Having spent a number of years speaking with kids, I am always constantly amazed at their level of sophistication and discernment in their personal choices. But unlike adults who have the same consideration for their decisions kids are not backward in coming forward when the choices on offer aren’t up to scratch. What’s so refreshing is if they don’t like something they just come out and say it. Such was the situation the other day at home when one of my own brought to my attention the existence of a new online game, panfu.com, he had discovered.
Panfu.com is a multiplayer online game recently promoted in Australia yet originally launched in Germany in 2007. Keen to see what all the fuss was about together with his younger sibling we gathered around the laptop and registered online. With my user experience hat on the login process wasn’t optimal, having registered we returned to the login area which was a cause of confusion.
Panfu Initial Landing Page
But we digress, once we were on the site, a funny look came across the 9 year olds face, ‘Hey this is just like Club Penguin’. OK as a parent I’ve been exposed the world of gaming for a few years now and the tone of my son’s voice was heavy with disappointment. One of the things that kids prize highly is a sense of originality and creativity. This is particularly true in the world of online gaming. To copy is certain death.
Club Penguin, for the uninitiated, is an online game from the Disney stable. Launched towards the end of 2005, players via their penguin avatars play games, create environments and interact with other players. Players can also adopt a little pet known as a puffle. My kids (and I, I must admit) have enjoyed playing this game for the past 18 months and so know the site intimately. From a parents perspective I found the Disney association a source of security and reassurance and I am happy to acknowledge it was a key reason for letting them join up.
OK back to the game, as we explored Panfu further more similarities emerged: the central play areas are similar; as you play you earn points or coins with which you purchase clothing and accessories for your avatar and even your avatar’s own home. You can also adopt a pet and send messages to other players.
Club Penguin – Map
Panfu – Map
Committing the cardinal sin of simply copying a successful innovator is one thing but to attempt it and fall short is almost a recipe for disaster. My nine and six year olds have not ventured back to panfu.com since that initial visit, as it just didn’t make the grade. Panfu failed in their eyes to be interesting and entertaining. It lacked imagination. For kids the sense of discovery and exploration is paramount. Pretty quickly they realised Panfu was just simply more of the same. Rather than represent a new innovation it was simply a new flavour – something that attract attention in the short term but loses any stickiness relatively quickly. The younger of my two stuck at it for about 15mins longer than the other.
Further evidence that it’s completely fallen off the radar is that we have seen ads on PayTV for it since and it doesn’t even rate a mention from them. Panfu.com boost over 4.5 million registered users but I’d hazard a guess a substantial number would not be repeat customers.
Putting the notion of plagiarism aside, here are just two key differences.
Access to both online games is free. As expected the free experience is limited and there is an opportunity to upgrade for more games and opportunities to customise your experience. Each game handles this user relationship differently – Club Penguin uses the carrot, Panfu uses the stick! Let me explain. The Club Penguin free experience is positioned as a positive gaming experience. There is a wide variety of game options. If you would simply like more of this positive experience you can pay to have it. Panfu on the other hand somewhat penalises players for not taking up a paid membership. In their About Us section, they claim to have a site that is “safe, free of violence and advertising”. However being 100% free of advertising is only possible with the gold membership. What my kids found frustrating was in the middle of playtime, ads and surveys would constantly pop up. For them it was down right irritating.
It is interesting how the pricing schedule is also presented. Clearly one is doing the hard sell, which raises suspicions, that is if something is as valuable as they impress, then why do we need so much convincing with an elaborate pricing schedule.
Club Penguin – Membership Pricing
Panfu – Membership Pricing
Interestingly in the Panfu game, items were perceived to be more expensive to acquire (in absolute terms more coins were needed). Whether a direct comparison of game currencies can be made, the overall feeling was that value for money was poorer. It was more expensive to furnish your avatar’s house for example. And for kids who are very in tune
with the notion of value for money this was a turn off.
It never ceases to impress me at how quickly kids will make a decision to stick with something or move on. They are a discerning audience and this should never be underestimated. The considerable similarities with Club Penguin and Panfu enabled these issues to be illustrated so clearly. I would like to wrap up with some thought about what kids want in an online experience, which should be:
· Original & fresh (new news and kudos that can be taken to the school playground);
· Value for effort (fair reward for effort);
· A fair exchange (they’re giving you their attention but they don’t want to be bombarded by advertising); and
· An uninterrupted experience (respect).
While this is not an exhaustive list of factors that influence the success of online gaming, it goes some way to help explain why some things work and others don’t. Can you add to this list?