Greg Skinner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a communications consultant for Mina Research and a marketing columnist who specializes in the kids market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked Skinner to do some browsing on our behalf and report on some of the interesting kids sites raising a ruckus in cyberspace.
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As the Net continues to become a viable marketing tool (that is, as it reaches more people), Web sites are beginning to incorporate advertising and promotion.
But plugging your sponsors, your advertisers and yourself on-line is not an easy job, simply because devices like screentop banners and links to other sites are neither as dynamic nor as compelling as more traditional media vehicles.
Sega, Nintendo and Sony, the ‘big three’ of video games, are the ultimate self-promoters, and each of their sites works to build equity into their company’s brands. But beyond all of the demos, movies and freebies such as games, it’s attention to detail that pushes each of these sites further toward perfection than many visitors may realize.
Sony is really the new kid on the block as far as video games go, but is making significant headway, especially with its site.
In Sony On Games, you find each of the main sections represented by a hazardous material icon, a nice touch that uses bright colors. Sony provides excellent reinforcement of its PlayStation by putting the logo in a lot of places.
Another important tidbit is that the site steers away from sounding like a dull press release. Its tone is a little irreverent, and perhaps a little crass, but the result is that it speaks to the visitor.
What this site d’esn’t do is put a lot of emphasis on its third-party game developers, like LucasArts Entertainment Company (X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter), Psygnosis (Formula 1) and Activision (MechWarrior 2), who build the games to play on the machine. Unlike Sega’s site, the sections for third-party developers are somewhat inconspicuously tucked away, in PlayStation Picks. The choice of location is too bad, since these links have tons of downloads, demos, tech support or shareware.
Overall rating: workin’ it (7.5 out of 10)
The site has a fair chunk of activity happening, which is cool because it helps keep the visitor involved. Of the three sites, Nintendo’s is the least manic, with its nice clean layout and easy-to-understand broad categories. So what about this site is smart?
Nintendo sponsors a snowboarding park in Whistler, Canada, so the company makes the park the focus of attention on its Web site. Nintendo is sharp because this park establishes a link between the company, its target demographic and fun outside of the gaming environment. Nintendo’s use of its Web site to support the venture is simply an excellent use of the medium: kids around the world will recognize that Nintendo is up to speed with youth action.
The site also contains a section called Getting Started, which deals with hooking up your new N64 gaming system (if you were lucky enough to find one last holiday season). This section provides enough concise electrical diagrams to keep even the least techno-savvy moving in the right direction. Although it’s probably more for the parents than the kids, it’s superhandy when you’re in a jam. Nuggets like this are invaluable in the contexts of both PR and goodwill.
Overall rating: slimfast (7.5 out of 10)
Sega still rocks, and its site shows it with voices shouting ‘Sega!’ when you enter the site, Sega logos from Sega Channel to Sega Music Group to SegaSoft everywhere, and the incorporation of outside advertising.
In the case of the last, the ads for GTE and Ford minivans bring certain media-buying habits into question (considering the youth skew of the site), while VideoGameSpot, for example, has excellent colors, excellent prizes (over $20,000 in video game prizes) and a seemingly perfect fit.
The Sega site, like others, contains demo games, but the difference is that here you get the actual games, which changes everything. Although playable demos don’t have nearly as many features as store-bought versions, they are a hot ticket right now, so this is an excellent move.
Support for Sega Saturn Net Link, a new gaming system that allows people to hook onto the Internet, is underpowered. This section has boring press releases and unsightly wallpaper that Sega wants you to download. Unfortunately, the latter contains the numerous logos of some of the 225 Web sites-Sports Illustrated Online, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Brøderbund Software, Discovery Channel Online and Sci-Fi Channel-that are featured in the Net Link city, the first spot visitors arrive on-line. So much more could have been done.
It’s ironic that Sega made the effort to maintain on-line chat, but had to close it because it was being abused. Chat comes with its own host of dilemmas, but the moral of this story is that you don’t always have to go all out to have a great site.
Overall rating: momentous (8 out of 10)