Sunday, October 31, 2010

NYCC 2010: Marvel Superhero Squad


Once a year I indulge myself (and my kids) in spandex and uwangis at the annual New York Comic Con (NYCC). It’s a fun distraction for me to consider the longevity of some of my favorite heroes and learn about new ones. If I had to pick a single highlight from this year’s NYCC, it would have to be Marvel’s Superhero Squad.

In addition to the usual video game offerings (new Spiderman and X-Men games and new Captain America and Thor games), Spring 2011 will mark the beta test of Marvel’s first MMO: Superhero Squad Online. My kids and I had a chance to play the beta at this year’s NYCC.

Choosing to target a younger audience for its first MMO is an admirable choice. There are unique challenges to producing an online experience for younger audiences. There are issues of safety, age appropriate content and situations that you do not have with a teenage audience. There are also issues of engagement outside of the immediate action. Is the objective of the play engaging enough to maintain the desire to play? What a teenager values can be vastly different from what a 12 year old or 6 year old values.

The Superhero Squad MMO follows the traditional objectives of collecting ”things” - coins and objects and team members - with the added dimension of being interactive. While the play may be single player, we all participate in the experience like raging fans or backseat drivers. We root each other on and shout out directions and choices at each other. The experience is sometimes frustrating for my youngest because he has not developed the hand-eye coordination or the coordination to work multiple buttons.

From what I saw, where the Superhero Squad MMO succeeds is its simplification of physical play for the younger members in its primary target audience (boy ages 6 –12). My youngest had none of the frustration he usually does playing a videogame. As an educator, I see plenty of opportunities to enhance the learning in the Superhero Squad MMO and am curious to see if the development team at Gazillion pursues them.

One of the points the Superhero Squad Gazillion panel made consistently was the environment of the MMO provided great potential and flexibility for growth. The educator in me wonders if the growth includes increasing complexity in the physical play as players traverse to higher levels? The educator in me also wonders if the cognitive complexity of the play will also increase as players move up levels?

The parent in me wonders if the storyline for the game play will address the real world social challenges of being pre-teen like the current epidemic of bullying? I wrote more about Marvel’s MMO and the NYCC at Cranial Gunk. Click Here to read it.

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