Underneath Pearson’s Poptropica

POPTROPICA – the virtual world that is the new black for pre-schoolers and primary age explorers. This isn’t a game review, this is a heads up that Poptropica is the ‘must play’ social game – for now. So quit Farm Town and Cafe World for a moment and lets take an educators look at Poptropica.

Who’s behind it? – Pearson — the mega-publishers who’ve been keeping classrooms knee deep in manuals and text books for a long time.

It is interesting then to see them with largely un-branded game site and trying out micro-payments , social gaming and chat rooms. It claims they are safe, but doesn’t explain how they determine this.

Poptropica is 2D platformer, browser based game using levels, tokens and makes you work harder to unlock and collect stuff. The levels have themes and back-story. Best of all – choose chat or battle with your friends. Its cute, slick and very hip. There is a blog to feed new information to players and of course merchandise, mailing lists and ‘buy credit on your phone‘ – which seems a bit worrying.

The avatar studio is a great place for kids to try out customising their toons. But what irked me was the fact that kids either spend forever playing to earn micro credits (camping in Second Life seems familiar) or pay to look good and play better.

This sends wrong signals. Pay to win, pay to be better and pay to look great. The casual, social nature of this game sees kids getting into peer pressure situations about status and reputation – rather than any real skill development. Mr8 breezes trough it without really thinking.

The images and animation are great. The controls are simple enough for a 4 year old to have fun and achieve things and on a ‘I’m not giving Pearson a cent’ level — Poptropica represents an effective way of combining fun with social-gaming — but its hardly a virtual world. It’s a series of interconnected platform games. Winning is easy, just watch the walk-thoughs on YouTube.

Have a look at the viewed figures on the various videos — kids have made — 500,000 views plus! perhaps that’s the educational value here. The rest of Pearson’s YouTube reputation is somewhat ‘tiny’ in comparison. They seem to have missed out on their largest marketing channel (it’s okay, send me the cheque – that bit of advice was a mere $20,000).

I have mixed feelings about Poptropica to say the least. Interestingly, Mr8 only played it because his friends did. He just likes to level, the game “is not that interesting” he says. “I just want to keep up”. Games online, are part of the school-reputation cycle it seems. The biggest reason Poptropica is popular in public school – DET have not yet banned it – its accessible. Kids are playing it.

If you have kids in 4-11, then chances are they are playing Poptropica. You might not have noticed – it looks just like another cute platformer, but it is a social-network. Kids connect and communicate here as they do in MSN. I am still trying to see why Pearson, the ‘brand’ heavy publisher offers almost no clue that they are behind it – the only link being to their T&Cs which firmly pass responsibility to the user.

Safe world? probably not — but very interesting that such a good social game – is almost running vanilla branding — Educational? Not really, but has Educational impacts. Obviously Pearson are looking at new markets. As long as you keep away from the micro-payments – it’s not too bad. BUT from a K6 education perspective – the Avatar Studio and looking at micro-payments for ‘looking better’ might (just) make for an interesting discussion about image and society.

But as a classroom-game?NO. It stands apart from their other online games at the Funbrain portal of flash games and I don’t see how it stacks up as being educational, and it’s not well enough explained anywhere on their umpteen portals to cover their ‘family friendly generic happy-making’ parent branding either.

Which is what makes me wonder why Pearson would head down this route, unless it represents a new market. And if that is the case,  I’d have expected far more visibility and explanation of it’s social side . Sneeky one Pearson. Go and buy Puzzle Quest is great, multi-player and under $5.00.


6 thoughts on “Underneath Pearson’s Poptropica

  1. “Pay to win, pay to be better and pay to look great. The casual, social nature of this game sees kids getting into peer pressure situations about status and reputation – rather than any real skill development.”

    Hmm. Sounds familiar.

    You know, if there were an AH in Poptropica, it would indeed be educational.


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