Category Archives: Game Design

Education MMOs: UR Doin It Wrong

Many game people like the idea of educational MMOs (or at least acknowledging the real learning opportunities present in entertainment MMOs), and educators like the idea of gamified curriculum to engage what they perceive as a gamer generation of kids, so there has been momentum for educational MMOs for many years now.

There are two general approaches that I have noticed again and again in discussions of education MMOs (and there are still far more discussions than produced, playable education MMOs):

  • Take educational curriculum and put it into the visual and experiential language of MMO video games (often with a comic book or cartoon derived art style)
  • Take existing MMOs and create educational curriculum to facilitate the use of these existing MMOs in classroom activities

I think that both approaches completely miss the beneficial points of applying MMO game thinking to real-world education. This article will elaborate a bit on areas that I think should get less emphasis in educational MMO designs (relative to the emphasis they currently enjoy), and some neglected aspects of MMOs that I believe are far more important to make a successful educational MMO. Continue reading Education MMOs: UR Doin It Wrong

Gamer Humor for the Minor Illusion of Win

Effectively using humor in marketing is tricky. If you know your target market well, humor is great linkbait. The most viral web phenomena to date have all been funny… to some people. The problem is knowing if the market for your website or app has a generally homogeneous sense of humor.

Sometimes we are so immersed in our personal subcultures that we fail to see how anyone can NOT get the jokes that we take for granted.

Nowhere is this becoming more of a problem in my media diet than in the realm of gamer humor. Something happened this past week that made me wonder if gamer humor has crossover potential or if the misapplication of gamer humor is going to become a problem now that gameification is the new the black.

Gameification may be encouraging game designers to apply the stock tools* of game design to applications that might be much better without even a whiff of Leeroy Jenkins’ chicken.

*If chainmail binkini and “<blank> of <blank>ing” jokes are any less of a stock game tool than “badges” I’ll eat my lush dwarven beard.

But Everyone I Know Thinks It’s Funny!

Obviously, the more edgy or weird your jokes are, the higher the risk/reward potential is for creating a spectacularly offensive dud or the next big viral joke. Geek culture may be cool now, but gamer culture is still a niche experience, regardless of our powerful self-referential presence on teh Interweb. Continue reading Gamer Humor for the Minor Illusion of Win

N00b Proof Your Funware. Tech Support Will Thank You.

Funware is only fun if people understand what the hell is going on. How hard is it to confuse people by putting a game where they weren’t expecting a game? Well, it depends on the user experience… and sometimes users are more easily confused than you ever imagined.

This post will explain the potential usability problems if you add funware to your existing user experience, and what types of users are most likely to be impacted (hint: it’s not the dumb-as-dirt minority you are probably scoffing at already). In the conclusion, I’ll give 4 actionable tips to improve the usability of your funware (and drastically lower the chance that your funware will drive users to drive their tech support staff crazy).

“I Have the Pac-Man Game and I Want to Disable That?”

Have you heard the audio recording of a tech support call resulting from Google’s super-cute interactive Pac-Man logo? This poor woman uses Google for productivity and instead she found a noisy game on the Google search page, so she called tech support to try to get the game removed.

Awkwardness ensues, but the tech support hero helps her work through the problem (which is mainly that the game sounds are still audible while she is trying to do other stuff in her browser, the way she probably does every day). If you’re a good software designer you are going “oh that’s a problem, hm… how could they have avoided this issue” but if you’re a less user-focused software designer you’re thinking “what a dumbass, there were several ways for her to work around this without calling tech support.”

If you’re in the latter camp, you need to go work in tech support for a while. Seriously, it is boring and repetitive and you rarely get to solve any interesting problems but you can’t design good software unless you understand what it’s like to be a “pure user” with no idea how to troubleshoot or work around a software experience that doesn’t match your mental model. Continue reading N00b Proof Your Funware. Tech Support Will Thank You.

Nicole Lazzaro: a Useful Theory of Fun

Just watched an interesting video of Nicole Lazzaro speaking about her excellent research and insights into how game players experience emotions (her most cited work identifies and explains the multitude of human emotions that most people just lump together as “fun”).

Why Lazzaro’s Theory of Fun Is Useful

Lazzaro’s work is comprehensive and she thinks outside the box of the mainstream video game industry.

Her insight goes far beyond just making a game fun for the sake of fun. Unlike design professionals in every other industry, such as architects and productivity software designers, game designers sometimes resent having to design games that produce other measurable, quantifiable outcomes besides fun. Creating a functional building, working within end-user specifications and other design constraints is essentially what an architect is paid and expected to do but there are obviously major perks for architects that also create enjoyable, livable, beautiful spaces too. The aesthetic component is there, as with website design, but the practical constraints really define the design challenge. It’s the same in a marketing game or gameified application trying to achieve outcomes above and beyond a good time for the player.

When the game has to serve a purpose beyond simply being fun to play, I think it’s best to look to designers like Lazzaro for insight rather than to the mainstream video game industry right now. Studying Grand Theft Auto or the intricacies of a good tower defense game WILL NOT help you develop a great social media title that engages your customers with your brand. Studying how and why players experience fun, engagement, and motivation while gaming WILL help you. Continue reading Nicole Lazzaro: a Useful Theory of Fun

Know the Limits of Game Mechanics

So, you want to add game mechanics to your new online product? Where do you begin?

Short of hiring an experienced game designer, how does a business or creative person learn enough about game design to effectively integrate social badges, leaderboards, and points systems into non-game products?

This is a tough question because every single one of the best books I’ve read about game design are too long, too academic, or too esoteric (for someone who isn’t a hardcore gamer or old enough to have played decades of the games referenced in the texts). I’m starting to see some short, simplified books describing the new Funware trend, but they tend to convince people that Funware is the new hotness, rather than help people actually apply it.

People need an accessible marketing-oriented book that instructs a game design novice on the finer points (and pitfalls) of using game mechanics in their product or user experience designs. I have not found that book yet, but parts of it exist in many related books. It’s not that this information is not out there, it’s just not available in an effective format for some of the folks who need it now.

So, no dream book yet, but I saw a FANTASTIC slideshow today.

If you’re a website or app designer, there is a good introductory slideshow now for using game mechanics effectively in non-game product designs, thanks to Sebastian Deterding. Continue reading Know the Limits of Game Mechanics

Game Industry Outsiders Weren’t Surprised. At All.

One thing that is always striking about the mainstream game industry is how surprised game developers seem when they learn about the success of games, virtual worlds, and game-like systems that wouldn’t impress professional game designers. I don’t think the problem is elitism, just that the world of entertainment looks very different from inside the fuzzy vertical market called the games industry.

Game Insiders Were Some of the Last to Know

This spring I sat dumbstruck in my home office, watching a video of genius entertainment designer Jesse Schell building the intro to his DICE 2010 presentation (about the future of pervasive gaming) around the idea that professional game industry people were surprised by mega-hits like Facebook’s Farmville and Mafia Wars. Really? Ok, maybe some people just took a while to get onto Facebook (I know I avoided it as long as I could because I needed another online social network like RollerCoaster Tycoon needed a movie adaptation). Some degree of Facebook cluelessness is comprehensible.

But Schell masterfully builds rapport with his audience by highlighting “surprise” hits like Guitar Hero and Wii Fit, and inquiring who in the audience thought the Wii would be the winner in the last gen console war (to which I wondered “who didn’t know the Wii was the only console with mass market potential?”). This makes more sense if you were following the games industry in the earlier half of this decade when every conference was full of game devs trying to comprehend how people could make money creating cheesy match-3 games instead of real games like Battlefield 1942 (thankfully, casual games are now given a lot more respect in the industry, but in 2002 they were a target of much dismissal and derision).

I know Schell was resonating with his target audience because I’ve attended these types of events myself and I keep in touch with game dev friends (though I’m in St. Paul, far from the game industry hotspots). There are certain mentalities and opinions that are oddly pervasive, until the overwhelming evidence and thought-leaders like Schell convince everyone that these other kinds of entertainment experiences matter. DICE gets more of a diverse crowd than GDC, but still people with too much games industry focus and too little attention to the broader entertainment industry and what most people actually do for recreation.

Still, you’d think the games business types would have seen the money, and lit a fire under their developers to learn these new markets.

Game Devs Didn’t See Where the Real Money Was

You might think it’s crazy that game developers didn’t see that the big revenue in Facebook games wasn’t really the “viral effect” of inviting as many people as possible, but rather it was the way the game design pushed certain players into socially competitive, almost irrational, behaviors: logging in every single day for repetitive low-production-value gameplay, paying real cash for game advancement, and participating in ridiculous sponsor offers for products players had no genuine interest in. There was next to no value in the twenty friends you begged to join you in Vampire Wars if they only signed up to help you out and barely played.

The real value was the power player (who invited all their friends just to increase their game influence, regardless of the friends’ interest in the game). The viral effect did pay off when power players roped in new power players who also started playing like it was their job. But overall, it wasn’t a volume racket, it was a social hack to put people into a hyper-competitive situation trying to one-up people they knew in real life (while clobbering random internet adversaries on the ever-present leaderboards).

So, even though many game developers tried to dismiss Facebook games as some bastardized multi-level marketing scheme that only served to collect as many registered users as possible, the real money was in the familiar place that game devs should have recognized right off: the passionate player. People were genuinely invested in Facebook games. And why was that so difficult to see?

Facebook Games Are Considered Shitty By Gamers & Game Devs

Bottom of the barrel. Any hack could design Fashion Wars. We’re talking text-based games that any beginning web programmer can whip up in a week, with one to three central mechanics, no audio or music, and scant 2D interface art. Who would play these games passionately? Who would pay to play them?

Schell explained to the DICE crowd that the sponsored offers and paid game advancement were psychologically justifiable because as the players did what the game motivated them to do (log in, invite friends, advance slowly, become impatient…), they had to justify their continued investment in the game. Eventually, it made sense to do the sponsor offers, to kick in some cash. It made sense to ask people who didn’t want to play to sign up anyway. It made sense to friend people and join groups just to find more people for your pirate crew or mafia gang. Basically, these simple bare-bones games that would earn you nothing but derision and eye-rolls from the pro game dev community had mastered something that many AAA games couldn’t get right: motivating the player to generate revenue for you.

Remember The Sims Online? It took a massive professional team, tens of millions of dollars, and over 3 million lines of code to launch that world of fail that barely motivated players to play, pay, or, hell, just keep logging in. If The Sims Online were free to play (and at the end, it basically was), it still would have bombed. That’s how awful the experience was, despite all the talent, craftsmanship, and innovation they tried to put into it. Yet here are these crappy online multiplayer Facebook games motivating the cash right out of player’s wallets for next to nothing in return.

You’d think game devs would be studying this phenomena to figure out what was pushing player engagement and motivation, but most game designers I’ve talked to basically dismissed Facebook games as shitty designs with repetitive, unimaginative gameplay. According to real game designers, these Facebook games were only successful in the sense that they had a lot of registered players, and they only got those players because of their viral invite features (which are simply the Request forms provided by the Facebook Apps API). It was unthinkable that these games were successful for any other reason.

Marketing Games Are Generally Considered Shitty Games

Now, I’m not arguing that the Facebook games I’ve played were original or even particularly fun, but I do maintain that many of them were extremely well designed to do what they were intended to do. They were marketing games pushing players toward the purchase of game rewards and participation in sponsor deals. They were 100% in service of a business goal.

Yes, players could have fun along the way. Yes, that was a key constraint in the design. But fun was not the only, or even the most important, measure of success for these designs. Success was motivating the players to generate revenue. As a concept, I know this pisses gamers off. And since most pro game developers are passionate gamers, designing a game with that primary measure of success is repulsive. A few designers dig persuasive games, but it’s usually in the context of promoting an educational, political, or social cause. When the design goal is just profits, that turns almost everyone off.

For professional game designers from the games industry, where fun is King (not conversions or content), there needs to be a shift in thinking from “hey, you know what would be cool?” to “hey, you know what would really engage and motivate people to convert for our sponsor?” if game designers want to be a vital part of the booming online entertainment and funware marketing industries. Thinking like a lowly marketer is definitely outside of the comfort zone for a lot of game devs, hence people prefer to work on real games (games for gamers like themselves). When do you ever meet a young person who can’t wait to work on advergames at an IGDA chapter meeting? Or someone who is working to apply game mechanics to persuasive messages outside of education or social causes? Gamer game designers don’t get excited about marketing games the way passionate marketers do.

You can see why some would look down their nose at profit-focused, pragmatic game design. However, the funny thing is… the market validated these Facebook games with huge participation. If these were really bad games, why did they make money? Why were they so popular?

It’s well worth considering the possibility that the pursuit of excellence in AAA games is like the quest to create fine art films that appeal to only the most sophisticated movie goers (while everyone else is happy as a pig in shit at Transformers 2).

BTW, These Surprise Hits Were Not for Socializers

Another misunderstanding (that isn’t touched upon in Schell’s presentation) is that game devs think Facebook games are all highly social games (because they’re on a social network platform).

Facebook games tend to tap the traditional gamer types of achievers, killers, and some explorers (the completionist variety who want to keep advancing in order to see what comes next). Interestingly, few of the mega-hits like Zynga and Playfish games actually provide a good social experience for the socializer gamer type (even though the games are technically hooked into players’ existing social graph, there was little opportunity to develop meaningful in-game exchanges with other players).

Players are much more likely to build and grow new friendships in a richer online game like World of Warcraft or Runescape, or  in a chatroom-focused game community like Habbo Hotel or Likewise, there are few opportunities to achieve a positive social status in a helping or supporting role within Facebook multiplayer games. There is very little interpersonal contact to occupy the traditional MMO socializers who like to become organizers in their communities, guild leaders, and resources for fellow players.

Bartle’s familiar socializer and explorer traits won’t apply to some of the marketing games, pervasive games, and new hits in online entertainment. Many of the design theories in the game industry are going to need significant revision to account for the broader, previously overlooked reality of the interactive entertainment industry beyond just games.

Facebook Game Shock Isn’t Even the Tip of the Iceberg

The typical pro game developer is not surprised when the latest AAA console game sells well, but they seem a few beats behind when it comes to understanding how their craft relates to engaging, motivating interactive entertainment like Club Penguin, Stardoll, IMVU, Second Life‘s Ozimals, Foursquare, Polyvore, and HuffPost Badges.

People are starting to catch on, but I don’t really think game developers who were weaned on hardcore gamer culture appreciate how the gameification of life will impact the old school games industry.

To put it gently, the kinds of games that professional game designers like to design are no longer the only games in town. It might be a little disheartening to realize that what makes a good, fun game design in the land of game markets is not necessarily the same magic that works in marketing games, pervasive games, and persuasive gaming (though there are some folks who do think traditional game design skills are transferable). On the flip side, once pro game designers start thinking outside the games industry boxes, marketing games and more might improve dramatically.

Converging with Game Industry Outsiders

As Schell humorously highlights in his DICE talk, the pro game devs are generally not the folks designing these new hit entertainment experiences online. He jokes that it’s just whoever happens to be there, but the subtext is that many of the hot new entertainment hits online are designed by marketers, business people, and folks who hardly understand how their product even contains game mechanics (another reason that business-friendly concepts like Funware are so critical to get people framing these techniques correctly in the greater context of game and virtual world design).

When Schell described a day in the future, he only briefly touched on traditional game products (the game of Tetris on the bus, a game on the back of a cereal box, and some kind of multiplayer game played while watching television). Many of his other gameification examples involved the government, art foundations, businesses, and other non-entertainment entities handling these pervasive game services. And it’s true that game mechanics for government, non-profit, and business applications are HOT right now.

I expect that marketing people will be working on more games in-house as people learn how to use game mechanics effectively. With the convergence of traditional marketing and internet marketing, marketers need to learn about online interactivity. It’s very likely that there will be less need to outsource a game design in the future than there is now because the effective use of game mechanics will become part of the mainstream marketers vocabulary too. And a key take-away idea here is that game outsiders will be designing the experiences that compete directly with professionally designed games for player time and money.

People who make good games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Braid will be competing for customers and jobs with people who learned game design from studying the success of Farmville and Frequent Flyer Programs. I sympathize if you punched your desk or muttered an expletive of disgust just now.

Some Outsider Perspective Can Help Games Too

These outsiders might appear to bring nothing to the table for game developers, but sometimes a little perspective alone can be a welcome addition to a design team.

When I was about 22, I started taking a big interest in PC and console gaming. I loved chess, Scrabble and cards as a kid but I was never a gamer. My family never owned a console system. But once I played Civ III on a boyfriend’s laptop, I was hooked. By 24, I was reading game development books, following game developer blogs, playing as many games as I could, and subscribing to IGDA listservs to learn more about the mainstream game industry. I knew that these were the people who understood game design, the gamer markets, and the ins and outs of running entertainment software companies. I volunteered to work at GDC three years in a row just to afford the trip so I could attend the lecture sessions. So although I’m primarily an entrepreneur and marketer, I have a serious interest in game design too.

After about 4 years of that, I realized that the most valuable people to follow were academics and futurists, entrepreneurs, marketers, and economists. It’s not that the games industry isn’t full of experts in game design and execution. It’s that they don’t seem to have much vision for how to apply that knowledge in the problem spaces outside of console games, mobile games, web games, board games… games, games, games. They even call their industry vertical “the games industry” even though they are all really in the business of entertainment. The only thing more stubborn than their focus on games is their obsession with fun rather than the full spectrum of emotional engagement and motivation.

There’s an old marketing anecdote about the decline of the US railroads. None of the railroad barons thought of themselves in the greater context of the market they served. They only saw themselves in the railroad vertical, and they saw their only competition as the other railroad barons. Well, automobiles came along with many other technologies, national highways, and eventually certain freight markets and almost all passenger markets dried up completely. If the railroad barons understood that they were in the transportation industry, not just the railroad industry, maybe they could have developed trucking fleets and other products to meet the changing expectations of their customers.

Maybe when more people recognize the broader market for game design, professional game developers won’t be surprised at all when they see wildly successful non-game entertainment sites and crappy online games monopolizing users’ time and money.

I say “maybe” not because I don’t trust that the brilliant game developers will cotton on, but because I’ve been watching Gamasutra and IGDA for so long now that there is no excuse for anyone to be surprised by Club Penguin or its ilk. People have been talking about the new online entertainment options and all their ramifications for at least 4 years now. Yet every time, it’s the same chorus of “well, that’s surprising” which translates to “I thought that was a shitty product.”

Pour One Out For  Our Metaplace Homies

During this same period, some of the most celebrated game designers put their heart and soul into designs that were considered innovative by their game designer peers, only to see the market generally ignore them (I’m thinking specifically of Raph Koster’s Metaplace virtual world, which evicted its player-creators after a brief beta and quietly relaunched as a Facebook game company).

I only got into gaming in a big way as an adult so perhaps I’m just a lot more open to entertainment design ideas and trends from outside the games industry. But for the record, us outsiders were not surprised at all.

Were you surprised by the success of the products in Schell’s presentation? Add a Comment

FTC Advergame Pimps Aducation to Kids

Apparently, the FTC thinks our kids need a little help understanding the persuasive intent of advertising in the media.

Whether that’s based on the assumption that our kids are kind of dense or that parents are failing to explain how media advertising works is irrelevant here. The bottom line is that the FTC used a chunk of its limited resources to pay a major advertising company (Fleishman-Hillard) to create Admongo: a persuasive game that “aducates” kids about the world of overt advertising (the examples don’t really touch on some of the most popular forms of internet marketing, such as how search engine results or affiliate ads work).

Scholastic (the education mega-corp) helped too, creating curriculum so that this advergame can worm its way into middle-school classrooms (you know, because the public school system has unlimited time to teach our kids all sorts of trivia and is in no way struggling to instill basic literacy, much less media literacy).

There is no indication that parents were involved in the creation of the game and parental figures do not appear to perform their key media literacy roles (telling kids “no, we’re not buying that junk”, monitoring kids’ media usage, and discussing media issues directly with kids).

Admongo = a lot of money and effort spent to teach kids ad awareness.

Since we are pretty ad-aware here, let’s look at this a bit closer. Beyond the unforgivable puns, there are a number of things we should be questioning about this advergame product.

What is the desired outcome of Admongo?

The FTC seems to think that ads work because people don’t recognize the advertiser or the persuasive intent, as if awareness of the advertisement will somehow render it powerless.

What exactly is the expected outcome from Admongo? Kids will be able to neutralize ad effectiveness? Kids will respond to ads they see with a moment of thought and self-reflection? Kids will challenge our consumerist society and begin a bold new world by virtue of identifying product placement messages in a video game? Suuuuure…

Au Contraire, Apple! I am not a Mac!   It is I that shall mark my brand upon you. Ha-ha!

If this were the case, then it would be impossible to advertise effectively to professional marketers and educated adults. I think it’s apparent that this is not how the world works, and ad awareness campaigns are interesting, but unlikely to protect kids from the influence of advertisers, even if kids learn to think like marketers.

Everybody Persuades Kids, Not Just Businesses

What’s ironic here is that the education industry, now including the FTC advergame Admongo, is constantly trying to use the tools of marketing and ads to influence kids. Teachers and parents relentlessly try to influence kids; tell them what to think, what values to have, what to believe in, how to spend their resources, and how to think and feel about themselves and their world.

Kids are bombarded with persuasive messages, some of them very troubling and deeply scarring, from many more powerful and authoritative sources than commercial advertising. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot more psychological baggage from family and grade school than I have from the breakfast cereal commercials I watched as a kid.

If people want to help kids develop into happy, healthy adults, I am not convinced that aducation is going to do much to change lives. Commercial advertising influences us, but we also gravitate toward certain media, brands, and ads because these things reflect some part of us or appeal to us as we already are. I don’t think the advertisers create our internal fear and desires (though they certainly profit from them).

Ads Don’t Make Us Who We Are

Just taking one example that I know a bit about from personal struggle and research: teen girls with eating disorders are typically acting out against a perceived lack of control in their life (typically due to family or interpersonal issues) combined with peer pressures and internal self-image problems. Though you often hear media and thin models being scapegoated for our children’s anorexia, the problem, more often than not, started with interpersonal relationships, not media exposure. Additionally, we gravitate toward media that resonates with us, so in many ways, the messages our kids receive is a function of our kids’ expressed preferences (especially with online advertising initiated by the clickstream of the kids themselves).

Media literacy is a good tool, but I doubt it is going to reach the heart of the matter for many of the serious problems kids face. Furthermore, effective ads play on emotion: fear and desire. No amount of awareness can really overcome a visceral, emotional response. The lack of rational control over emotional response is why people often act against their best interest, and it’s a matter that goes much deeper than media literacy.

If the government spent these funds to create a persuasive game to help kids sort out the negative influence of family, schools, peers, and poor self-image in their lives, I think there would be a greater net positive outcome than spending money teaching kids how to think like marketers.

Advertising Derives Authority from Society

Just because someone runs an ad, it does not guarantee the ad will resonate and convert persuasive intent to consumer action. Advertising is only effective when it gels well with how people are already perceiving the world and themselves. Society and all its collective fears and desires—that is the real source of marketing power and authority. To change which advertisements resonate well with us (and which products or ideas sell), we need to change the way people think and feel. 

In modern times, educators and advocates are using the tools of marketing and ads, such as marketing games, to promote helpful messages. The fact that the FTC has resorted to advergaming to push its ad awareness agenda here is telling.

Let’s use the ad awareness lessons taught by Admongo to analyze the advergame Admongo.

Who Paid for the Ads in Admongo?

The FTC paid to say this to youth:

One government agency works to protect consumers from being hurt by advertising. This agency is called the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC.

If anything, Admongo does a great job promoting the FTC as the good guy trying to help protect kids from advertising. I wonder if that’s the real message of this game, and whether the target of the message is actually the parents and public opinion in regards to FTC’s performance on the ad regulation front. If parents think ads are relentlessly invading our privacy and targeting our kids, they might start to wonder why the government hasn’t done more to protect kids (such as Sweden’s ban on advertising targeting kids younger than 12).

What Is the Ad Actually Saying?

Admongo is telling kids that advertising is everywhere, that (among other things) ads give us information to help us decide what products to buy. The messages in Admongo are really that weak. There is no attempt to vilify advertisers (probably a good thing) but it also leaves the player feeling like it was a lot of work for very little revelation. Ads aren’t made out to be very evil, influential, or worthy of this level of scrutiny.

Higher-impact, specific messages with consequences kids care about might have made the experience stronger (fatty food ads linked with obesity and getting teased for weight at school, or athletic shoe ads that promise better sports performance but don’t deliver any changes).

What Is the Ad Telling Me to Do?

Here’s the rub: the advergame Admongo tells you to collect ads. Seriously. You advance in the game by identifying advertisements. The rewarded behavior is PAYING ATTENTION TO ADS. I’m not sure how else to emphasize my confusion and sense of fail with this game design.

If there was more involved, like analyzing or predicting the effect of ads on certain NPCs or designing effective “counter-ads” with helpful messaging that defeats the negative harmful ads (like kids finding a cigarette billboard and creating a new anti-smoking ad to put up in its place) then I might comprehend the messaging in this game. As it stands, the gameplay simply motivates kids to pay closer attention to ads and literally “collect them all” to win. Read into that what you may.

Admongo Summary

  • Admongo teaches kids to recognize ads and some advertiser techniques
  • Admongo’s desired outcome seems to be ad awareness, not encouraging critical thinking or value judgments about ads
  • Admongo raises awareness of the FTC brand and suggests that the government, via the one agency that “works to protect consumers”, is helping so kids don’t get “hurt” by advertising
  • Admongo does not address helpful ads and harmful ads, or how kids might tell the difference

Admongo is trying to influence kids through the medium of an advergame, but failing to explain to kids that some persuasive games and ads might be promoting helpful messages and that others might be promoting harmful messages. This mixed message reduces the overall effectiveness of Admongo.

By asking kids to be media savvy, but not encouraging them to question the value of the media delivering the media literacy campaign, it promotes the idea that kids can trust some messaging (from the FTC, from schools, from Scholastic, etc.) but it doesn’t give them any insight into how they know they can trust certain messages. Evaluating the source of a message is key to understanding its value, so I am surprised that isn’t a central part of the gameplay.

I’m going to have my kids, ages 11 and 13, play Admongo and discuss it with me before I give a final verdict, but so far, the project looks like a slick, glossy advergame that provided a lot more tangible value to the creators of the game than it will provide the players, our kids.

What do you think of Admongo? Does it provide value for kids? Add a Comment