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Gaming takes virtual trading cards to the next promo level

With so many things vying for top-of-mind status in the kids world, promotional efforts aimed at this demo must key into activities that already have kids hooked. That's why collectibility and trading defined the first phase of digital trading card efforts in the late '90s, and why gaming applications are at the heart of phase-two plans that have been tabled by market leaders Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
January 8, 2003

With so many things vying for top-of-mind status in the kids world, promotional efforts aimed at this demo must key into activities that already have kids hooked. That’s why collectibility and trading defined the first phase of digital trading card efforts in the late ’90s, and why gaming applications are at the heart of phase-two plans that have been tabled by market leaders Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

For its part, Cartoon Net has spiced up its Cartoon Orbit community hub (centered around a collection of swappable cToons – trading cards sporting characters from the Net’s considerable programming lineup) with a head-to-head game extension called gToons that launched in mid-October. How it works is two users go up against each other with seven cards they’ve collected on-site that wield varying degrees and types of power. The gameplay is very strategic – it’s all about assembling an unbeatable deck with which to smoke your opponent – and the winners’ names are added to a worldwide leader board that’s posted on-line and sometimes scrolled at the bottom of the screen during Cartoon Network’s prime-time lineup.

‘Competition really is just as much of a community-builder as collaboration,’ says Cartoon head of business development Justin Williams, who used to head up Cartoon Orbit. And early user data bears this claim out: ‘In a little over a month, we’ve had more than 250,000 people become gToon users, and the number-one player has played upwards of 3,200 games to date,’ says GM of new media Paul Condolora. ‘The average game time is about three minutes – not to mention all the strategizing that person is doing, building a deck and finding new cards – so we know for sure this person has dedicated at least 10,000 minutes [roughly 160 hours] to it.’

Cartoon is hoping this level of dedication will create the potential to both build Cartoon Orbit into a subscription service and establish a bridge into retail, a strategy that will be implemented later this year. ‘We could essentially roll out exclusive trading cards that have digital data on them that ties into game play,’ says Williams. Cartoon is ready to start talking to potential partners interested in manufacturing these spin-off products, which could take shape as mini-CDs or actual cards that contain smart chips with optical data.

Meanwhile, Nick is focusing inward with its digital trading card gaming push. Now in its second year, Nick’s e-Collectibles program rewards kids for checking out various areas of the website with NickPoints, which can then be redeemed for packs of virtual cards that complete a collection based on one of the kidnet’s many TV properties. There are currently 2.5 million open collections on the go, and a kid-to-kid trading infrastructure was added in August 2001 to beef up the site’s community function.

‘Now we’re looking at the next step, which is to make these cards part of other gaming experiences,’ says Jason Root, VP and executive producer of Nick Online. As part of the Jimmy Neutron Gotta Blast rocket-building and racing game that hit the site in July 2002, kids could trade in NickPoints for souped-up rocket parts that would give them a competitive edge in the final race. Building on that foray into trading/gaming synergy, a Q1 Rugrats Meets The Wild Thornberrys e-Collection will feature wild cards that unlock exclusive features in a Wildlife Rescue virtual life game that charges kids with caring for sick animals and then re-releasing them into the wild.

Next up in 2003? Nick will literally make the cards part of the game, according to Root. ‘We’ve had so much success with our 3-D games that we’ll be looking very shortly at 3-D trading cards – once you collect the entire set, they’ll become actual avatars in a game.’

For companies that want to get in on the virtual trading card promo game, but lack the resources to launch and maintain a program internally, Miami, Florida-based on-line marketing and promotions firm Digital Allegiance can help.

Working within a four- to six-week time frame for between US$20,000 and US$50,000, the company will implement and pilot a custom-tailored card-trading collection featuring whatever product or property needs promoting. DA’s proprietary Albooms software sets maximum distribution limits on certain cards to create the kind of scarcity that drives collection, as well as running a multi-language trading hub and a point-tracking ranking board.

Fox Kids Latin America contracted DA to help promote its Invasion Anime programming block in fall 2001. A special Albooms collection of cards featuring characters from the block’s shows ran from August to October, offering kids the chance to win FKLA branded prizes such as T-shirts, mugs and keychains. The promo attracted 60,000 users in the first month, but more importantly, each user averaged 13 logins and five hours of total exposure.

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