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Is the Next-Gen Child-Proof?

Is the Next-Gen Child-Proof?

Oct 21, 2013

The next-generation of consoles is eagerly awaited by thousands, and the industry has a broader appeal than ever before.

As Nintendo have managed to widen the horizons to the elderly and the young, the same parties are more likely to take part in less casual forms of gaming. The DS and Wii managed to provide fun, family entertainment, with little experience necessary.

Personally, I purchased a GameCube when I was around 10 years old, and the games were a huge appeal. Having only owned a PlayStation before this, I hadn’t really experienced the Nintendo magic of Mario or Donkey Kong before; but the console still appealed due to the colourful characters and fun game mechanics. Even the console looked more fun than it’s counterparts. It was purple, had cool little discs, and funky controllers. What wasn’t to love? Compare that to the bulky Xbox or plain PS2. Simple choice when you’re 10 and Christmas is soon to arrive.

But with the Wii U, it seems Nintendo are at a loss. Although attempting to save the sales, it has just not managed to replicate the immense popularity of the original Wii, that changed how games were played. Kids got a lot of fun out of the huge array of Nintendo and third party titles available, including platformers and party titles for friends and family. If Nintendo cannot alter the fate of the dwindling Wii U, then where are kids going to play their games?

 

2 gaming icons on a child-friendly console - why wouldn't you buy one?

2 gaming icons on a child-friendly console – why wouldn’t you buy one?

 

Well, it doesn’t look likely that younger audiences will be pining after a PS4 or Xbox One. Sure, there are kids who like to think they are old before their time and play violent games such as Call of Duty or GTA, purely because it’s “cool”, or they are already desensitized enough. But even then, they can often be too old for colourful platformers like Kirby or Banjo-Kazooie (even if I’d argue you’re never too old for such titles). Children could possibly stick with current-gen consoles, whether that be the Wii or the Xbox 360, and continue growing up with perfectly adequate systems, as they don’t need the top spec. Yet jealousy is rife in the playground, with ‘that kid’ getting a new console (unless things have changed dramatically since I was there). In this way, kids are sure to yearn for new games and new consoles.

Gaming has always been a popular past-time for children of all ages, but the question is, where does this stand nowadays? I only had one option as a kid: the console. Otherwise it was just Snake on my Mother’s Nokia. There are so many options: tablets, consoles, PC, smartphones, iPods, TVs, and mobile consoles, amongst others.

 

Samsung's Galaxy Tab 3 for kids - Is this the future for child-friendly gaming?

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 for kids – Is this the future for child-friendly gaming?

 

So, where are younger children going to flock to get their gaming fixes? Perhaps the tablet is the answer. It is not an uncommon site to see children addicted to their mother or fathers tablet and the host of child-friendly apps like Angry Birds or Bad Piggies. There has even been a huge influx of apps that specifically target young kids, such as Disney Pixl’d, or Miffy’s Garden. Perfect to entertain your kids with for a few pennies. It’s just getting them off your precious tablet that’s the problem.

Along with this, child-friendly tablets have also become popular, which I’m sure will continue to sell this holiday season. Affordable, low-spec tablets (often Android), which have been child-proofed and made to look fun, are becoming a trend in themselves. The restrictions in most tablets means kids can rack up huge bills in freemium titles, or merely break the expensive bit of kit. And as kids become more tech-savvy, digital devices are becoming increasingly hot sellers for Christmas or birthdays. But where does this leave mainstream consoles in providing child-friendly gaming experiences?

Knack looks to be one of the only child-friendly launch titles for the PS4. It has local co-op, which is a rare sight these days, meaning children can help one another. However the quality of the game looks high enough to warrant adults to also be entertained, similar to LittleBigPlanet. Tiny Brains is another game on Sony’s console, which is downloadable, which is a 4-player co-op game based around puzzles and rodents.

 

Knack looks impressive, but can it draw in younger audiences?

Knack looks impressive, but can it draw in younger audiences?

 

However, the problem with such titles like these are the obscurity, and it is unlikely children will be excited by something they haven’t experienced before. Skylanders is set to make it’s mark on next-gen platforms, but will also be released on current consoles, and the Wii U. The fact of the matter is, for children to enjoy next-generation games, the parents are going to have to fork out a lot of money to do so. And this seems like a lot to ask, when the children will probably not be getting the most out of the most powerful gaming machines on the market. Perhaps letting them use the iPad once in a while is a better choice for mothers and fathers everywhere?

It is not likely that children will become super excited about an upcoming indie game, or title they have never heard of. A lot of fun, platformer games are available for digital download. And to purchase these games involves the ability to maneuver the store, and also to own a credit card. I for one, do not know many children with credit cards. Again, they need to rely on the bank of Mum and Dad. Compare this to allowing a child to simply download free apps on a tablet, and you have a winner.

There are still some titles that are sure to engage younger audiences. Project Sparks for Xbox One, LEGO: Marvel Superheroes, or Just Dance are sure to be popular. Yet there are other games such as Doki-Doki Universe or Hohokum which look great, but will probably not be able to gain a reputation with kids. Which is a shame. On the current platforms, Rayman: Legends is a game that is both fun for children and incredibly high in quality; yet Ubisoft have stated it has under-performed sales wise. The only game on Wii U that seems to have been a console seller is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker; and it’s appeal is the reminiscence that young adults may have from playing the original in their youth.

Even games that used to be popular, such as Jak and Daxter or Sly, are not non-existent as franchises, as the developers have moved on. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was recently released by a different developer, but hasn’t managed to meet the popularity that the original trilogy obtained. The current generation doesn’t seem to take as kindly to platformers as the past did. Things may be too advanced, running and jumping simply isnt enough for the majority of the public anymore. Even Ratchet and Clank, who are popular enough to get their own movie in 2015, are only releasing downloadable titles and budget priced games as opposed to fully-fledged adventures.

 

Notice the lack of child-friendly characters in Sony's All-Star lineup.

Notice the overwhelmingly adult characters in Sony’s All-Star lineup.

 

When compared to previous console generations, these announcements seem relatively poor in this sector. Children used to be a huge audience for previous consoles. With the original PlayStation, we had Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Croc, and Gex, all selling the console. The NES, N64, and GameCube had MarioStarfoxZelda, amongst the entire charming Nintendo catalogue. SEGA also had the iconic SonicNiGHTS, and Super Monkey Ball. But now, it’s Call of DutyBattlefield, and Assassin’s Creed that are interesting gamers. And all of these are on current-gen platforms. Knack is not a game which will make people spend £350 on a PS4; but it is certainly worth checking out.

Now that consoles are garnering attention from hardcore gamers rather than the casual market, they have shifted to target said markets. The PS4 supports indie games, which are not largely commercial, yet Microsoft are still pursuing family entertainment with the Kinect.  With casual gamers taking up the mobile market, and converging devices like the smartphone or tablet that are multipurpose, consoles can seem like an unnecessary expense. And so, children are no longer the target, compared to when consoles were largely targeted at children. Now it’s a grown-up past time.

Nintendo could still pull it out the bag. Maybe they will entrance another generation of gamers into enjoying the likes of Pikachu, or Yoshi. If not, perhaps the next-gen consoles will become popular further down the line. Currently, a high price and adult games holds them back from crossing the line to children. Besides, yet give it a few years,  and kids that are currently enjoying tablet gaming may evolve into hardcore gamers, and make the move to more powerful systems. The games industry is constantly evolving and moving forward, and the child’s position as a consumer seems to be changing with it.

 

Adam Barsby is a writer for Gaming IQ, alongside running Social Media. If you are partial to stalking, you can follow him on Twitter @barsby3, or read his articles here. 

 

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