Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What New in the Kids' Games Market

There have been so many great games and exciting announcements pertaining to kids' gaming culture (and the kids market) lately, especially now that this year's E3 has come and gone, that the thought of trying to digest (let alone dissect) it all can be more than a little overwhelming. That's why I've put together this thematic Guide to What's New... in various segments of games culture, focusing on those projects and announcements I find most relevant to kids or that have particularly caught my eye these past few weeks. The list is by no means exhaustive, and it's likely already out of date it's taken me so long to put it together, but my hope is that it will still be useful to some of you, for catching up on new developments and flagging things for follow-up.

What's New in...Console Games
So much of the biggest big news from this year's E3 involved console games (see Buzzstudy's analysis of the Top E3 Announcements according to online buzz, and the updated version they sent to Kotaku), including a number of interesting, exciting or otherwise noteworthy announcements and developments that relate directly to kids' games/gaming cultures. Here's a quick run-down:

A new (collaborative!) 1-4 player Super Mario Brothers

A more expansive and expansion-friendly Wii Sports Resort

Super Mario Glaxy 2

Beatles Rock Band (it's rated "T" but who are we kidding...that hasn't stopped the previous Rock Band titles from spreading like wildfire among the under 13 set. It seems parents don't object as much to "mild language" in lyrics as they do to hyper violence...go figure)

But just in case they do...they're launching a new LEGO Rock Band as well...bizarre!

From Media Molecule, more news about their sequels to the award-winning LittleBigPlanet, with LittleBigPlanet 2 and (which was first way back in October) and LittleBigPlanet PSP. More on that property below.

Not ready to put the property to bed quite yet, Ubisoft will be releasing TMNT: Smash Up, based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

In addition, earlier this month Warner Brothers finally confirmed the widely-accepted-as-true rumor that it is teaming up with LEGO (once again) to collaborate on a Harry Potter tie-in (once again), this time in game form. The much anticipated LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is expected to be released sometime in 2010.

You might also want to check out this "Top Ten Kids Games Announced at E3" List published in The Industry Standard.

What's New in...MMOGs
There's been a ton of online buzz about SOE's kid-oriented MMOG Free Realms, which launched in late April (2009). In addition to a recent article in Wired magazine, you should check out this article in the New York Times, this blog post by Izzy Neis (whose move to Twitter has left me with an empty hole in my daily blog roll that no one else could ever hope to fill), and this ongoing (?) thread started by Greg Lastowka on Terra Nova. And, you know, try it out for yourself - it's free and even has a "Quick Play" feature...possibly designed for critics and academics ;)

In other news, FusionFall just keeps on trucking. You can now follow their progress through an online Developer Diary, which is pretty useful for tracking changes and industry discourses about the evolution of the game, community, technology, etc.

And over at Disney, Pixie Hollow is continuing to impress, in no small part by generating actual profits and driving a wildly popular new Disney property. According to Virtual Worlds News, the player population has now reached the million member mark, and is the flagship of the Disney Fairies brand, which is currently worth about $2 billion (in global annual retail sales of ancillary products and media).

What's New in...Girlie Games
Same old, same old, as EA Announces the Girls Charm Club (as described in this Business Wire article), and the casual gaming market gears up for a "pink games" re-revolution (via YPulse). Always ready to throw her stylish hat in the mix, Barbie/Mattel also announced some sort of Digital Doll House project awhile back that would seem to fit well with these trends.

What's New in...Indie Games
Too much! But of particular noteworthiness is Nathan Jurevicius and TouchMyPixel's beautiful, slightly creepy, funny, kid-friendly (and free!) online game, Scarygirl. It's been attracting a lot of buzz too, as seen in this "Best of Indie Games" shout out courtesy of Tim W., and subsequent interview with Jurevicius conducted by Phill Cameron, over at Gamasutra. As Tim W. writes:
"Scarygirl is a completely free to play flash game which involves platforming, adventure, puzzle and even fighting-game style elements. The visuals are incredible and the content is absolutely expansive with over fourteen levels of gameplay to plow through."


What's New in...UGC Games
More Spore for Kids! Read news of upcoming, kid-targeted, Spore spin-off projects (for Nintendo Wii, plus a My Pokemon Ranch-style virtual pet-type game, Creature Keeper) over at Wired blog.

News from Kidscreen magazine that Media Molecule is looking for kids' merchandising opportunities and partnerships for its LittleBigPlanet property (centered around uber-cute Sackboy and friends).

Also, some very interesting news from Microsoft about a kid-friendly (and, one would hope, accessible) version of XNA called Kodu, which you can read about over at USA Today

What's New in...Gaming Technologies
Too much to list here, I'm afraid, what with Microsoft's Project Natal, the PS3 motion controller, and all the (seemingly) smaller Wii motion sensor upgrades. I recommend reading some of the many industry lists/summaries, etc., or to breeze through this compilation of E3 coverage and interviews, posted over at AdAge.

And as for What's New...With Me!
I'm off to NYC tomorrow to participate in the Grad Student Symposium at the State of Play Conference, hosted by New York Law School (in conjunction with the University of Southern California Network Culture Project at the Annenberg School for Communication, and with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), and featuring multiple games scholars and designers that I'm simply dying to meet (and/or meet again). Should be an amazing and thought provoking few days, in one of my favourite big huge cities. Enormous thanks to Dan Hunter and Naomi Allen (and anyone else involved in the conference organizing team) for letting me tag along.


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