Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Web Playgrounds of the Very Young

Here I continue discussion of readings for Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545,

Web Playgrounds of the Very Young
Published: December 31, 2007

This article contends that "children’s entertainment companies are greatly accelerating efforts to build virtual worlds for children" Club Penguin, Webkinz and Neopets are quoted as such sites. This is because the Internet has supplanted TV as kids' primary entertainment. "For nearly 50 years, since the start of Saturday morning cartoons, the television set has served as the front door to the children’s entertainment business. ...Now the proliferation of broadband Internet access is forcing players to rethink the ways they reach young people"

Such sites are clearly not new. They omit from discussion the long running site Gunbound which was launched in 2002 ( and Runescape, which was established 2002 and now has 750,000 players, ( also gets little mention.

What implications do these sites have for education? They indicate that there is demand from younger children for websites which give a feeling of community, often enhanced by personal avatars which create a sense of identity. There are already a plethora of educational games sites with differing levels of membership and identification:

The business model used by these kids' games sites might give some indication as to how educational sites might be self-funding "Some sites are free and rely on advertising to make money; others are advertising and subscription hybrids." For example with Gunbound and Runescape, you can open a free account and usually access the full gaming environment. You are also offered additional stuff for a small fee, a dollar or so, it might be something like a different costume or a magic staff. Because the incremental cost of servicing a user account is so low, these sites are viable despite minimal contributions on a per player basis. If educational sites can get the mix right, they might be viable on the same basis.

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