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Five things learned from five years of Poptropica

This is a guest post by James Lema, director of product development for Poptropica.

When we launched Poptropica in 2007, we had spent months doing research into other products. We discovered many of them were following predictable patterns that had become the norm. At the time, virtual worlds were popping up everywhere. We knew we needed to stand out from a growing crowd and made some decisions that were necessary for us to be lean and scale quickly. In this entry, I will detail how we came to some of those decisions.

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How to make games kids love

In over a decade of designing virtual worlds and mobile games for kids games we’ve had our fair share of mistakes – in 2004 we didn’t believe anyone would ever pay for virtual goods, we were wrong! But we like to think we’ve learned from our mistakes over the years, and because we’re not very good at keeping secrets we’re sharing our five rules for kids’ games.

1. Create fans not addicts

Moshi ShopJust because 84 million people played FarmVille at its peak doesn’t mean that the game mechanics are appropriate for children. Facebook games often use the same tactics employed by casinos to keep players coming back time and time again. But ultimately we resent that which we’re addicted to – resentful customers are not a recipe for long term success!
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The ten best social gaming articles of 2012 – part 2

Amongst all the cat pictures and Gangnam Style tributes there’s a wealth of social gaming knowledge on the internet. For over two years we’ve been collating the best social gaming articles and publishing them in our This Week in Social Games (TWISG) newsletter. Read by over 1,000 subscribers.

With the year coming to an end it’s time to highlight the best of the best – the ten most insightful articles based on the percentage of clicks by our readers. From finding out what’s in Zynga’s ‘secret sauce’ to how to get your first 1,000 players, plus a handful of articles on making money by giving stuff away from free, it’s all here.

If that’s not enough, you can also read part one of this blog from back in June and get the twenty best social gaming features of 2012.

If you’re not signed up to TWISG yet, you can do that by clicking here.

So let’s begin with….

1. The secret sauce of social games

Reading this article from The Verge is the perfect way for anyone new to social games to become an instant expert! Featuring contributions from Zynga, Kixeye and Storm8 it looks at everything, such copycats, in-game spending, Whales, trends in game design and much, much more. Even if you think you already know it all, you will still find something new.
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Children’s virtual worlds and online play

In 2010 we conducted Europe-wide research into kids behaviour online, with specific reference to  online games. We know 2010 was a long while ago now but we’ve been going through our archives and want to sure some of our most interesting projects.

The study didn’t just look at what games children were playing across Europe but also whether they paid for games and if not why not. Other topics included social network usage and video viewing. We looked at the UK, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.
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Kids demand toys based on virtual worlds

During a recent look back over our projects we found this piece looking at the demand for toys based on kid’s virtual worlds like Moshi Monsters, Bin Weevils and Club Penguin.

We conducted this study as toys based on kid’s virtual worlds are huge! You only have to look at look at the best selling toys during Christmas 2011 to see that. But how big are they and what could be the next big game-to-toy licence?
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Kid’s online gaming in America

As part of our on-going research into online gaming, during the first quarter of 2011 we conducted a piece of research with 2,000 children in America regarding their online gaming habits.

The research focused on their access and use of gaming devices, their use of social media sites – specifically Facebook, and online virtual worlds. There was also a focus on games developed by Zynga.
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More than half of UK children own a toy based on a virtual world

Children’s virtual worlds – like Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin – aren’t just popular online; they’re also proving a big hit as toys with new research showing over half of UK children own a toy based on a virtual world with some as  popular as Dr Who.

Dubit’s research department recently studied the popularity of toys based on online worlds, looking at Disney’s Club Penguin, Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters, as well as Build-a-BearVille, Poptropica and Webkinz.

The study of 500 kids showed that an amazing 55 per cent of children owned a toy from at least one of these games. The most popular was Disney’s Club Penguin, with 32 per cent of children owning a branded toy from the online world. Club Penguin, which has 150 million registered users (globally) launched in 2005 and has spawned a series of books and video games. Each toy is connected to the virtual world as they’re packaged with a code that allows items to be unlocked in the virtual world.
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Ten things you didn’t know about Moshi Monsters

Since beginning in 2007 Moshi Monsters has risen to become an online game and children’s social network with over 50 million members worldwide. There is a good chance that if you have children they probably have a Moshi of their own, as half of the country’s six to twelve year-olds are members.

As Moshi Monsters gets tipped to become one of the must have toys for Christmas 2011 we present you with ten things you probably didn’t know about the Moshi phenomen.

Before it went social Moshi Monsters was facing bankruptcy

Mind Candy, the company behind Moshi Monsters, hasn’t always had it so good.  Speaking to The Independent, Mind Candy CEO, Michael Acton Smith said: “The real tipping point came in 2009 when we allowed kids to connect with each other and gave them a forum to discuss things. Until then, it had been a solo experience and we were on the edge of bankruptcy. It was when we added the social element that membership really took off.”

Education was the focus

When the game was built in 2007 the focus was on educating children. Acton Smith claims that teachers and parents loved it but kids just rolled their eyes.
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What do the top 20 virtual worlds have in common? And what can you learn from them?

100% of the top 20 virtual worlds have some form of chat, achievements, and virtual currency. Nearly half (45%) have pets, over 4/5′s have user home rooms, but only 18% integrate with social networks.

How do we know this? We meticulously studied and catalogued every single feature in each of the top 20 virtual worlds, including Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters, Chimpoo, Poptropica, Barbie Girls, WeeWorld, Build-A-Bearville, Bin Weevils, and Hello Kitty Online. If you’re thinking this sounds boring and tedious, you’d be right! But the good news is we’ve shared the results, so you don’t need to.

We collected all this data to help us, and the folks building on our virtual world platform make better design decisions. Designing games for children is really hard! I’m pretty sure everyone reading this is way past their “kid-time” (like bed time, but past the time you stopped being a kid). So if we’re not kids any more, how do we know what kids find fun? What do children want? Should your players have a pet to care for? How important is chat? What about forums? Should there be a story?
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