Tuesday, January 23, 2007

TV Goes MMOG - Part II

The quest to get kids 'playing television' within the digital realm continues, as BBC announces its plan to build an MMOG for kids based around its CBBC television line-up. You can read coverage of the announcement courtesy of Joystiq, The Guardian, and Marketing Vox. I'm getting itchy to start research on this phenomena, which will definitely be included in my study of advergames as a form of "immersive branding" (to expand upon a term first coined by Neopets Inc.). From Cartoon Network/Nickelodeon to Canadian YTV/Corus Entertainment, it seems that all the big players in children's television are moving into the wonderful world of MMOGs. Bringing television and film to life in MMOG-form is a strategy experiencing growing success now that the MMOG-hype is fully underway (with MTV's Laguna Beach coming immediately to mind as an example of a TV-based MMO-environment that actually became more popular than the show itself!). And if the massive success of many kids' TV websites are any indication, transplanting existing characters and narratives into their own "virtual worlds" could lead to the establishment of a significant kids' market for MMOGs (to date that market has been pretty much dominated by Disney's Toontown, and social-networking gamesites such as Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin).

I can't help but see this as something of an extension of previous forms of branded or narrativised play, terms used to describe what happens when children play with action figures and playsets based on popular television or film series -- media-based toys that come with fairly pre-defined scripts about the characters and possible plot developments. In this way, branded toys provide a set of more-or-less general parameters on how to play with the toys (i.e. in accordance with the companion media programming). What is also interesting is how many of these initiatives are promoting the idea that their TV-based MMOG will be "ad-free," whereas in many ways the games themselves can be seen as a promotional vehicle for tie-in media and consumer products. This type of media synergy or cross-media promotion has already successfully cut across (or integrated, depending on your perspective) traditional media and most other forms of digital gaming. I suspect, however, that some new issues will arise with these new adver-MMOGs, which present an opportunity to reach new, possibly unforeseen levels of media intertextuality and branded play.

Could we be seeing the development of a persistant, digital incarnation of the "30-minute commercial" (advertising disguised as programming - see Saturday Morning Cartoons for a myriad of examples), or will the MMOGs instead (as well?) present new opportunities for subversive and creative child-appropriations of once-static (and adult-controlled) media narratives?

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