Nickelodeon Video Games Promote Social Change

Dave Williams of Nickolodeon Kids and Family GroupCasual gaming is on the rise, particularly among women. While Nickelodeon's game division has plans to expand that reach into other markets, an interesting shift has taken hold to draw in a variety of demographics. Dave Williams, senior vice president and GM of Nickelodeon Kids and Family Games Group, sees a move to build games around current news and events that can educate people and promote social awareness and change.

Gaming division execs have begun to shift their thinking away from "a game as a product that gets built, shipped and sold," and more toward a "media that's consumed, similar to television with an interactive twist," Williams said. "We are starting to see news and culture become deeply integrated in game play."

Nickelodeon has developed a series of games that spoof events or promote awareness. Many have become huge viral hits. Most recently, the group created "Hero on the Hudson" in less than 72 hours, from conception to launch. It has raked in about 4.0 million game plays since launching Jan. 21. "It's making gaming more current and tying it into popular culture," Williams said. "It's bringing more people into the game space and pushing gaming into the mass media, rather than product category."

For news-related games the development turnaround typically is between two and seven days and a few sleepless nights, Williams said. The games are designed to provoke thought around a sensitive subject. ran games for "The Big Green Help" campaign that focuses on the environment. Since April 2008, more than 25 million game sessions have been logged. In December, a campaign ran asking kids to pledge volunteer virtual hours in the "Global Challenge," a cause they could take from online and carry out in their homes, communities and schools to make energy-saving and earth-friendly activities a part of daily life.

Development costs for this new type of immersive game run the gamut. Games on, geared toward teens and tweens, run from simplistic Flash games, which generally cost less to develop, to those with price tags in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Williams said. "Advertisers have started to adopt the category, so budgets are growing," he said. "This allows us to invest more in content."

The Nickelodeon Kids and Family Group of Web sites include,,,, Shockwave,com,,,,,, and

The group has experienced growth in casual games. Within, Trillion Dollar Bailout has had 1.7 million plays since Feb. 19 and Escape the Oval Office has had 1.8 million since Jan. 16.

Citing comScore stats, Nickelodeon said the U.S. audience for online gaming sites grew to from 67 million visitors in December 2007 to 86 million in December 2008. The total time Americans spent playing online games grew from 3.7% to 4.9% during that period.

Casual games like solitaire and Tetris have experienced a surge in popularity among adults. Last week, launched a subscription-based online gaming service for adults. For $29.95 per year, Club Shockwave will offer subscribers social community features and hundreds of skill games and puzzles, along with opportunities to win cash prizes and accumulate rewards.

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