A Disney-esque Game for Teens
World of Trinketz is a family-friendly Facebook game from Canadian publisher Dark Matter Entertainment that's pretty much a sandbox like Animal Crossing, except the town NPCs don't guilt-trip you if you don't play the game daily. You play an avatar whose job it is to simply build up landscapes and homes using anthropomorphized items called Trinketz. The game is clearly made for the pre-teen or early teen youth, and the avatars themselves seem to be just slightly past puberty (judging by the female avatar choices). The upkeep of your Trinketz so they perform better for you is pretty much Tamagotchi 2013 or vanilla World of Warcraft Hunter pets with the happy faces if you fed them.
While playing the game, I felt like it was created for the five or six-year-olds due to the art choices and the overall style. All of the Trinketz strongly reminded me of the items in the Beast's castle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast or the vehicles in the Cars and Planes movies from Pixar, moving around in their fixed positions and having eyes that looked around. After awhile, it was kind of creepy holding shovels and wrenches with eyes on them, but I don't imagine a five or six-year-old would care too much. The landscapes were bright, and the items were well-designed in a cartoony sort of way and they all had names like this was Ikea or something.
The game's music was a series of loops of instrumentals that were peaceful without inducing sleepiness or feeling like I was listening to Muzak. I was strongly reminded of the music on Windfall Island in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, simply because it was a place of safety and where you were simply going around doing stuff that didn't involve fighting for the most part.
Whereas the art style seemed to be created for kids in the middle to upper single digits in age, the actual gameplay seemed to be created for the pre-teen crowd, with the complexity of the in-game transactions suitable for the ten to twelve-year-old general aptitude. Instead of buying items to use in the game, you adopt shovels like they were kittens, and none of these items seem to be able to communicate, they just look around and make a sound when you use them. There are quests that have you run around the landscape, learning how to use various features in the game, then letting you go from there. It was very much like a series of 'go kill ten rats' quests in your standard MMO that many players were bored with several years ago, only there is no killing, no warcries, no weapons.
The game isn't quite pay-to-win, but it's absolutely and definitely pay-to-shortcut. There is a real-world cash shop where you can buy Trinketz Bucks, also known as Tz, and there seems to be a somewhat reasonable way to acquire limited amounts of this virtual currency in-game without spending real money, although there are enough hints and suggestions to encourage you to do so. The creators struck an interesting balance between earning it in-game and pricing items high enough that kids will still be asking their parents for cash because they don't have enough virtual currency to buy all the best things. This becomes apparent when crafting recipes that you need to complete quests tend to be Tz-only purchases, with no in-game coin option. For example, you do a breadcrumb quest to learn how to add to the recipes your Oven can do. You have to buy a recipe for 1 Trinketz Buck to complete the quest. Every other recipe the vendor has is 50 Tz. At that point, I only had 22 Trinketz Bucks, so I could readily see that I was expected to spend real money in order to add to what my Oven could do. Again, it's not actually pay-to-win, but the grind factor is high to avoid using real money.
Further illustrating the thought that this was intended for a younger audience is the fact that there are tons and tons of bright and shiny arrows pointing you in the right direction to figure out where to go next, as if you couldn't look at the minimap to find out where the question mark was. The game uses the MMO standards of exclamation point for a quest waiting, a greyed-out one for a quest you can't do yet, and a question mark for when it's time to turn it in.
There isn't truly a great deal of innovation in this game. It uses the standard questing gameplay method we've seen since EverQuest to encourage players to play in their sandbox and interact with other players on Facebook. There are a couple of different ways to progress through the game and earn the ability to customize your personal sandbox, but other than refining the basic notions we've seen in a bunch of other games, it really doesn't add to the genre.
The game does give you a few Trinketz and some virtual currency up front to learn how to handle the controls, so you don't start off with nothing. Again, fairly standard 'you're in a tutorial, so you get basic stuff' premise here, but at least it fends off the notion that you have to buy stuff right off the bat to get anywhere. However, once you're in the first town and interacting with people, you soon find out that you'll need a lot more stuff than the basic to get the job done.
The polish is lackluster for this game. Several quests have typos in the dialogue boxes that would have easily been caught with basic editing, and it seems as if the writer(s) are not native English speakers. There is an overall sense that this game was imported from a non-English format and proper localization work wasn't done to ensure the translations were correct. NPCs you interact with have voiceover work that culls from a few standard lines, but the quotes are gibberish to English speakers, often sounding like what happens when you play an old-school vinyl or cassette backwards. If this was the intention, fine, but it probably would have been a good idea to have a native speaker review what was said, because there's one male voice that sounds like one of the podracer announcers from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace who likes to say that things are 'douchy', a word that has an actual meaning.
I can see the shades of an addictive nature of the game, but I can't honestly imagine either a five to six-year-old or a ten to twelve-year-old staying with it very long unless all of their friends were playing. There are plenty of options for things to do, but there's nothing that's deeply compelling to keep playing if you're not one of those popular kids with plenty of friends. In fact, the younger crowd might find the trading and barter gameplay to be too long and convoluted, while the older set might recognize it as a bit of a grind that's a touch condescending and oversimplified.
Another problem is the interface. There's a chat window, but the response time on it is so bad that it drops characters when you're typing faster than someone hunting and pecking on the keyboard. This will lessen longevity simply because if an adult can get impatient with this, a pre-teen or young kid would get even more frustrated with it. During my gameplay, I chatted with a couple of other players I ran across, and either they were typing faster than the interface allowed, or they were using texting shortcuts I knew nothing about more often than not.
I suppose the main value in this game is to the parents rather than the target audience of the game. For the intended players, it's just something to pass the time. For a parent, it's more like a game they can trust won't be sexist or violent and is safe for their kids to play. The contents of chat are of course beyond the designers' control, but as with anything where young people involved, adult supervision is always still a good idea.
The game's play does teach players to be concerned for others, such as an early quest where a volunteer is having a low blood sugar incident and asks you to get him some almonds. It encourages you to take care of your Trinketz, else they become miserable and feel unloved, and you spend an awful amount of time running around and taking care of everyone else and making sure they're happy. There's a good bit of friendliness for the player amongst the NPCs you interact with, but most don't properly thank a player for doing all this work for them.
At the end of the day, World of Trinketz is an interesting idea, but it seems to be a confused mishmash of kiddie-style anthropomorphic items suitable for a five-year-old and an economy and quest system suitable for a pre-teen. It has serious and repeated spelling and proofreading errors that take away from its overall presentation of being a bright and cheerful game to muck around in. While not being quite pay-to-win, anyone who wants to avoid any real-money purchases will have to grind out the virtual currency they'll need to keep up. The actual mechanics of gameplay and questing is similar to what we've seen for the past decade or more in any average MMO. On the upside, it is very family-friendly in terms of official content and a safe environment for children and pre-teens to play, assuming an adult monitors the social aspects.