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Nick jumps into casual games with both feet, but will consumers pay to play?

Figuring that 93% of kids play games, and that 75% who have an internet connection are online, a major kids media conglom like Nickelodeon would have to be crazy not to invest heavily in online gaming, right? Well, don't call the loony bin yet, because the network has announced that it will plug US$100 million over the next two years into developing, producing and distributing casual gaming titles, sites and platforms.
September 1, 2007

Figuring that 93% of kids play games, and that 75% who have an internet connection are online, a major kids media conglom like Nickelodeon would have to be crazy not to invest heavily in online gaming, right? Well, don’t call the loony bin yet, because the network has announced that it will plug US$100 million over the next two years into developing, producing and distributing casual gaming titles, sites and platforms.

And the initiative dovetails with the launch of two new subscription sites that it will more than likely feed into. Nick’s first foray into pay-to-play portal territory, the myNoggin hub is scheduled to go live at the beginning of September, offering preschoolers and their parents a multitude of premium services and content that will be difficult to sustain unless they generate some kind of income. ‘We are committed to the free and unsupported content,’ says EVP of kids and digital media Steve Youngwood. ‘But like most businesses, there are different ways our consumers want to consume, so we also are offering them the new subscription model.’

Nick is betting that parents with toddlers will be willing to foot the bill for a truly immersive and interactive, yet tightly controlled online experience for their children.

And Youngwood believes that blue-chip preschool properties like Dora the Explorer and Pinky Dinky Doo already have enough embedded appeal to drive parents to the myNoggin site. As well, the business plan calls for constant updates to the hub’s lineup of educationally slanted games, tasks and content to make the pay service worthwhile to the consumer.

Pricing is still under wraps, but Youngwood suggests it will be comparable to other preschool-targeted sites, supporting PayPal and credit card transactions initially and then rounding out its payment options down the road.

In development along the same lines for launch sometime in Q1 2008 is the Nick Gaming Club (working title), an ad-free online hub for eight- to 14-year-olds offering features such as interactive games, MMOGs, tournaments, social networking apps and customized avatars.

Although it’s difficult to quantify the total paid-gaming market because subscription sites don’t tend to release traffic numbers, NPD Group toys and video games analyst Anita Frazier says that kids are a substantial portion of the online gaming population. ‘About 70% of the US population ages six to 44 plays games online,’ she says. ‘Of that group, 20% are kids ages six to 12.’

With Nickelodeon’s website ranked as one of the web’s most popular kids destinations, alongside PBS Kids, Disney, Cartoon Network and Yahoo!, it’s clear that the company’s name draws clicks. What remains to be seen is whether parents and kids will be willing to pay a little for its premium online services.

While Nick carves out its pay-for-service model for myNoggin and the Gaming Club, it’s important to note that the net is not about to abandon its free casual gaming sites. Actually, Nick is bolstering its portfolio in this arena with a games site aimed primarily at young girls. The-NGames.com is due to go live in early 2008 and will focus on offering social games along the lines of Slasher and Avatar Mall, which have proven to be a hit with the demo. The site will be linked to AddictingGames.com, which Nick acquired in August 2006 to bolster its presence in the burgeoning casual gaming sphere.

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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