DreamWorks is launching Kung Fu Panda World a virtual, online world into a what the New York Times is calling a "the cooling business of virtual worlds." They put $10 million into this project over 2 1/2 years (which for some reason is not available in the UK according to the site "You are trying to access the website www.kungfupandaworld.com from an unsupported region"). The NYTimes also reports that Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" has been a flop, but the mouse machine is undaunted and will release a VW for "Cars". DreamWorks is also looking at a new project for the "How to Train Your Dragon" brand. Good to see the gangs on the Westcoast are still drooling over WoW revenues and Farmville growth. But is this the right answer?
McDonalds is co-promoting KFPW with the usual in-store schmere. DreamWorks will also have in-world advertising. [and how much clickstream data are they collecting on kids and will they share it with parents?] The site will further have live moderators and some special software (heh) to track bad behaviour. Site is charging kids (err..parents) $5.95/month = $71.40/year to train pets karate and earn sashes.
It all seems a bit crass and unnecessary, although it looks pretty. DreamWorks is looking to make more money--fair enough, but do kids really need more of this kind of entertainment? Is it just creating addictive dependencies on empty stimulation? Let's get kids ready for WoW and more violent shooter games? Will kids one day go "Panda" instead of "Postal"?
Says Nancy over at Mommies w/Style blog when she saw the preview: "I loved the safety features. As a mom of a 4 1/2 year old who now uses the computer regularly — I liked the Parent Panel. It lets parents oversee and manage their child’s account." Don't feel too secure though as Habbo and other site users are often targets for phishing and other scams. See some notes from GData, especially on phone scams. "G Data recommends that all parents visit age-based sites together with their children. Parents should keep an eye on their children's activities on the net."
Kids can join these VW's and try to avoid live moderators (are they state certified to supervise kids?), watch for the local bullies, avoid twisted adults, dodge spammers, scammers and phishers and also stay out of the clutches of Mom and Dad. Well, I guess maybe they are learning something useful after all? The Escapist Blog notes that "Parents can also play and earn in-game items for their offspring."
Anyway, I think Kids VW's are a shady cocktail of what is "good for kids" and what is fast money for the merchandising people that target kid demographics scientifically. More disturbing is the effort invested by massive corporates into delving into their little, developing brains to suss out what will make them junkies. Clearly manipulation of this scale should only used on adults.
The future 3D Web will not be necessarily any better in terms of content and or risk--but we can hope there will be more choice and more inspired use of web technology. Like SL back in 2008, we can expect to see all kinds of random stuff, some useful things, a lot of total junk, but also areas of amazing, inspired creativity.
Some notes on how Kids Virtual Worlds today and the 3D Web in the near enough future might compare:
|Mainstream – 3D Web Future|
|Closed Worlds||Move between Grids, OpenSim-type grids|
|Fantasy, Cartoon-like||Mixed Reality, Surreal, Hyper-real, Feeds from Real Data|
|Simple Content||Simple to Deep Content|
|Brand tie-ins, Movie tie-ins||New Brands, tie-ins|
|Safe Experiences||Interesting/Unexpected Experiences|
|Include Parents, Existing Friends||Friends, Make Friends|
|Easy to Access, single path||Low Hurdle, Advanced Features for Power Users, multiple use cases|
|Gain Points, Badges, Buy Stuff||Gain Points, Badges, Buy/Sell Items|
|Browser plug-in||Browser or App, Facebook link, mobile link|
|Publisher controlled content, QC||Publisher, Community, UGC, varied content, chaotic|
|Addictive-type games||Addictive, also social games, varied|
|Live paid moderators||Community moderators, none|
|Likely to be at fastfood promotion||Likely to be at a TED conference?|