After the failure of what was likely the most-publicized and heavily marketed massive multiplayer online (MMO), LEGO Universe, the question of whether games oriented towards children can succeed is a legitimate one. LEGO was online for just over a year and went free to play (F2P) in October hoping for increased player numbers and higher revenues. It didn’t pan out and the game went under in November.
Last week, Little Space Heroes, a new children’s MMO from Bubble Gum Interactive, officially launched. The game is a kid-friendly, space-themed MMO and is available for online download or retail purchase. Disney has also been running Toontown, a uniquely RPG-based MMO for kids, for a few years as well, but has not talked about success rates yet.
Does either game have what it takes to make it? The failure of LEGO is a big argument against their being much of a market for kid-oriented MMOs. With all of the marketing, including heavy television advertising during children’s prime time, and massive investment into the game itself, LEGO failed to gather enough (paying) players to make it viable.
By contrast, the two current children’s MMOs have received little, if no press coverage and are certainly not getting anything near the publicity and marketing hype that LEGO did. This may be a good thing.
Little Space Heroes is a unique game in that it’s literally a universe for kids to explore. After creating a character, kids can use the simplistic controls and interaction devices in the game to complete puzzles, quests, etc. while visiting strange worlds and fun cartoony-scenery complete with characters full of personality. It’s an unusually fun game, even for adults, and is a much better game for kids than was LEGO, which suffered from too much complexity.
Disney’s Toontown, on the other hand, is pretty boilerplate MMO playing with a lot of RPG (in comparison to LSH or LEGO). It’s main advantage, however, is that it features all of the Disney characters that get shoved into kids’ faces night and day. That’s an obvious marketing advantage. The game will likely get advertised heavily on the Disney Channel and the like once it officially launches it’s next upgrade in the spring.
The real question, however, is money. Will either of these games, good as they are, be able to make an income? LEGO proved that you can have the greatest game on the planet, technically, and still lose out. The trouble here is that the demographic of players are not necessarily those with money to spend and parents may not be willing to fork over much to support a young child’s video game habits.
Most likely, these games will show moderate success and if their marketing and other costs can be kept at reasonable levels (arguably one of the biggest bottom line downfalls for LEGO), they may be viable.