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Exclusive Hello Kitty Online Valentine's Day Interview

Posted Sat, Feb 14, 2009 by Cody Bye

Although "cute" will be commonplace in MMOs this Valentine's Day, but no game does pink and fluffy quite as well as Hello Kitty Online. One look at their screenshots and you'll be looking for the nearest stuffed animal to cuddle. As we first announced in a recently published news story, HKO is celebrating Valentine's Day in a big way, even before the game is released. To find out more about the game and the upcoming event, Ten Ton Hammer caught up with Andy Chiu and Abigail Reyes, the creative director and community manager for Sanrio Digital and Hello Kitty Online.

 

Hello Kitty Online is opening for the public on Valentine's Day weekend.

Ten Ton Hammer: Valentine’s Day seems like an incredibly appropriate holiday for the world of Hello Kitty Online. How did you decide to come up with a “greeting card disaster” quest chain to celebrate the holiday? Why focus on Valentine’s Day at all?

Abigail Reyes: We chose Valentine’s Day because it was a good date for our schedule and an ideal theme. The main plot of “Happy Hearts” is that Cupid is missing in action as Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching. The part about the greeting card industry is incidental - without Cupid there is no Valentine’s Day, without Valentine’s Day the greeting card industry loses its most profitable day of the year. But the quest chain is really about the search for Cupid, we put in the bit about greeting cards as a joke.

Ten Ton Hammer: Hello Kitty Online is a huge worldwide property. Why did you decide to make it into an online game? How can players really feel like they’re experiencing Hello Kitty through their computer screens?

Andy Chiu: Hello Kitty is many things to many people, but most importantly she embodies a design aesthetic that has been called Zen-like. There is resonance with the Hello Kitty brand all over the world and across all ages. A few years ago we sat down to brainstorm possible ways in which we could advance Kitty’s progress in the digital world. We looked at the core values of the Hello Kitty brand and its parent Sanrio, such as friendship and social communication, and we realized that Hello Kitty is ideally suited to social gaming and social networks. So we decided to build both in one product. At the time we were already operating SanrioTown.com, which is a Hello Kitty portal that offers email, casual games, blogs, videos, forums, etc., and we started looking at ways in which a game and a portal could be integrated.

In creating Hello Kitty Online we focused on communicating cuteness and enabling social network behavior in the framework of a MMORPG. The result was that every map is a dream-like landscape of sweetness, and we became the first developer we know to incorporate social features like video sharing and blogging in a fully-featured game.

Ten Ton Hammer:  When you were creating Hello Kitty Online, what kind of gameplay were you trying to achieve? Is this a game for casual, younger gamers; for older gamers; or somewhere in between?

Andy Chiu: Hello Kitty Online philosophy can be summed up in a few words: “for everyone” and “different”.

Hello Kitty Online can be summed up with words "for everyone" and "different."

Regarding “for everyone”: we worked hard to make a game that everyone can enjoy, including young, teen and casual players. At the same time we also wanted Hello Kitty Online to be rewarding and challenging for more experienced players, and we wanted to make sure that the hardcore players would have something to do even after they finished all the quest content. And, of course, we wanted to target female players, a demographic that is sometimes overlooked in the gaming world, outside of casual gaming.

HKO is a friendly game where people can play solo and befriend others, parents play with their children, and friends play with friends. So it really is for anyone and everyone who enjoys gaming, whether intensive or casual. We’re not saying everyone HAS to like it, but certainly everyone can find something in it that they will probably enjoy.

Now, regarding “Different”: in HKO you can focus your efforts on customizing your avatar, house and farm, you can work on crafting, you can play a ton of mini-games all day long, you can go out questing and adventuring and leveling, you can work on your writing skills in your blog, you can make your own videos using the web-based video tools, or you can just make friends and chat. Or, like many players do, you can do all of the above.

HKO is not a game about killing your opponents, which clearly separates it from other MMORPGs. Not only does violence not earn you experience and levels (levels are gained by increasing specific skills), but in HKO if you encounter a hostile creature you can smack it with whatever you’re holding in your hands until it falls over dizzy and leaves you alone. It will recover eventually so you might want to move on before it does so, unless you wish to repeat the experience. HKO is a non-lethal MMORPG where violence for the sake of violence will not earn you experience and levels.

What surprised us in the first Closed Beta is the number of players from World of Warcraft who wanted to be let in. The reasons they cited for wanting to join HKO included a less competitive, more friendly environment. And of course, a lot of them were plain curious about seeing what the world of Hello Kitty would look like.

Hello Kitty Online is definitely popular with the ladies.

Ten Ton Hammer: What would you tell an adult MMO player if they asked what was the best part of Hello Kitty Online? Why would an adult player even try out a game like HKO?

Abigail Reyes: So far in the beta events, adults have responded to this game just as positively as younger players. Look around the popular media and you’ll see Hello Kitty being sported by women of all ages, from office women to famous pop stars like Mariah Carey to socialites like Paris Hilton. Adults who love Hello Kitty will try this game, along with adults who enjoy MMORPGs, and people who are looking for something a little different.

We think the fact the HKO will be different is attractive to many people. There are no orcs, elves, goblins or trolls, and the main driver for players is not some overarching conflict between powerful factions. This is not a game about a war. It’s just about a really cute world in which you can do a lot of fun stuff. Yes, there will be a main quest line in the final version, which involves finding out why some of Sanrio Land’s famous characters have fallen into a magical sleep. But this is a story told in cute pink rather than gore red.

There is also the thriving culture of cute. Cute is in and pink is good. It is a trend that began in Asia in the 1970s but now has swept over most of the world... and Hello Kitty is its ambassador.

Ten Ton Hammer: What's your favorite part of Hello Kitty Online? What do you think is the most unique feature of Hello Kitty?

Abigail Reyes: My favourite part and definitely something you will not see anywhere else is the artwork. In addition to the world, which looks fantastic, we have a vast number of equipment, housing items, outfits, pets, and more. All of them look distinct and original. Some of them are realistic, some of them are plain zany, but they are all cute. And we will continue to add more items every month.

HKO has a social network integrated into the game.

Andy Chiu: I like the fact that you can click on another player within the game and view his or her video and blog, which we think is an important step in the evolution of social gaming. This is something that lets us build a stronger community by letting the players get to know each other better in-game, and it fosters a friendlier environment because it reminds you that you are not playing with a bunch of avatars on your screen, but real people.

These social tools would probably not work in a fully immersive MMORPG where you deal with orcs or mutants or whatever; but in HKO the most important thing is to have fun in a relaxed and friendly game environment. You don’t have to play the mighty elf hero, you can be yourself and just go for a stroll through Sanrio Land and see what happens and who you run into.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the Ten Ton Hammer readers and Hello Kitty Online fans?

Andy Chiu: Keep your eyes peeled for some big announcements from Sanrio Digital in the next weeks and months. We are talking to publishers all over the world and will be announcing the first few publishing deals soon, which will provide readers with an indication of when Hello Kitty Online will launch in their market.
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