First I'd seen it. Ahh the old crayon font :-). First sign of trouble?
I knew XBox were looking into kids & educational play as we'd had a chat after I left Channel 4 Education to go set up MakieLab. Interesting stuff alright, but XBox has a few problems it needs to work out before I think any kids-specific stuff will work very well, mostly in the XBL area, but also in the innovation area.
Going back a few years: when the XBox 360 launched, it did so with King Kong. And Dead or Alive IV. And some kind of FPS splatter game, I forget, and that adventure game that began with K which was never to be seen again. White box though, and the living room scenario setup at GDC and Tokyo Game show - white and green plastic, fuzzy rugs, beanbags - clearly moving away from their Halo hardcore players black-box days and into a more family-oriented setup.
Did it work?
The XBox was always the most Hardcore of the consoles; Playstation was mainstream established, and the Wii (and previous Nintendo consoles) definitely had the kids market tied up. But the Playstation stayed black, the Wii was white, and the Xbox has veered between the two, back and forth, Elite and normal, scooching around the room looking for its chair.
And now it's heading for kids, but without, it seems yet, a plan of How To Deal With Live Chat. They must have a plan - surely - but I haven't seen it yet.
I love my XBox 360 Elite, but that's because I love horror, shooters and adventure games, and I don't mind some swearing and abuse, although it's rare you'll find even me playing on public servers. "Full of arseholes", as I somewhat bleakly pointed out to the lovely XBox people. Not their fault, but it's definitely their problem if they end up with kids wandering around in there too.
They've tackled this identity problem by zooming straight to the old faithful, wholesome brand-association route. Sesame Street and National Geographic.
Hmm. The trailer didn't go down well with the all-female UK group. "Too American, too anodyne."
Too boring? And still no evidence of any kid-centric XBL, makes me think the strategy might be to simply not put chat into the kids' games. But that's like saying a 3 year old won't find the thumbs-down'd stuff on YouTube within 2 minutes of handing over the tablet.
We saw two games: the Sesame Street playalong, and a Nat Geo bears game/show, made here in the UK by lovely Relentless in Brighton. XBox have chosen a TV-centric route to reach kids: pick a show, and add gameplay to it. That's what broadcasters want, and in my book, Xbox's other innovation problem: TV just isn't often fun.
Kids watch the least TV of all TV-watchers, and TV is also weather dependent, watched less in the summer. Kids watch around 15 hours a week, compared with 35+h a week for the over-55 set. In short: the older you are, the more TV you watch:
This TV-centric strategy will probably work just fine for the littlies in front of Sesame Street - it's always been playalong in some way, so this is pretty predictable stuff, just an evolution of the show - but for older kids, with Nat Geo, I'm not so sure. An adult in the room said the interactive parts were "distracting", and wouldn't it be nice if kids could focus on just one thing, but I disagreed with this: kids are programmed to be able to focus on a million things at once, and it's a sign of age that we lose that ability. I loved the interactive bits, and thought there should have been be far more in the games we saw.
I'm interested to see where this goes, as using games as educational play is a perfect strategy for any media organisation with a remit to reach young 'uns. I don't think Xbox have got it right yet (but I'm very happy to be proven wrong with sales figures!): too predictable, too telly. Less television, more active play, more kid-centric sociability - look at MoshiMonsters - more handheld, and more innovation would have got ticks from me, as well as taking the brand onto tablets and phones.
Will wait and see.