Why Kids’ Games are Becoming Unpopular

Why Kids’ Games are Becoming Unpopular

THQ recently made a business decision that will disappoint no one: The company is moving away from developing and publishing games based on kids’ movies. This includes games steeped in big-name properties like Disney Pixar’s Cars, The Incredibles, and Dreamworks’ Megamind.

Why abandon such lucrative names? THQ cites a “slowdown in console titles aimed at children.”

“We have re-evaluated our kids movie-based licenses and have lowered our expectations for games in this segment,” Brian Farrell, THQ’s CEO, said during during a call to investors. “The single-player kids’ games, particularly those based on movie licenses, were the ones that showed the most weakness. What we learned this holiday season is new stuff, innovative stuff… you do something new and consumers, especially kids, respond to that.”

An interesting flash of insight on THQ’s part, and an interesting reflection on what’s going on at the kids’ table in the corner of the games industry. Why are THQ’s movie-based games for children failing to bring in money? Is it because they’re typically mediocre fare?

True, games based on big properties are often average at best, but the practice of shoehorning a familiar face into some otherwise uninspired adventure is as old as video gaming itself. The Atari 2600 had Chuck Norris Superkicks and Halloween. The NES had Home Alone and buckets of schlock related to The Simpsons. Those games were bad, but they brought in money because kids were already familiar with the properties (yes, even Halloween). This formula of familiarity worked for console generation after generation, but if THQ’s failed efforts to move its games are any indication, the free ride is over.

Farrell is right: The need for licensed single-player kids’ games is dwindling like an ice cube in a closed fist. The free-to-play massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG) market caters especially to kids, and Disney is very aware of the marketing power behind its franchises. Why would kids be interested in a Cars game on the Xbox 360 when Disney Pixar already built The World of Cars Online, a free-to-play online world based on the property? Why would parents want to dish out full-price for some game about princesses and faeries on the Nintendo DS when their children can access Pixie Hollow, a free MMOG starring Tinkerbell and friends?

Even kid-based MMOGs that don’t feature licensed characters–like Sony’s popular Free Realms–are changing the structure of games for children, a genre that hasn’t seen any major upheaval since the industry’s birth. One has to wonder how games will transform when the youngsters of today grow up. If they were weaned on low-cost social games, what will become of the single-player experience?

As long as the single-player experience remains low on high-priced, low-fun adventures starring Lightning McQueen, it’ll probably manage to find an audience.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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