Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Hello Kitty MMOG Coming to North America

Via the WarCry Network, news this week that Sanrio's girl-oriented MMOG Hello Kitty Online, based on Hello Kitty and other cutesy-bootsy Sanrio characters, will soon be expanding its services to North America through a partnership with Aeria Games & Entertainment Inc.. Here's an excerpt from the Sanrio/Aeria joint press release:
The announcement was made at the 2009 Game Developer Conference®, held at San Francisco's Moscone Center from March 23-27. Hello Kitty Online is the eagerly anticipated official massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) of the Hello Kitty universe. Aeria Games will manage North American online publishing and game service operations for Hello Kitty Online. Sanrio Digital will manage retail publishing of the game and operate SanrioTown (http://www.sanriotown.com ), the Sanrio-themed portal and social networking site integrated with Hello Kitty Online.

"Sanrio Digital is very excited to partner with Aeria Games, who will be our online publisher and operator for Hello Kitty Online in North America. With Aeria Games' leadership position in the free-to-play casual MMO sector and Hello Kitty brand awareness among the underserved female gaming audience, Hello Kitty Online will grow into a leading social gaming destination for teens and female adults," said Robert Ferrari, Vice President of Publishing & Business Development of Sanrio Digital.

The game will be "free-to-play with optional premium upgrades," a model that is proving to be immensely successful these days (see last week's post on Club Penguin). Already successful in various parts of Asia, Hello Kitty Online will continue to announce and implement expansion plans throughout 2009. In addition to promoting the Sanrio brand and media characters, the game is intended t establish itself at the nexus of the "underserved female gaming audience" by providing a "magical and cute" environment focused on themes of friendship and caring (sound familiar? i wonder if they'll ever design a vw for girls that doesn't revolve around those themes)...both virtually and IRL. As described in the press release:
Aside from redefining traditional MMO gaming with the inclusion of integrated social media services provided by SanrioTown, Hello Kitty Online connects the virtual world with real world charity events: during past beta events, Sanrio Digital translated player activities into real donations to charities such as UNICEF. Sanrio Digital intends to continue charitable initiatives as part of North American strategy for Hello Kitty Online.

Very much in keeping with the growing/ongoing "games for change" trend spreading across kids' digital culture (e.g. see this recent MediaPost article about Nickelodeon's "Games for Social Change"). Additional details can be found in a recent post on Gamezig,which describes some of the Hello Kitty Online charity events that have unfolded to date. Here's the excerpt:
"In a recent beta, the event "Food for Friends" invited players to craft virtual items to raise money for UNICEF and the Asian Youth Orchestra. A similar event named "Helping Hearts" asked players to craft virtual items that Sanrio Digital then converted into hundreds of real gifts for the children of the Po Leung Kuk residential child care unit.

Sanrio and Aeria Games have announced that similar virtual-to-real world charity initiatives will be coordinated for the North American market as well. I wonder what they (or the kids) will come up with. Oh corporately manufactured charities...such a cool opportunity for kids to get involved in social movements, but why is the cost always that kids end up being enlisted in viral marketing and brand promotion?

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