Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Massively Preschooler Online Games

David Kaplan has written a piece on PaidContent.org about Nickelodeon's MyNoggin (which launched yesterday) and Disney's upcoming Bunnytown (to be launched later this week[???] -- the article says yes, but I can't find confirmation). Both are virtual worlds, and both are aimed squarely at preschoolers.

Nick's MyNoggin, which launched yesterday, is described by Kaplan as:
[A] casual game that is the main feature of a subscription-based, ad-free service for preschoolers and their parents. The game is described as “curriculum-based learning through game play.” The game also serves to promote Nick Jr. and Noggin characters, which game players use as icons.

The site itself advertises games that "progress with child's achievement", and reports that will let parents monitor their child's in-game learning. Meanwhile, Disney is expected to release further details about its Bunnytown site, which will tie into a new Saturday morning Disney Channel puppet show premiering next month (check out the trailer here).

Although Kaplan argues that the sites have different strategies in mind -- emphasizing that MyNoggin will be ad-free, while ignoring 'character branding' as its own highly effective ad strategy -- it's clear that both aim to cross-promote ancillary products and media (For a different incarnation of the same article and argument, check out Daisy Whitney's post at TV Week, which positions the sites as the "two different approaches" to creating virtual worlds for preschoolers). Nickelodeon might couch this in educational/participatory culture discourses, but Disney is much more upfront about their expectations around branded play. As the article explains:
Disney’s online offerings, on the other hand, are intended to drive viewership and product purchases. Mindy Stockfield, VP of digital media at Disney Channel and Jetix, tells TVWeek that the entertainment giant is giving kids exactly what they want. Stockfield pointed to research, commissioned by Disney, that showed viewers have a particular affinity for particular shows and brands, saying, “By playing our games and being part of the content, it engages them so much they want to watch the show more.”

What Kaplan and Whitney don't mention is that Nick and Disney are not alone in creating immersive online experiences for preschoolers. Just last week, Sesame Workshop launched its much anticipated Panwapa, a virtual world that seeks to teach 4-to-7 year olds about global citizenship, and introduce a new transnational team of Sesame muppets. For a great description of the site's contents, check out this posting at Children's Media Consultant. Similarly, if I heard correctly at last week's aoir conference, PBS Kids is also planning a virtual world or community for preschoolers. So far, all of these initiatives appear to emphasize "educational" content -- likely as a strategy to get parents on board with letting their 4-year-olds play online. And I'm sure we'll be hearing a LOT about "safety" as well, though how either of these dimensions are to be defined and implemented remains to be explored.

1 comment:

Two Knives said...

How many gaming and social network sites does a preschooler need? I'm not sure what to think of this yet. Just found your blog and will keep reading.