Has anyone felt the earth move lately? I sense a seismic shift in gaming that’s too big not to notice. Suddenly online games are the new classics. Digital play is calling the shots in the “real world.” I’m not talking about Super Mario Halloween costumes or Club Penguin plush. I first noticed it last year when Mattel turned Angry Birds into a board game. It was fun. And funny. Now Hasbro and Zygna are teaming up to bring Words With Friends offline. The board game will be out in October in a regular version for $19.99, and a deluxe one for $39.99. (As a point of reference, you can download the app free, or pay $2.99 for the ad-less version.)
I play Words With Friends specifically because it is online. I can stay in touch with friends without sorting through baggage – no email, no chitchat, no requests. Just, “I’m thinking of you…and I’m going to beat you at this game.” I play with my friend Ellen who used to work at Vogue where three-syllable words are commonplace. (I worked at Nick Jr. where three-letter words were the norm.) We usually have two games going simultaneously and the few times I’ve outscored her have been memorable. Playing online also makes me feel cool – like I can keep pace with all those social hipsters.
In 2007, when Claire Green and I first conceived Sandbox Summit, we were struck by how many of the toys we had just seen at Toy Fair had a chip, a bell or a whistle. We realized play had “crossed the digital Rubicon.” Tech toys were here to stay. Within a year, we learned the word “transmedia,” and our focus became even broader. “Edutainment” soon followed. Smartphones, tablets, and a toolbox of tricks continued (and still continue) to amaze. But most had their roots on solid ground. Books, movies, games – they all had a real world concept that was then translated into another medium. Now we’re seeing digital concepts being translated into real time. This is social media gone insular.
To be perfectly clear, I have nothing against the new iterations. In fact, some of Hasbro/Zygna games look to be really fun – Hungry Hungry Herd is a lively cross between Farmville and Hungry Hungry Hippos; Cityville Monopoly breathes new life into the real estate market; and Words with Friends is a fun version of Scrabble 2.0. My point is that the digital natives are actually taking over the worlds – on and off line. It’s a new game and we all need to learn how to play it.
I wonder if this is how my parents felt when the Beatles landed in New York.
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