Amidst our talk of a possible virtual world winter, and the frantic efforts of pundits looking for bright spots in a somewhat dismal holiday retailing season, more and more suggestions that kids will fuel the next wave of virtual world development ('the most annoying trend since Beanie Babies')....
Second Life and other virtual worlds for grown-ups have enjoyed intense media attention in the last year but fallen far short of breathless expectations. The children’s versions are proving much more popular, to the dismay of some parents and child advocacy groups. Now the likes of the Walt Disney Company, which owns Club Penguin, are working at warp speed to pump out sister sites.
“Get ready for total inundation”...
Or is this just a new cog in the hype machine? What happens when your 5-year old is inconsolable when they can't log on? My prediction for 2008: a fresh crop of virtual world 'addicts', and all the requisite concerned voices to go along with them, including the likes of... wait for it... Dr. Phil.
Comments on Let the Total Inundation Begin...:
I think the article gave an adequate overview of the business of kids-oriented worlds, with a healthy dollop of hype. Yes, the potential downsides were glossed over, but I don't expect most MSM outlets to go that deep on a 1,400-word article.
It's also likely the reporter doesn't have a five-year-old kid who has been locked out of her Webkinz World room for the past week. We do, and it has definitely given me a new perspective on customer service in virtual worlds.
Posted Dec 31, 2007 11:10:14 AM | link
Since I am the father of an eleven year old girl and a big fan of MMO's, this is a topic that interrests me greatly.
My daughter plays Club Penguine and Webkins along with all of her friends. My parents spoiled her for Christmas by buying her about a dozen Webkins. When my parents discovered that Webkins "die" one year after you activate the subscription code they suggested that my daughter should wait to activate some of them. Her response was interresting: She said that she may as well activate them all now because by this time next year she and her friends will likely be playing something else online.
From the mouths of babes, as the saying goes. How very insightfull I think she is. The publishing companies have found burried treasure in the online subscription market for children. The younger generations of computer users are so accustomed to virtual worlds and MMO's that they take is for granted that they will be using one (and paying monthly fees). Webkins have found a truely brilliant marketing technique. Parents who would normally shy away from handing out the credit card numbers to pay for an MMO subscription may be happy to shell out US $20 for a fuzzy bunny that can be registered online. Many of them probably don't even realize that they are buying a one year subscription to an MMO. In fact, I happen to have asked my daughter if she knew what an MMO was over the weekend. She said that she hadn't ever heard that term before, but when I explained what it meant, she said "oh, like club penguine?". As those kids grow older the world of MMO's is going to explode with new content and record numbers of users. I think the "inudation" is probably inevitable.
Posted Dec 31, 2007 11:41:23 AM | link
And virtual worlds on the classroom interactive whiteboard Via Edusim - http://edusim3d.com
Posted Dec 31, 2007 5:06:20 PM | link
I was schooled by an 8-year old last night who was making my 4-year old watch 'YouTubes' she didn't want to... apparently bloody Webkinz rampages are the coolest...
Posted Jan 1, 2008 12:32:52 PM | link
I was shocked to see a total meltdown on the part of my nephew (5 years old, I think) when his sister got a webkin and he didn't. Inconsolable doesn't begin to cover it... I would think it was about the most visceral reaction you could get out of a kid short of resulting to physical torture. Even then I'm not sure.
When he received his webkin later, it was interesting to talk to both him and his sister about webkins, how they view the online component, the lack of trading currency between accounts (which I'm assuming was done to limit RMT), etc.
It will be interesting to see which type of virtual worlds they will be interested in later. Will they be more like WoW & EQ, or will the majority of people gravitate towards the bastard web children of Second Life and Facebook/Myspace?
Posted Jan 1, 2008 11:28:32 PM | link
Glad to see that NYT story on the topic. I take it as confirmation of the idea that younger kids (well, really just KIDS) are increasingly comfortable in the digital world in general and in virtual worlds in particular.
My two nieces (12 and 15) started free WoW trial accounts after Xmas...they spent HOURS playing the first couple days. I suspect one will continue to play and one won't; we'll see. Interesting.
Posted Jan 2, 2008 9:01:22 AM | link
A very similar article appeared last week in the Forward:
"In addiction, the first step is admitting you have a problem. And Josie has a problem. She’s jonesing for Toontown."
Get ready for a year of anecdotes that are structured as such:
- introduce son/daughter/nephew/neighbors dog
- name of a virtual world
- word "addiction"
- something anecdotal about youth's relationship to the world that amazes the writer
- confusion about what to do next and a sense of hopelessness
Posted Jan 2, 2008 11:58:05 PM | link
It is great to see comments from others about how their kids, nieces, nephews and other young people are interacting with virtual environments.
On a closely related note, I've recently been trying to figure out how to balance parenting responsibilities with participation in my favorite virtual worlds. Terra Nova readers are familiar with the flawed argument that virtual worlds are entirely anti-social, and we're all capable of passionately defending the social importance of on-line interaction.
But what if all of these virtual worlds -- from Second Life and World of Warcraft to Club Penguin and Toontown -- are intrinsically anti-social as far as the attention of loved ones in our immediate physical environments is concerned? Is it necessarily true that the sociability of virtual worlds comes with hidden costs?
Posted Feb 4, 2008 2:40:12 PM | link