Inside the business of children's digital media

Children’s book publisher heads into virtual world

PP Dubit

Given that virtual worlds are driven by strong narratives, it comes as little surprise that more book publishers are eyeing opportunities in the space. The latest example comes from Finnish publisher DramaForum, which is transitioning its Petra’s Planet book series into a virtual world through UK development studio Dubit.

The four-book series of books follow Petra, a young girl who is transported to different countries through her mother’s magical theatre wardrobe. The new freemium virtual world will use a narrative scripting language, or “adventure engine,” that allows children to visit these countries in a browser-based world and take part in various activities. Children will also be able to care for virtual pets, decorate their room, socialize with friends and make new friends in a safe online environment

The experience will also be delivered as a new app on for the Apple iPad and other mobile devices.

The virtual worlds sector now has an estimated 1.4 billion cumulative registered accounts, according to UK consultancy KZero Worldwide, with heavy hitters like Habbo Hotel, Moshi Monsters, Poptropica and Stardoll leading the pack in the youth space.

Since 2000, Dubit Platform has created virtual worlds, avatars and environments for clients in Europe and America that include the BBC, Cartoon Network and Real Madrid.

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  • Nicholas Lovell

    I’m intrigued by your comment that virtual worlds are driven by strong narratives. Typically, they are places where people create their own narratives, aren’t they?

  • Carlos De la Guardia

    In a virtual world, narrative exists mostly to create a setting. It is true that people create their own narratives, but the stronger the setting is, the better. 

  • Nicholas Lovell

    Maybe it’s a definitional thing. To me, narratives are linear while virtual worlds are interactive. So virtual worlds benefit from *not* having a tightly defined narrative, unlike books. Backstory, a setting, the worl is all valuable, but linear narrative detracts from its value, rather than adding to it.

  • Nic Mitham

    Depends entirely on the focus and target markets for the world. Younger worlds (such as Petra’s Planet) benefit more from a narrative-based approach because it allows better integration of questing and challenges. 

    If this user journey is linear, from the perspective of progression and storyline then as long as other social elements are present then there’s plenty of value. 

    I’m a massive fan of UGC and user-driven narratives but this only works when the audience is tween+. Petra’s Planet has a younger market.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. I think it depends how one defines virtual world! For many people virtual world means Second Life – a place where there is no real structure. This type of experience is much like a toy car – a toy car has little rules about how to play with it. Then further across the spectrum are the larger MMOs. These are still virtual worlds in my opinion, only they impose more rules and more narrative. 

    I think experiences like Second Life are too challenging for the casual audience. Not challenging to use, but challenging to enjoy. Second Life requires the user invest effort into making their own fun. Many children won’t make that investment.

    When we think about virtual worlds we think about combining the best attributes of social games, cartoons, into the virtual world experience. We think of these as casual MMOs. 

    By creating narratives in the world we give players a purpose, something to achieve, and a reason to achieve it. These narratives create a connection with the brand and characters. It’s letting players be “in the cartoon”. 

    Of course, like an MMO, players don’t need to only focus on the adventure. But we find the adventure catalyses the conversations that lead to friendships, and the wider enjoyment of the world.

  • Carlos De la Guardia

    Yes, you’re correct. This is why it is important to create a setting that it is open enough for people to come and experience it in any way they want, thus, creating their own narratives. Narrative is one way to do it, but just like you said, it can be counter-productive, so it needs very fine tuning for it to work right and definitely no linear plots (unless they’re very good, but then it becomes a different animal).


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