Kids’ Worlds Expanding to Mobile Devices

Remember my post from a while back, the one where I postulated that mobile devices killed virtual worlds?  Well, this is me eating some of those words…

The word on the street has it that Webkinz is launching a new iOS app for iPhone and iPod Touch.  It’s not a full rendering of the standard children’s virtual world portal, but instead allows players to play games that generate KinzCash.  The KinzCash is then synced to the player’s main account.  Previous Webkinz games had similar features so this isn’t particularly shocking news to seasoned Webkinz enthusiasts.  There have been other virtual world applications for touchscreen, internet-enabled mobile devices for some time now, but I’m rather surprised that games targeting kids are growing so quickly.  It’s no surprise that younger demographics are more inclined to play and enjoy games, which leads to the inevitable expansion of products to keep up with demand.  I’m mostly surprised that success of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch has reached people young enough to play Webkinz–a game that targets audiences between the ages of 6 and 13.  I know that makes me sound like some curmudgeonly old codger–of course kids are going to be playing games on whatever they can get their hands on.  As the prices for these devices come down, there is no doubt that we will see more Touches in the hands of young kids.

Screenshot from Polar Plunge on iTunes App Store

Parents should be concerned, however, about what their kids are able to do with these devices.  Other game platforms, such as the wildly popular the Nintendo DSi (or the forthcoming 3Ds) have more limited internet capabilities than something like the iPod Touch, which, to my knowledge, requires third party apps to limit what kids can do online with the device’s browser.  It obviously isn’t game makers’ fault that these devices are so open, because that’s what they’re designed to be.  That just means that parents have to be cautious when they let kids play with their iPhone, that they supervise what their kids do when they finish playing the kid-oriented app because other apps don’t necessarily comply with the strict rules governing collection of information from children.  In a world where apps depend on info to generate revenue, it’s not always clear how and what info is being used.  It will just require parents to be well-informed, but that’s nothing new.

Nevertheless, I’m glad to see virtual world development pushing onto new platforms.  We still haven’t seen any real development in terms of actual virtual environments, at least not yet.  With the hardware advancements, growing number of apps and increased development on the Android platform, I’m sure we will see many worlds moving onto mobile devices.  And then we’ll really see a revolution.

About Justin Kwong

An attorney in the Twin Cities and adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law where I teach a seminar on the law of virtual worlds.
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