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Mar 28, 2007



There have been quite a few Korean MMORPG imports arriving in the USA over the last year, and many of them offer free-play as a come-on and use RMT as their money-making vehicle. These games attract a VERY youthful audience (haven't met anyone over 30 in one, and based on behavior many players seem to be under 20) since you don't need money to play.

However, in these games you can buy XP multipliers, special pets, stronger heal potions (invaluable in PvP battles) and much more. Furthermore, many of the games let gold farmers and professional levellers pursue their business unchecked (gold for sale ads are common in global chat).

The result is that youngsters with money feel the need, sooner or later, to start spending that money for goodies that make them "competitive" in the levelling/PvP race.

Therefore, I suggest these games would be a fruitful field for study. I believe these games will encroach more and more on a space formerly dominated by games like Runescape and Puzzle Pirates. Some of these new imports are Silk Road Online, Rappelz, Hero Online, and Voyage Century Online.


Club Penguin, which I know far too much about at this point, is worth looking at in this regard:

See http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business2_archive/2007/04/01/8403359/index.htm?postversion=2007032305

Here's a snip from that:

Club Penguin uses a different approach but gets similar results. There are no plush toys to buy or entrance fees to pay. New members are offered small virtual penguins that they can adopt, name, feed, and clothe. They can also chat, play games, and even help publish the Club Penguin newspaper.

Where creator New Horizon Interactive makes its money is in what it calls premium play. Any kid can have a penguin for free, but if he or she wants to decorate the penguin's igloo, Mom or Dad will have to subscribe--for $6 a month, or $58 a year. Traffic has mushroomed. Club Penguin saw 2.9 million unique visitors in January, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, up from just 705,000 in March 2006.

So what keeps Crandall and millions of other kids playing for more than an hour each day?

One thing that attracts them, experts say, is the sense of power that children get in a virtual world but rarely experience in real life. "This isn't rocket science," says Club Penguin founder and CEO Lane Merrifield. "A lot of virtual-reality companies look at these games like television--'We are going to entertain you, and you are going to enjoy it.' Ours is a two-way stream."

One way Club Penguin gives kids control over their environment is by letting them "bank" points they win in games and convert those points to "money" that can be used to customize their igloos. "Club Penguin Time," a standardized clock (actually based on Pacific time), lets kids from all over the world meet up online without having to worry about coordinating time zones.

The next step would be payment for items -- I don't think they'll make that step. I hope they won't (for the reasons you suggest, Nate.)


@greglas: "One thing that attracts them, experts say, is the sense of power that children get in a virtual world but rarely experience in real life."

Dana boyd talks about this quite a bit, and went into it at some depth when she spoke at a library industry symposium hosted by the company I work for in January. Full video and 3 minute YouTube version links available here.

It's an intriguing idea, and one that may be more than a little responsible for the insanely fast growth in interest in "user created content." I've made the argument, here and elsewhere, that there is less of a distinction now than ever between "users" and... pushers? Providers? What do we call non-users these days? Producers? I know, I know... But I'm one of the guys whose job and avocation (writer) puts me on the "non-user" side of the traditional fence, and I still think it's a stupid fence.

People make stuff. Making stuff is fun. Creativity is good for you. Kids are told that being creative is important, but then are ordered to be creative, "Inside this 8.5x11" box, during this 40 minute chunk of time, on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, using these 16 colors, and just on the subject of space exploration. Now... GO! Be creative."

Not good. Give 'em a safe playground full of all kinds of weird stuff. Penguins? Sure. Whatever. Let them decide what to do. Control within boundaries is required for creativity. Not crafting tools within boundaries. Tools are how we exercise control. But first control must be granted.

Very gamey stuff. And educators are starting to listen to us gamer types when it comes to how to use games to teach. Check out the Horizon Project report wiki on "Massively Multiplayer Educational Gaming." The whole report is good, too.


At the risk of sounding cranky, I'll mention Benjamin Barber's book as related to some of the themes beneath the surface here:
Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole.

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