Nickelodeon Launching A Virtual World Next Month For Kids To Monkey Around In

Nickelodeon, the TV network targeting kids, is launching a virtual world called Monkey Quest that will be unveiled next month at the Kids’ Choice Awards.

On April 2, the free online game will be unveiled, marking the culmination of two and a half years of development. It represents a significant undertaking for the network.

Kyra Reppen, SVP and general manager of Nickelodeon’s Virtual Worlds Group, who was showing off the game at GDC last week, declined to quantify the investment, but said it will be heavily promoted, much like a new TV show.

Monkey Quest is comparable to other so-called massively multiplayer games, such as the insanely popular World of Warcraft, which has roughly 12 million subscribers.

Except for that it is cute and cuddly, and something even parents can approve of.

“What we did was take the big adult games and adapt them for kids, which is something you don’t see very often,” Reppen said.

That doesn’t mean they cut any corners.

While it runs in a PC’s browser, it has the quality look and feel of a console game, thanks to a development platform company called Unity, which has been the basis for a lot of other high-quality games.

Monkey Quest takes place in the World of Ook. It spans a vast territory that encompasses five different tribes, which are connected by a network of highways. Initially, there will be 50 levels for players to achieve, but new content will be added daily.

Even after the game launches, the Nickelodeon team will be busy adding missions, characters and other tribes–indefinitely.

In the game, each player creates an avatar monkey that can be customized. Even without a lot of work, the monkeys are very animated and have kid-friendly attributes, like the ability to burp, or take a nap if they aren’t being very active.

Challenges include fighting monsters, or venturing into volcanoes, where they may meet Maurice the Gorilla, a friendly giant that enjoys roasting marshmallows. Players never fight one another, and even when shooting monsters, they use silly guns like the Kernal Blaster, which is an ear of corn. The monkeys are also rewarded with bananas for completing tasks.

The game is targeting 8 to 12 year olds, and keeps things safe by limiting what can be said. Players are never allowed to know each other’s real names, and some phrases are filtered out of text-based conversations automatically. Nickelodeon monitors conversations around the clock, and parents can even choose to limit chats to a handful of canned phrases, like “do you want to trade x for y.”

Still, they find that doesn’t keep kids from interacting with one another.

While the game is in beta, they are noticing that a lot of the players are learning how to interact with one another through gestures. For instance if a monkey squats down and puts his hands above his heads, it implies that it is offering to give another monkey a boost up to a higher ledge. If you give someone a boost, it’s only proper etiquette to reciprocate.

Like many social games today, the game is free, and users never have to pay if they don’t want to.

But there’s two premium offers to entice kids. Subscriptions will cost $9.95 a month, or users can choose to pay as they go, by buying Nick Cash. Parents can enter their credit card online, or they can buy game cards in 40,000 retail locations through a partnership with InComm. Players who pay have access to additional content, including premium missions and items for your avatar.

The idea for Monkey Quest is an evolution from Nickelodeon’s roots in the gaming space, starting with Neopets, which Viacom purchased almost six years ago.

Neopets, which launched 11 years ago, allowed kids to take care of virtual pets, by buying them food, toys and clothes. Similarly, users had to purchase virtual currency to play.

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