World of Warcraft dominates the MMORPG market, yet each and every day, we are peppered with potentional challengers that always come and go. WoW is Mike Tyson of the early 80's. Everybody hates the game, but Blizzard somehow finds 10,000,000 people to play it with a near cult like following.
With upcoming games hailed as potential threats to WoW such as Age of Conan and Warhammer Online just around the corner, you have to come back down to reality world and realize that neither of those titles have any chance at becoming the next 10,000,000 subscriber game.
So, we move on to an even more exciting MMORPG space and an emerging MMORPG showdown that will put two evenly matched opponents head to head against eachother.
We're talking about Disney's Toontown Online and Hello Kitty Online. Toontown started in 2003 and has gone virtually unchallenged for four years in the children's MMORPG space. While the numbers are not nearly those of traditional MMORPG's, in the past Disney had boasted tens of thousands of simultaneous "toons" online at any given time. The unfortunate reality of course being that a good number of those players may not even be children, but that's a whole other article for another day.
I have tried Toontown Online several times with my child, each time she was bored before I was. Toontown Online has a character creation system that is generic, boring and bland. Users create cookie cutter toons from a handful of mix and match heads, bodies and feet then you get to customize colors and pick your name from a pre-determined set of available names.
Upon entering the dull and flat, yet 3D world of Toontown, you learn soon that the main focus of the game is to run around doing missions to "combat" the evil cogs. In Toontown, combat consists of buying pranks such as pies and water squirting flower called "gags" and use them on the Cogs.
If you ever thought the monotonous grind of an Asian MMORPG was bad, you'll quickly file Toontown "combat" in the same folder as some past Asian grinder masterpieces.
Fortunately, Toontown is full of mini games for children to play, otherwise its safe to say, nobody would be playing it.
For four years, Toontown has been the only option for young kids in the MMORPG, who probably should not be in the MMORPG space to begin with as I'm a firm believer in MMORPGs being terrible addiction forming habits, but most kids these days are already addicted to video games anyway.
Today, open beta for Hello Kitty Online was announced (which I of course immediately signed up for). I'm the anti-beta. I think beta testing an MMORPG is on the same level of electroshock therapy on your testicles, but how could you pass up being a part of history and not check out Hello Kitty Online?
After perusing the the Hello Kitty Online marketing material, I quickly realized that this is going to be the cutest goddamn MMORPG we have ever seen. I suddenly lost my angry gaming edge and wanted to cuddle with fluffy pillows and ride unicorns around rainbow filled sky.
Hello Kitty online seems to catch exactly what young children want. Young kids don't want to throw imaginary pies at flat 2D models in a 3D world. They want a happy and bouncy world full of fun with characters they can relate to.
Characters are fully customizable with chic and in fashion clothing and hair designs, not some floppy eared Daisy Duck or Goofy wannabe imitation that looks like some 8 year old drew it up himself.
The game starts off in the Flower Kingdom and one relief was that it's not just about "fighting" monsters, its more about adventuring and building your own part of the Hello Kitty Universe.
Kids can build their own house, farm, mine, learn skills such as tailoring, cooking and engage in commerce with other players. You can have pets and maintain and furnish your house.
Where Toontown Online is a world locked into itself, Hello Kitty Online is a game world that extends beyond the game and into Sanrio's social networking platform and web services designed specifically for children.
So while most of the MMORPG world is watching and waiting for a WoW KO of Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, my eyes are on the gritty powerstruggle that will ensue between Disney's Toontown Online and Sanrio's Hello Kitty Online.
Just from the pure gayness and pop-culture that surrounds Hello Kitty, my money is riding on Hello Kitty.