Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You know, for kids

With the announcement of the Xbox 360 Arcade version of the console this week, there has been some noise about how Microsoft is going after Nintendo's 'family' market. While I do think the family market is worth going after, I find it amazing how many people seem to have no understanding as to what the family market is.

Quotes from recent press releases:

...the Xbox 360 Arcade system features the industry leading family settings that allow parents to control what their kids are watching and playing

Nickelodeon delivers three top shows to Xbox LIVE, also available today, including programming for the Nick Jr. hit series "The Backyardigans." of all ages can download the entire first season of the educational and imaginative, play-to-learn, top-rated preschool series "Blue's Clues."

Also being introduced today are new kid-friendly game titles, "SHREK-N-ROLL" and "SpongeBob SquarePants: Underpants Slam," based on two of the most popular family icons in animation.

The Xbox 360 Arcade or 'family' system may succeed in spite of its message, but I think that is quite unlikely because the message is missing a fundamental understanding of what a 'family' is.

The definition of family is: parents and their children, considered as a group [ref:].

However, the press releases are using the word 'kids' and 'family' as interchangeable. The message is that Sponge Bob is 'family content' and that a 'family' console is one where parents play one thing and kids play something else (and that separation is enforced by 'family settings').

Kids are a part of family and parents are a part of family, but for it to be a family you have to consider them together. Adding kid content to a console does not make it a family console. For it to be a family console, you need to have both kids and parents playing together. (and I'll be real honest with you, I'm not playing Shrek or Sponge Bob)

Consider Wii Sports. It is succeeding not because it is content for only kids or only adults, but because it is content that both kids and adults can play together. It is a family game.

When you think of a 'family' board game, you don't picture kids playing Candyland in the same room where adults are playing 'D&D.' Family is playing together, not having controls to keep the kids from playing what the adults are playing. The fact that you need controls to keep the two separate isn't family friendly, it is an affront to every mother who is involved in purchasing a game system, and if you are looking for a true family system, mom has to be involved in buying it.

Family Controls are something that the core male gamer looks for to keep his kids from playing the 'M' rated games that he is playing. The mother doesn't want the 'M' rated games in the house irregardless of who is playing them. The gamers who are proponents of the idea that blood, violence and sexual content is mature [definition: fully developed in body or mind, as a person], are only further pushing video games into the realm of the juvenile.

Focusing on parental controls and Shrek places the console squarely in the 'OK for my kids' mindset, not in the 'family' mindset.

The misconception that family content is kid content I believe will sink the current Microsoft 'family' campaign. One of the reasons that Pixar movies do well is because they aren't for kids, they really are family content. Adults want to go see them.

In order to create a family platform you need to create something that is enjoyed by both kids and adults together. It is a far from trivial task that Nintendo accomplished with the Wii by focusing on the family and what keeps family members from playing together. The console and controller were designed to make it feel familiar and simple. Nintendo passed on more hard-core designs along the way and have been called crazy by more than a few. Though many will try to take a swipe to get at some of the audience being created by the Wii, any thoughts of it being easy to steal the audience by simply calling something 'family' need to take a better look at the families buying the Wii and the reasons they are buying it.

Kids are a great part of family, and indeed, to meet the definition of family, you need kids. However, forgetting to include the adults while going after the kids doesn't give you any more of a family than you had when you were just going after the adults.


Greg Squire said...

Here. Here. I totally agree. I see far too much stuff being billed as "family" when really "kids" is what was meant. I've seen it with both games and movies. I've rented many "family" films that have captivated our kids, but my wife and I were nearly falling asleep through them. It's not easy to create a game (or a movie) that will captivate both kids and adults, but it can and has been done.

It's sad but we're living in a world where the whole concept of "family" seems to be fading. The whole notion that "spending time with your kids can be fun", seems to be a fading concept. With that kind of culture, I can see how people are equating "family" and "kids" as the same thing. It's nice to see there are still companies like Nintendo that still "get it", and are working to bring more "We(Wii)" or "family" back into gaming. Perhaps I'm not your typical male adult, but I find no attraction to any of these gory violent rated M shooter games that are so prevalent today. I'd rather play Wii Sports or Rayman Raving Rabids with my kids. Thanks Nintendo! There's hope for the industry yet.

jcottier said...

Even the name is weird. "Arcade" sounds pretty hardcore to me. This is not a word I would associate with family friendly.


Russell Carroll said...

What about 'Family Fun Center?'

As an interesting aside, I have been enjoying what few EA Sports games I've played with the new "Family Play" option. Sport games are typically too complex for my kids to play with me (most of Wii Sports excluded). However, with the AI handling all the movement for the kids, we can team up with four of us playing cooperatively on NBA Live. Granted, NBA Live hasn't been good for many years, but it was fun to play with my kids, and they had fun playing as well instead of groaning when Dad pulled out another of his sport games (they much prefer to watch Zelda or Metroid to sports).

Reviewers aren't really capturing the usefulness of the "Family Play" in the sport games b/c as a hardcore gamer you wouldn't EVER use them. However, for families, I've been real impressed so far. Need to rent Madden 08 and FIFA 08 to see if the implementation is as good as it was in NBA Live 08. I'd still wait for a $20 price tag before considering a buy, but they really opened up the game into a whole new world for my family.

Whiner said...

Family Controls are something that the core male gamer looks for to keep his kids from playing the 'M' rated games that he is playing. The mother doesn't want the 'M' rated games in the house irregardless of who is playing them.

Pfft. Can we hold the sexism? And 'irregardless' is questionable English. :)

Beyond my nitpicking, though, it is a good point. I think I've mentioned before that When I Was A Little Girl, my colecovision was indeed a family games machine - my mother loved playing Ladybug more than I did. Many games were played both by little-me and by my parents.

Russell Carroll said...

Pfft. Can we hold the sexism?
Don't think it is negative to point out that men and women are different in this regard :). I know that there are women who go for 'M' rated games, but the like/dislike is quite skewed when you consider Moms as a group to Dads as a group.

Men and Women, in general, have different tastes, likes and dislikes, and I, for one, think that is a good thing.

Irregardless is one of my sloppy English words :(. My wife is always correcting it in my written articles. Someday I'll remember :).

Whiner said...

Oh, I know you didn't mean anything bad by it, and in general it probably holds true - more dads than moms are hardcore gamers, more moms than dads are concerned non-gamer parents.

I'm only hesitant about statements that proclaim the norms as if they are always the case - especially when having seen one too many episodes of Wife Swap where the swapped housewife gets mortally offended by the thought of a MAN DOING DISHES. :)

Russell Carroll said...

Wow...guess maybe I am missing more than I realize by not watching TV! Mortally offended? That's pretty amazing. Of course I suppose they pick out people to specifically make it more entertaining. Hopefully that is the case :).