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Nickelodeon creating new virtual worlds for tweens

 

Joanee Ostrow

Denver Post
April 7, 2008

 

 

Some TV networks issue announcements of new programs, others have moved on to heralding new worlds.

Next they'll promote entire universes under their logos.

Nickelodeon is in the virtual real- estate game, triumphantly unveiling the development of virtual lands where it hopes tweens will live happily (and commercially) ever after.

Joining the company's successful Neopets and Nicktropolis virtual sites are new worlds based on Nick's animated TV properties "SpongeBob SquarePants" and something with a working title of "Monkey World."

Additionally, "World of Neopia" (another working title, growing out of the popular Neopets meta-game) is slated to launch next year with "deep story lines" as kids and Neopets explore "the various Neopian lands."

Anyone with a tween knows this is serious business.

You know about tweens. They're those hormonally tinged, long on attitude, short on chronology, not-ready for teen primetime and not quite children who come home from school and beg for computer time, rarely giving the television so much as a glance.

Geared to tweens, roughly ages 8-14, the developing virtual worlds are "the convergence of gaming, entertainment and community online," according to Steve Youngwood, Nickelodeon/MTV Networks' digital media honcho.

There's more: Neopets, which bills itself as the leading youth community and online virtual world, is spinning off a computer desktop game called PetPetPet Habitats. You heard it here first.

Tween marketers pitch the virtual worlds of Webkinz (owned by Toronto-based Ganz) and Club Penguin (bought by Disney last year) as safe destinations for kids. That's true as far as it goes, but these sites are still commercially conceived and motivated.

On Club Penguin, for instance, the main attraction seems to be dressing and "buying" home furnishings for the kid's chosen penguin avatars, by earning "currency" at various activities within the game.

If you live in a Webkinz household the idea is a cross between plush toys and video games, where each animal comes with a code that is used online you know how difficult it can be to get tweens to quit the virtual play.

These games get short shrift from most television analysts, but those of us who live with the tween obsession know that every hour of virtual world exploration means one fewer hour spent passively observing old-style television.

 

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