Tiffany Chu is a Content Designer and works on Quests in Free Realms, the kid's MMO by SoE. We speak to her this week about designing quests for kids. Her experience has been in regular adult games. An FPS - Turning Point: Fall of Liberty at Legendary Spark Studios and games based on the Vampire the Masquerade franchise are recent games she worked on, with a Neo Pets game for the PSP, Petpet Adventures, the only other kid's title she has worked on.
The obvious differences are the usual "no-nos" of sex, tobacco, alcohol and drugs references, I was told. "But even the interpretation can be so different," Tiffany said, referring to a quest to brew your own soda. "So we've got a quest to learn to brew Sasparilla. It's made of a root, and it is bubbly. Just because we have the word 'brew' in it, we've had these comments that it's inappropriate for kids!"
Language and readability are important as well and SoE keeps their quest texts at a ninth grade reading level, using a simple tool included in Microsoft word to check their text.
"The quests are similar," said Tiffany. "We still have the delivery quests, the exploration quests, the scavenger hunt type quests, except that the subject matter is different, with content appropriate for kids. We don't particularly design educational quests either, even though we do have one in Briarwood that is about spelling and grammar."
The spelling and grammar quest would be the "What you say" quest in Briarwood which asks players to identify the error free sentence in a set of three given, and in the scavenger hunt quests, instead of bringing an NPC five foraged leaves, five fish scales and five pieces of tree bark you may be asked to help an NPC find 20 pages of his homework that was blown away by the wind - same basic scavenger hunt, just different context.
"We don't actively design quests targeted towards the different gender or age group," said Tiffany, "but very broad based quests that point toward our mini-games like the mining or combat."
Everyone wants to be a hero, whether adult or child, but although the quests in Free Realms do parallel those in adult MMOs, they have nothing in them that could potentially be scary to children. Kid quests in Free Realms are not based on revenge and there aren't any "the Orcs slew my family, destroy them and revenge me" type quests. No matter that much of children's literature and is based on "scary stuff" with evil villains and nasty things to slay, Free Realms quests do not go there. No Red Riding Hood wolves devouring grandmothers, Snow White apple poisonings or Voldemort killing Harry's parents and trying to kill Harry. They do, however touch on what kids like to do, for example, the Double Dare quest where kids are double-dared to explore a scary area (combat quest), and kid pranks like the case of the Horrible Hiccups (errand quest), found in Seaside.
"You are asked to scare someone out of her hiccups," said Tiffany, "and you're given an illusion potion to turn yourself into a monster to scare her, but the trick is that she doesn't really have the hiccups and it's just a prank, the kind that kids like to play on each other."
The storyline quest in Free Realms is their nod to the traditional MMO quests. It has been received well although the most popular quests are the daily quests, I was told, as they were simple and rewarding, as well as the seasonal ones, as they are short term and kids get to earn seasonal novelties. Attempts to make quests seem more competitive have not paid off. The quests that are on timers are not popular with their player base. Kids however like to show off the cool things they've acquired, and in a sense are competitive, but not in the expected, traditional manner.
"They are looking for acknowledgement," said Tiffany, "and are more interested in acquiring things and showing off their new cool hat or how they've decorated their house."
The Truffle Shuffle quest which was introduced at Valentine's Day this year which required kids to trade things with each other was not the success they expected either. As just hanging out and dancing to the Boomboxes are a popular thing to do in Free Realms, you'd think that more interactive quests such as trading things with each other would be popular. Not so, it seems. The take away from that is that it seems like kids want to do their own thing but they like knowing that they are doing it in a world where there are others around with who to share their success with.
The tasks in kids quests are basically the same as those in adult quests, but whimsy and randomness are more acceptable to children as are flights of fantasy. The challenge is to remember that kids play different from adults. Kids can watch the same movie 20 times and more, or sing that 99 bottles of beer on the wall song a few times, or have you ever had a kid tell you the same joke or ask the same riddle over and over again? The one they find hilarious? It's no different with games. Kids will play the same game or quest over, and over, and over again. The challenge then, is to design the quests from a kid's perspective. A quest that kids enjoy, despite our adult perspective and what we think they should be enjoying.