Top Ten Free-to-Play Games - Battle for the Children

Marketing analysts know that a product must appeal to parents before they can sell it to kids. Check out these slogans that are copyrighted by their respective holders. "Choosy moms choose

Marketing analysts know that a product must appeal to parents
before they can sell it to kids. Check out these slogans that are
copyrighted by their respective holders. "Choosy moms choose href="" target="_blank">Jif
when it comes to peanut butter. If you’re shopping for cereal, remember
that href=""
target="_blank">Kix is "kid tested" and "mother
approved." The same marketing axiom applies when developers try to
target children for their games; you have to get the parents to like
your product, too. As my daughter approaches her seventh birthday in
April, I decided to take a look at some major titles aimed at
children:  href=""
target="_blank">Free Realms
Kitty Online
, and  href=""
. I examined their revenue models and
their potential appeal for children and parents.

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Sanrio may call it snow, but Ralsu calls
the white stuff coating their game is sugar.

Kitty Online

Hello Kitty
(HKO) might be the best choice for a seven year old
girl at first glance; the Hello Kitty franchise is insanely popular
with girls all around the world, and my daughter has quite the
collection of Hello Kitty gear (backpack, sweatshirt, tee, hoodie,
leggings, pencils, crayon case, lunch bag, lunch dish). style="font-style: italic;">

seems Sanrio’s MMOG has as many bells and whistles as my daughter does
pieces of Hello Kitty merchandise. In short, HKO accounts for all of
the standard features in today’s MMOGs. Players can harvest materials,
construct a house, tend crops on a farm, read books to learn how to mix
ingredients, and/or battle monsters for treasure and experience. The
tutorial and downloadable PDF guide ensure that budding gamers don’t
get lost or too frustrated. Everything my daughter could need to make
her break into MMOGs is right there in one little syrupy sweet package.

HKO offers a F2P experience with optional microtransactions, so the
price is right for my family. Additionally, the low requirements of the
browser-based experience guarantee that just about anyone with a
computer can play HKO. Thus, the game has a lot of appeal.

But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows where HKO is concerned.
A major speedbump with this title in its quest to claim the souls (er,
attention) of children everywhere is that most adults and males of any
age would rather eat moldy bread than play the game. In the peanut
butter marketing test, HKO fails miserably. Sure, I’ll vouch for the
game as being age appropriate in accordance with its rating, and I’ll
tell people it’s got a solid foundation, but you won’t catch me playing
it. I suspect I’m not the only parent to feel this way, too.


Legos have evolved beyond being little plastic blocks that build
things; Lego is a cultural phenomenon that includes games ( style="font-style: italic;">Lego Star Wars, style="font-style: italic;">Batman, and style="font-style: italic;">Indiana Jones on
various consoles) and specialized play sets ( href=""
target="_blank">Bionicle and others come to mind).
What HKO lacks in appeal to parents, Lego has in style="font-style: italic;">Spongebob Squarepants-themed  href=""

Lego Universe
is an MMOG with a ton of potential. You can’t find a child who doesn’t
like Legos, and many adults are Lego enthusiasts as well. For sure, the
Lego world is open for sandbox-style play that could rope in parents
and children alike. I know several adults who are ready to be “Day One”
customers right now. They love the concept of crafting in a Lego world.
They know the fun minigames that could come at launch ( style="font-style: italic;">Lego Racers,
anyone?) and the latent exploration available to the product.

The problem is that the Lego
FAQ tells me the game will be subscription-based.
The need to spend money cuts off a lot of potential customers, as
children may not be able to finesse the money out of caregivers’
wallets and adults would rather pay for a more “mature” game. I’ll
reserve full judgment until I know more about the game, but I’d say the
subscription fee is a possible handicap for this title.

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Realms has a look that
is pleasing to children but not so cute that adults will vomit.


Free Realms
does not use an existing intellectual property, but it no doubt will
benefit from one of the most experienced MMOG infrastructures in
existence. I have met many gamers who hate SOE, but almost no one can
deny the company’s clout in the massively multiplayer market, or its
familiarity with what is required to launch and maintain a game.

Of the three titles I considered, style="font-style: italic;">Free Realms is the
one I knew the least about before I did my research. It is also the one
that got me most excited as I learned more. The game offers a lot of
the flexibility promised in Lego
with all of the standard MMOG trappings dispensed
in HKO without an extremely heavy dose of frills, bows, and pink
ribbons. The graphics will appeal to children but are in the realm of
“stylized” graphics (read:  href="" target="_blank">WoW)
that also pleases adults.

Free Realms
pledges open gameplay that permits the player to choose his path, and
the official site is filled with cool videos of fun minigames. Digging
through the public information reveals a game that looks to offer all
of the fun and frivolity of  href="" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Wizard101.

Best of all, Free
will be a free browser game like HKO, meaning
disposable cash and outdated hardware won’t be a barrier for children.
SOE’s stated plan is to support Free
with in-game ads, which works terrifically for me
so long as they are not intrusive. Of course, paying customers will get
additional content and features just like they do in any other F2P
game. If SOE keeps this division between paying customers and free
gamers fair (and doesn’t lock off whole areas of the world), that
business model should not be a problem.

Parting Thoughts

Three days ago, I had it in my mind that style="font-style: italic;">Lego Universe would
be the clear winner in this competition because it appeals to the kid
in me. But after a little research, I find myself leaning toward style="font-style: italic;">Free Realms. It has
the open gameplay that allows children to explore and really learn
gaming. We’ll be able to bounce from combat to minigames to a trading
card game and more. It isn’t over-the-top childish, so adults might
actually try it with their little ones. Finally, the F2P model will
result in the largest possible player base. My daughter might just be
getting Free Realms
for her birthday.

Will you be trying one of these games? Which do you think will
enjoy the most success href="mailto:mailto:%[email protected]">Email
your thoughts or post them href=""
target="_blank">in our forums!

The Top Ten

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latest Top Ten list.

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