Marooned Rockhopper then became a local celeb, hanging out from time to time, greeting penguins and gifting them with avatar backgrounds of himself (signed too– for extra famousness). If a penguin got this background– he/she STILL has this background. It’s a status thing now. Limited and exclusive and now unable to attain. SMART SMART SMART. Fueling the “citizenship” competition, and encouraging penguins to WANT to hang out more often (they don’t want to miss out).
Well, time has passed. They through an underwater-themed party… which they tied into Rockhopper’s tale by the addition of a submarine game for penguins to explore the underwater wreckage. That’s pretty wicked.
All of this is fantastic strategy & planning & tie-ins for the cross-world interaction. But THIS WEE GEM today floored me even more….
While exploring the temp/new party-aesthetics, I went to the ICE BERG, where the free “minors” hat was, and where I suspected the sub game to be… The “room” (iceberg area) was FULL. Took me several tries to enter. Regardless, it was full. When I finally entered I was met with this site:
(side note: I just wrote a HUGE inspiration piece about this bloody interaction and STUPID wordpress just erased it. Forgive me, but I’m IRRITATED as I just spend ages writing that…. GRRRRRRROWL)
Anyway. Background about the island: the iceberg is a STATIC BACKGROUND. There isn’t a lick of flash or movement or anything. A few months back, and for days on end, this room would fill to the max with penguins trying to FLIP/TIP the iceberg. Let me repeat: static. image. They would all stand in hordes on the edge– encouraging each other to dance or move so that it might do something to the berg. Alas, it didn’t.
Well, here we are, months later, and Club Penguin staged a themed party of “underwater” delights. One of which was the pimpin’ out of the barren iceberg & a future SUBMARINE game allowing users to EXPLORE Rockhopper’s ship wreckage. Pretty darn cool. Once again– this gives kids a sense of cause & action. This world has meaning. If a ship wrecks, one might be able to see it. So, the clever wee penguins (or not so clever, depending on your value of imagination & play) are once again trying to TIP THE BERG… this time they’ve come armed!!
Club Penguin has continuously added customizations that are action-bound. The fireman costume can spew water from the hose, and the construction worker penguin can jackhammer– complete with jackhammering animations. The users (as you can see) have collected at the bottom of the iceberg and are collectively trying to “break” or tip the berg.
“Why are we doing this?” asked a lemming penguin
“Because it’s fun!” replied four others.
“Rockhoppers ship is down there!” shouts another penguin.
“We’re going to free the ship” adds another.
“Dance or move to do something to help!”
“Get your friends!”
And they continue on– collectively pretending & hoping & interacting. Awesome
Have you ever seen a group of day camp kids @ the beach? I was a summer camp counselor for nigh on 14ish years (ten of which I spent at a day camp for the park district). It doesn’t matter WHO you are– if you’re a kid, you are welcome to join in the mayhem– especially the boys. They build and create worlds in the sand– and the waterfalls they make never stay right, so they build dams, and yell for help, and recruit bucket kids whose sole job is to run back and forth from the water, bringing in water reserves. They don’t even look you in the face, they just include you in the emotional-story-creation.
One of my favorite campers ever– a nine year old named PAYTON decided one day that she HATED this plastic baby toy truck she found on the beach. She and her 4 friends decided to bury it, all the while spewing their wrath on the poor toy, building story lines about the infamous “Farmer Brown” who was painted as the driver of the truck. Oooo, that Farmer Brown! So, I came along, checking in on her and the girls, and they told me of the burial. I suggested that we build Scotland on top of the buried Farmer Brown and then we could have a proper funeral afterwards. So, that morning we spent nigh on 2 hours building mountains and lochs and valleys, etc. We started with six total ‘builders’ (myself included, naturally). When we finished we had forty-three children working with us– some were just locals, not even campers. We each made up folktales about the wilderness and how Farmer Brown was attached to the story. Oooo that Farmer Brown. When it came time, I gave the sermon of Farmer Brown’s funeral. Payton gave testimonials, as did a few others who wished to join in, and then we all… and I do mean all, gave the most faux-miserable, loud-sobbing version of “Amazing Grace” one could ever hear. At some point during the “service” we attracted a HUGE crowd. I couldn’t give you numbers– parents, campers, public, etc. And they laughed and cheered and faux-cried along.
Afterwards, the kids set to “destroying” scotland by trampling it, as a uber-sandcastle should be trampled. I went to grab lunch. When I came back– all the kids were at it again. Burying Farmer Brown & getting into the stories & history of it.
Basically– kids want to be included on the magic, they want to build empires from scratch, they want to emotionally invest themselves in seemingly-silliness, etc. It’s fun. It’s a release. It’s escapism– all the while feeling included and excited.
I see this play pattern/behavior all the time on Club Penguin. From “snowball” wars (which are much more fun in the making then the actual war part, which is why “retreats” are so much fun too), to parties in the igloo (again, much more fun in theory and planning and rounding up than the actual dancing part). Club Penguin provides tools… triggers… that allow the users to “go to town” — making up their own rules & play. Club Penguin tries to support by facilitating pieces of storyline — just enough of a taste that the users will run away with the end.
The staff gives real credit to the power of their community, and the innovative nature of this demographic, and I just dig it. Other Virtual Worlds you see out there have to hard-sell all the brand elements, and try to “knock you out” with their high tech awesomeness. I “get” that in regards to catching enough attention to even COMPETE in this market these days– I do. But, Club Penguin… man, they get a WHOLE LOT out of very little (at least in regards to flashiest of the flashy). It reminds me of the good ole days– a large cardboard box, time, and loads of imagination. I’m not sure anyone could really compete with Club Penguin’s level of simplicity & community any longer because it’s all about the differentiating of “big sells” and catchy 2.0 intensiveness or beat-head-with-education that the corps peeps are looking for– and no longer about the simplicity of the play…
But in the now: Bravo, Club Penguin Staff. I salute you proudly.
- Personal information
- What do they collect? Do they collect your child’s real name? Your child’s email address? Address? Any type of information that can identify your child?? If they collect this information they should ALSO ask for your child’s DOB (Date of Birth) or Age.
- And if your child is under the age of 13, the site should ask for your (THE PARENT’S) email address and EMAIL you promptly regarding your child’s online registration process (either a “head’s up, your kids on our site, and here’s some info about why we’re safe” or “Your child signed up and here is your child’s login information, have questions? ask” emails).
- If they DO NOT collect any private/identifiable information (they only collect: username, M/F, DOB, and/or zip code) that’s fine. They do not need to email you– but personally– if they’re under 13 years of age, it’s my preference to see the site always email the parent. But again, in this case, not necessary for the information attained (yet…)
User Generated Content:
- User Generated Content (UGC) is ANYTHING your child creates of their own free will (and then shares online). Whether it be a screen name, a blog/forum comment, a blog/forum post, chat comments, a drawing, a story, and uploaded photo, etc.
- It is my professional opinion that all UGC from U13 users should go through filters & screening processes. Always. But that’s not necessarily always the case.
- This goes ESPECIALLY for usernames. Registration processes always ask for username identification. The uber-safe sites provide a mix&match screen name builder. Others screen moderate.
- Eyeballing the usernames: are they screened? How to tell:
- Freshly created usernames that haven’t been approved yet have four processes:
- 1) the user is dubbed “Guest” (or similar) until the screen name is viewed by staff (sometimes the user can see his/her own name, but others cannot– they see “guest”);
- 2) the username has gone through a filter and deemed appropriate by passing through without hitting a blacklisted word/phase (this is NOT my ideal method of screening names);
- 3) the user cannot play (only set up profile, etc) until approved by staff;
- 4) the site is stupid and has no corporate responsibility (aka, they don’t care about personal safety or inappropriate content appearing live on their premises)
- In my HUMBLE professional opinion… filters DO NOT ACCURATELY SCREEN USERNAMES… EVER. Why? Because kids… they are clever. Like the Raptors in Jurassic Park. They’ll find a way. If you have filters first & human screening before a user name goes live? That’s a lot better. Spelling, phonetics, numbers, etc make it very easy to make things look/sound like inappropriate content (remember “80081355” on a calculator? If not, go ahead– stick that in your ancient calc… we used to come up with words like that in 3rd grade)
- Freshly created usernames that haven’t been approved yet have four processes:
- Eyeballing the usernames: are they screened? How to tell:
- Further clarification: if you agree to your child’s registration process, you MAY be agreeing to your kid participating in unscreened, unmonitored viewing & uploading of personal photos, sharing information, speaking freely, etc.
- Most sites for kids make sure that they cover your basis and protect the kid… but some are lazy and do not. So it’s good to double check.
- If the site DID NOT take any of your child’s personal information, and then they ask for UGC, three things happen
- 1. The UGC is screened (a moderator/screener– adult– looks at the content and scans it for inappropriate behavior, personal information, etc)
- 2. The site NOTIFIES you of the child’s wish to display UGC on the site, and either gives you a link TO the child’s material (if already screened and deemed appropriate by staff) or keeps the UGC in a queue until you approve it yourself.
- 3. They suck: aka they post the information without screening and/or notification (which is shady)… and basically just expect the fact that the child is “nameless” in the registration process to be enough for protection & to appease COPPA legislation (which it isn’t… kids sometimes slip email addresses, phone numbers, pictures of them & their best friends, etc into UGC to make or sustain friends). This again goes back to my humble professional opinion that UGC should ALWAYS be screened by moderators & adults.
Staff and Q&A
- Something I like to check is:
- how readily available is the staff? (24 hour?)
- Are they roaming the site visibly? Or are they the “flag&come” sort that appear when a whistle is blown?
- Does content go live, or is it screened first?
- Where do I contact the site’s staff? And how easy is it to find that info?
- How do I report inappropriate content? And is it visible for kids to use quickly, simply, easily, etc
Look: you don’t have to bombard the staff with these questions (especially, since then you’re taking the time away from their jobs). Just cruise around and see for yourself. If they don’t bother to share this info with you in a parents-corner or in FAQ, etc… then maybe think again about how you feel regarding the site & your child. Chances are, they’re safe & sound… but really, it’s something to think about. It’s ALWAYS your choice. If you don’t like it, find someplace better. The market grows by day.
Ads & Content
- If you are paying for your child to play in a site… Banner Ads, well… they tend to be very uncool.
- If there are going to be ads, I’m a bigger fan of static ads than clickable ads (static = just a picture, clickable = go to another website)
- Clickable ads (like banner ads) should ALWAYS warn kids, letting them know they are being jetted AWAY from the site.
If banner ads, or clickable ads, do NOT give you a “Heads up, You’re leaving” page (usually the time count is 20 seconds before automatically sending the user along)… that is wrong. Not everyone agrees with me… but as a parent, you might.
- Sometimes free sites for kids have less-than-desirable ads flashing by. Why? Because ad revenue systems sometimes slip a non-child-friendly link through. Personally– if a site is going to have ads, I would rather THEY be the middleman, picking and choosing ads for the site instead of someone like Google Ad Sense, yadda, doing it.
- Off-Site Links: like ads, if it leads you FROM the site for kids, it should have a “heads up you’re leaving us” page attached. Kids click, click, click. Like buttons in an elevator, they tend to press them all. Better to warn then assume the kid knows what he/she pressed.
- Links: It is IN MY opinion that if a site SHOULD place exterior links on their site, they should know exactly what kind of content is available on ALL PAGES within 2 or 3 site link/page clicks. What does this mean? Well… if I link my site to your site… i better know exactly what content is on every page of your site. And if you link to your brother, well it’s my business to know exactly what is available on his site too. And if either site besides mine has inappropriate content or links or ads… well, perhaps it’s time to stop that webring, yes? Yes.
- Look for Forums:
- Forums are a FANTASTIC way for kids to continue conversations & state opinions & explore typing skillz, etc… but, if not properly addressed, they become worse than an unmonitored school yard.
- Do forum moderators participate?
- Is the content live or screened to live?
- What kind of commentary is being passed & chatted about?
- And sadly… I know it’s wrong to say (and some people might call me out on it)… But i truly do subscribe to the DO JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER. If a site looks less-than-stellar in aesthetics, doesn’t look well established or taken care of, seems to make the important information hard to find… then chances are, it isn’t a great site. The people who really do care about the kids & the community & the site will work their fingers to the bone– rolling with the times, improving, and providing.
- As for safety– always check it out for yourself:
- Registration process
- Rules & TOS
- Content: UGC, Ads, and Moderation (Staff)
That’s my tidbit of the day. If you have MORE info you’d like to share… please don’t hesitate in the comments. Thanks 😉
Okay… I’m trying to mock up a list of all these VW’s for tweens/twids that are not live yet, or exists in early Beta. Please add more in the comments, thanks!
- Bella Sera: Card game + virtual world based on horses/horse play
- MoshiMonsters: Monster virtual world based on clever gaming and monster care– easily transitions to mobile technology
- Club Pony Pals: Based on a book series about ponies, this world will be for the pony pet care
- Dizzywood: A creative, fantasy virtual world to create adventures and inspire
- Planet Cazmo: A virtual world based on gaming and MUSIC
- Freaky Creatures: A virtual world for boys regarding monster/creatures
- Build-a-Bear: Based on the popular brand, build your bear and play with it online in a virtual world. It’s LIVE now.
- FusionFall: Cartoon Network’s MMORG, based on Cartoon Network brands & exploring the worlds within the network (i’m looking forward to this!)
- Little Big Planet: Okay, okay– I know this will be a video game… but it’s community/world appeal are just too awesome to NOT mention.
- Lego Universe: It’s lego. It’s community. It’s gonna be amazing.
- Panwapa (it’s live, and been online longer than some previously mentioned): A preschool VW brought to the world by Sesame Street folks. It’s multicultural, it’s unique, it’s going to be the next big VW phase in like 1 year (preschool/kid VW’s)
- Adventure Rock: The CBBC/BBC’s robot-y virtual world
- Zibbies: A product based VW (dolls that kinda look like a mix of webkinz & Beanie Babies but with rubbery spikes for hair on their heads). Currently live in early beta.
- Pirates of the Caribbean Online: Went live a little over a week ago– this pirate existence is a downloadable app (like WOW) and currently in Beta. I love it.
- Littlest Pet Shop: Also, currently in Beta– this is kinda an exclusive experience, as they products (with the much needed code to play) are hard to get hands on. But you can demo free. No community yet.
- Wowbotz: An outerspace-feeling VW in beta-live for “preschoolers” I more or less categorize it for kids/twids.
- Mystikatz Kutties: A Virtual World for girls who like dolls dressed like colorful gypsies. Like it’s brother site “Wowbotz”, this is categorized as for “preschoolers” but I’d stick it in the kids/twids boxes.
- Magi-Nation: Based on a TV show and a trading card game, this virtual world will cater to the fantasy tweens/kids who might also enjoy shows like Yo-Gi-Oh and Pokemon and Chaotic.
- Disney’s Cars: A virtual world built on the Disney movie “Cars”.
- Mini Match: From Cartoon Network comes a MMO for casual gamers, and world roamers. It’s in UBER early beta… UBER. But so far– you can set up your avatar (promising animation, ugly avatar face/hair but that can change?, the clothing layering options = very smart indeed), but from my experience you can’t play yet. Cartoon Network seems to be treading lightly in this space– and with a good brain on their shoulders
- Pixie Hallow: Not yet in LIVE beta… but will be amazing! Loads of great rumors about this one… It’s Disney’s Fairies VW.
- T-Works (????): Looney Toon Virtual World that may or may not be launching this fall with several other Warner platforms….?
- Konstruction Zone: A new (pre-beta) VW based on cute construction characters– encourages online playtime between parents and kids.
- Papermint: another virtual world for kids– 2D art, pre-Beta (from the looks of it).
- Hello Kitty World: Not live yet, their pre-beta site offers a decent sneak peek of elements that will be a part of the world. I’m interested to find out what “in game telepathy” is– as they say in their introductory page. It’s all the bright happy bumblegum colors you come to expect from HK. I’m pumped to see what HK brings to the table.
- I’m not sure what the safety is on this yet– Sanrio Town is NOT for U13… and the HK world will tie in somehow with the pre-existing Sanrio Town community platform. So, stay tuned…. 😦
- Dragon Play: It’s a medieval world for dragon play (like the name, clever, lol).
- Chaotic: A virtual worldish(?) experience attached to collectible card-play
- Ice Age: An MMO based upon the two movies (and third to come) slated for 2009
- Minyanland: A virtual environment where kids can learn about money, banking, and managing responsibilities while gaining a virtual life. Has parent/chore metagame, etc. Based on the finance site Minyanville.com
- Planet V-Tech: described as an educational virtual world for 5+
- Earth Eternal: An MMO with educational elements that can be accessed through social networking
- Speed Racer: A virtual world (with toy tie-ins) for the upcoming movie franchise
- Web wilds: A virtual environment to correlate with the puppet-dolls.
- Hot Wheels: A virtual world to correlate with the toy-cars.
- Madagascar: A virtual world to correspond with their upcoming sequel movie.
- Seapals: A product tie-in with VW, like it’s sister product Shining Stars. (It’s gotten more PR than Shining Stars, which has been live for quite some time now– it could be interesting!)
- MyLife: An avatar/world combination toy for girls to build and share profiles (Playmates toys)
- Beanie Babies 2.0: A virtual world – pet product combo. Codes. Unlock. Dolls. Yadda.
- Guppylife: An MMO for girls not yet released, and very little info.
- Lola’s World: It’s a companion community with vw-elements for tween girls based on the Lola, Think Pink, books. It launches in April 08.
- Tronji: An MMO game based around the Tronji world is currently in development to be released alongside the TV show.
- Tech Deck Live: A Virtual world skate part for tweens who like skateboarding. Subscription based. Tech Deck is a toy product (finger skateboards).
- Dinokids: An MMO (looks just like Maplestory but with dinos) for tween/kids.
- Treetures: A VW with stuffy product tie in (Russ)
- Green: A future virtual world promoting green initiatives. Not live yet, very hush – hush. Now live.
- Kaimira MMO: BBC announced their desire to create a MMO around the Kaimira Trilogy, a book series from Star Farm Productions.
- KidsWB: Warner Bros platform site meshed with Virtual worlds??? Details still coming through the pipeline.
- DC HeroZone: Another virtual world from WB that follows comics & heroes
- WarnerZone: Another Warner Bros stealth-hush hush VW coming summer ’08.
- Zoopri: A virtual world for tweens, not live yet.
- Dinosaur Junction: Another virtual world for kids based on dinos with some educational values.
- JumpStart Advanced Preschool World: a VW for the 3-5 set. Software first, world later.
- Wizard 101: An MMO/VW for the tween, teen set based on wizardry and magic and fantasy.
- Elf Island: A tween VW based on being an upstanding member and “doing good,” not launched yet.
- Topps Town: A VW for 6+ boys (only, seriously, no girl av) based on trading card gameplay.
- Muppet MMO: A little birdy whispered this one to me that the Muppet MMO is in strategy/planning phase… so take it was a wink & a nod and a grain of salt.
- AllGirlArcade: Currently a multiplatform community site, future to be a virtual world
- AllBoyArcade: By the makers of the girl arcade, this won’t be rolling until next year.
- Kiwi Heroes: A VW in pre-Beta for tweens regarding conservationism.
- Tootsville: A toy based VW with subscription too based on elephant/pet play.
- Unnamed MMO: From the folks who created Neopets. Think Labyrinth & Dark Crystal.
- Revngenz: A car MMO for gender neutral (really for boys) with licenses for gift cards.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: MMO based on the Nickelodeon television show.
- Huri Humi: Avatar virtual world for tweens based on product to VW purchases.
- Happy Meal 3.0: McDonald’s version of a virtual world for kids.
- Action AllStars: A simply MARVELOUS virtual world for sports & tweens, currently in private beta.
- Saddle Club: VW in development for the book series/tv series (tweens, kids, teens)
- Twin Skies: An MMO for all ages from the creators of Neopets.
- Emerald Island: An MMO for tweens based on environmental issues.
- Garden Party: A virtual world for young tweens about growing plants & playing
- Ekoloko: A virtual world for tweens based on the “green” initiative.
- SpineWorld: A virtual world by Playdo based on epic adventure & fantasy
BAH! I know I’m forgetting a ton– curse you, brain cloud (reference: “Joe Versus the Volcano”). Any help here? I’ll keep adding as they come.
Also for those VW researchers/explorers, here are a few oldie but goody links:
- RT @nyctechmommy: Starry Station: Manage Kids Screen Time Like a Boss bit.ly/2msBE5Y #spon #digitalkids #momlife https://t.co/eHUc… 14 hours ago
- RT @modsquad: Meet ModSquad’s Director of Client Services, Jason Ferguson: bit.ly/2o2pe13 #ModSourcing #ModsNotCubes [AR] https:/… 14 hours ago
- PROUD OF YOU, TOBY!! #WorkHard #Talent #Artist #ClaireAndTheKeys twitter.com/tobycochran/st… 14 hours ago
- RT @jaybaer: A1(b) It's interesting that Facebook recently pulled back on their version of chatbots using Messenger. Not ready for primetim… 15 hours ago
- Tip: legislation protecting kid private data is pronounced COP-PA, like old-timey “I surrender, Coppa!” #DigitalKids (Not a cabana) #COPPA 15 hours ago