As part of my trip to PAX last weekend, I sat down with two members of Kingsisle Entertainment, Inc., the company behind Wizard101, the all-ages MMORPG game.
I was interested in talking to them in person because Wizard 101 is my eleven-year-old daughter’s favorite game. Board, hand-held, or otherwise, Wizard101 even beats television or movies. I wrote an initial article about the game last December but because she likes it so much, I had to do my due diligence and check it out further by meeting some of the creators in person but I was already favorably disposed for several reasons.
The first, and most important, is that this game doesn’t crash my desktop computer. Even with Windows 7 Ultimate, there are still some online games that crash or freeze my operating system. Not this one.
The second is that it’s a cooperative game. There are battles, of course, but it is designed so people can work together and still get the same amount of rewards.
The third is that social interaction is tightly monitored. It’s not that players are, say, forbidden to say certain obscene words. It is that it’s impossible to do so. When interacting with others, the software will not send obscenities or insults. “You can’t say ‘shut up.’ It comes out as dots if you do,” my son (twin to his sister) informed me.
The last element is that the game is intriguing enough keep my daughter’s attention. This probably happens as many times in your house as my house: the kid begs for a brand new game that looks cool, you buy the game and then it’s forgotten about in a week.
It’s been over a year since my daughter started playing Wizard101 and she’s still encountering new things to learn.
This is especially valuable to me because, as a special needs kid, finding things that hold her attention is not easy. She sometimes will struggle with schoolwork because of attention issues. But with this game, she is practicing critical thinking and she’s interacting safely socially.
Naturally, when she heard that I was meeting with the creators in person, my daughter presented me with a list of questions. Well, a list of demands, really, about what she wanted to see in the game. That included a number of pets that she thought should be available as part of their pet program as well as a demand for 60,000 crowns to purchase items inside the game. (That’s the only problem I have with the game. You can play it and enjoy it free of charge but if you have a child who wants to acquire things, they’ll want crowns. And that costs real money.)
I did pacify her with promo codes for 10,000 crowns. She used those up in a day.
But as I was talking to Fred Howard, the Vice President of Marketing, I found the features of the game I found most valuable are no accident. Obviously, Wizard 101 was created and programmed for all-ages. The pets are something that Howard said children find especially fun. Right now, there are over a million different genetic combinations available that can be hatched.
Howard said the designers also assumed, from a software standpoint, that younger children are not going to be playing on a newer computer but are far more likely to be using a used or older system. Hence, the focus on software that is compatible with and doesn’t crash older systems. Even when my daughter was playing on an XP operating system, Wizard 101 worked nicely.
Howard pointed out that the software is also designed to allow players to quit in the middle of a battle. That makes it easier for parents to pull the player away for things like dinner and homework.
“It’s easy in, easy out,” Howard said. There are some battles or duels that will take longer but those are marked with the time required, he said.
Right now, there are over 10 million unique web visitors to the game each month, and the numbers keep going up, so the designers are forever tweaking the game with new things. The latest will be the Wintertusk world, roughly based on a Viking element, that is coming soon, as well as continued attention to the pets program. I showed a poster of Grandmother Raven to my daughter. She said Oooo!”
So I suspect this is going to cost me more crowns. On the other hand, I have a great carrot now to use in behavior modification.