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Nickelodeon Launches Nicktropolis Web Playground

Mike Shields

JANUARY 29, 2007 -

Nickelodeon has taken a bold step into the burgeoning virtual-worlds arena with the launch of Nicktropolis, a personalizable, avatar-dwelling playground for kids on the Web.

Nicktropolis, which goes live on and on Jan. 30, is sort of a Second Life for tweens: Kids can create a virtual identity for themselves – a 3D video game-like character which they create, picking out what color hair it has and what kind of clothes it wears, for example. Then kids can take that avatar to visit various virtual locales within Nicktropolis, such as stores, friends’ rooms, amusement parks and even virtual versions of top Nickelodeon shows, like SpongeBob’s Bikini Bottom.

Initially, Nicktropolis consists of four distinct areas: Nickname Lane, where kids maintain their own rooms with virtual possessions; Nicktoon Boulevard, an immersive area featuring the network’s characters; Downtown Nicktropolis, which houses a park and several stores; and The Pier, a gaming-focused region.

Besides spending their time exploring, Nicktropolis offers a variety of multimedia options for its intended nine- to 14-year-old audience. They can listen to radio stations, play numerous games and watch videos – either in a Rec Room located in Downtown Nicktropolis on virtual TVs they have purchased using points, which serve as the virtual world’s currency.

But perhaps the primary appeal of Nicktropolis - and its potentially most controversial option - is chat. Kids can interact with other avatars either using a series of Nick-supplied phrases or their own words, as long as they fall within a Nick-safe dictionary. To stave off predatory fears, in a presentation to reporters on Jan. 29 Nickelodeon executives placed heavy emphasis on Nicktropolis’ various safety features. “We believe it is as safe as we can possibly make it for kids,” said Cyma Zarghami, president, Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group. For example, kids are encouraged to use nicknames (not their real names) when registering for the sites.

And to participate in Nicktropolis, kids have to supply their parents' email addresses, through which parents must provide their approval to allow kids to chat and pursue other activities. Plus, several persistent buttons on the Nicktropolis’ interface allow users to report any potential safety hazards, such as uncomfortable interactions with other avatars.

Marketing-wise, Nicktropolis is launching without advertising, though execs said that sponsorships are coming soon. “Right now we’re having an open dialogue with marketers,” said Steve Youngwood, executive vp, digital media, Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group. According to vp Jason Root, the site is likely to sign on a presenting sponsor of some sort but would shy away more “immersive” ad inventory that might detract from Nicktropolis’ fantasy world.

Executives said that prior to its launch, close to 300,000 kids will have tested Nicktropolis, which has been in development for over a year. While the new site isn't’ MTVN’s first foray into virtual worlds (MTV has launched Virtual Laguna Beach), it is certainly its most extensive launch to date of this kind. In the kids space, Nicktropolis will be aiming at Disney’s kids aimed virtual game Toontown, and possibly Cartoon Network’s coming Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG), due in 2008.


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