Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nicktropolis Hits 4 Million Mark

According to a Nickelodeon press release distributed yesterday, the company's child-targeted, TV-themed MMOG Nicktropolis has attracted just under 4 million unique members since its launch in January. This month also marks the launch of two new areas within the site, including "environments" (i.e. "chat" rooms, streaming media and shops) based on the hit Nickelodeon show The Naked Brothers Band, and a Space-themed environment that portends to actually offer some multiplayer games! This last bit of news is of particular interest to me, as since I started my research on the site earlier this year, I have yet to find anything to do there, other than chat with other users via predesignated, and often branded (i.e. sayings and lines from Nickelodeon shows), phrases, or "interact" with Nickelodeon brands--by standing around in show-themed rooms, clicking on the odd object for pop-up-book-quality interactivity, shopping for furniture and things to put in my room (again, many of which are show-themed), or watching commercials and clips from Nickelodeon shows. So far, the site has been pretty underwhelming, but the company keeps promising new and better features. Such as the new space area which is described as follows (from the press release):
The new space themed environment, launching on Nicktropolis will allow kids to navigate and "fly" on a space ship from downtown Nicktropolis into the Space Center. With state of the art Nicktropolis Space Center auto pilot enabled, users can steer the ship to different locations within the Space Center. They will also be able to play the first true Nicktropolis multiplayer online game. Users had the opportunity to vote on three possible new zones for the site, choosing among a Space Center, Underground and Prehistoric Nicktropolis. Out of nearly 1 million votes in one week, 46% voted for the new space world. The site also recently added a new "Aquarium" area featuring separate sub environments like "Lost Ships," "Undersea Volcanos," and "The Castle Ruins," along with the ability to create, care for and play with your own pet fish. In its first two weeks, more than 500,000 individual fish were created.

I'm currently writing a paper about this and other similar sites that attempt to bring popular kids' television shows and/or channels to the virtual environment, under the guise of MMOGs. So far, the best of the bunch (in terms of an MMOG that actually looks and feels a little like a "real" MMOG) has been YTV/Corus' GalaxSeeds, but in that case gameplay is severely limited by a lack of population base...and the fact that in the early stages at least, currency can only be acquired by playing mini-games, most of which require the simultaneous participation of two or more players. As with many of these initiatives, I'm disappointed with the overall "dumbed down" feeling that design firms seem to think is a necessary component/consequence of enhanced safety features. If "safe" is going to translate to limitations on kids' communications and interactions with other players, it seems to me that this needs to be compensated for by adding in alternative ways of expressing oneself and collaborating with others...or at the very least having fun beyond mere point-and-click interactions with glorified ads.


Izzy Neis said...

I'm still sort of confounded by Nicktropolis. No one really communicates socially (maybe private convos, but not over all)-- and it still has illicits a lot of bored roaming. The games feel less engaging then a cereal box activity. Even when they opened the "orange carpet" area for the Kids Choice awards, it wasn't that much to talk about (just more roaming). However-- The new pet fish is a nice, new breather. Has a bit more feeling of depth to it. Otherwise, it seems like a sterile environment where boredom comes quickly. And I HATE saying that. Really, really hate saying that. I'm a HUGE Nickelodeon fan. But even Foster's Big Fat House Party (Cartoon Networks virtual world minus the chat elements) is a lot better-- and that's just based around one television show, not an entire network with the muscle & pocketbook of Viacom behind it.

Hmmm. What are your thoughts on Nicktropolis as entertainment?

Sara M. Grimes said...

The entertainment value is pretty low - I've also been finding the site boring and repetitive, a bit tricky to navigate (it's too easy to get bumped back to the map page), and the mini-games couldn't be more inane. I had pretty high hopes for the site as well, esp. given their acquisition of Neopets and vast potential of reproducing and building upon that model within a multiplayer context. Wikipedia says that Nicktropolis is "now considered somewhat of a "safer RuneScape for kids"", but it's certainly nowhere near as fun :)