Lo, in the olden days of the internet (okay a decade ago), KingsIsle Entertainment launched an MMORPG specifically aimed at kids, Wizard101.
My youngest daughter, now 19, started playing at 11 and still plays. I’d written about her early experiences some years back because what I loved about the game, aside from it occupying her time well, is that it allowed for a safe, social, and fun experience for kids. There was one birthday in my daughter’s early teens when she was feeling particularly lonely, and literally hundreds of Wizard101 players wished her “Happy Birthday,” which is the kind of thing that makes me have such good feelings about the game.
You can see the full details of Wizard101‘s built-in safeguards for kids, but, essentially, it allows for parental controls of all features, a menu chat the keeps responses friendly and fun, moderated message boards, and pre-generated player names that allow for individuality but not non-kid-friendly names.
The fact that Wizard101 is ten years old boggles my mind. (Also the fact that my daughter is 19… but I digress.) What’s amazing in this fast-paced consumer world where internet trends come and go is that Wizard101 not only has lasted but it’s still growing.
As part of the 10th-anniversary celebration, KingsIsle is introducing a 3-year story arc, a vibrant new Wizard City, an in-game photosystem, in-game gifts, and more. And, earlier this month, Wizard101 became available on Steam, opening itself up to a new audience.
But it already has a considerable audience. Since its online introduction in 2008, there have been 50 million players, over 2.5 billion quests have been completed, 537 million spells have been cast, and 1 trillion in gold coins collected. Also of note: the most popular Wizard names are Luke Skywalker and Taylor Swift.
And, over the years, the game has quadrupled in size.
I spoke to William Haskins, the executive producer of Wizard101, last week about the game’s enduring appeal, what new and returning users can expect, the most surprising thing they’ve discovered about the game’s users, and about the cool new Photomancy feature.
GeekMom: What sent you down the road on the original concept?
William Haskins: The original creators, Todd [J. Todd Coleman} and Josef [Josef Hall], were looking for something that would be an immersive experience for kids. When we first started, it was Club Penguin and a few others, and we thought they sold short children’s capacity for immersion and complexity. It was also during the time World of Warcraft was becoming big with the older crowd. We said let’s make sure that everything we do is accessible and it has depth to it.
We wanted it so users could get in and play as a casual player or embrace the statistical side and complexity as well.
I’m shocked at the number of people who play and who still play, even as adults. We originally developed it for kids, up to preteens, but we’ve found that people keep playing. They also played with their parents or grandparents or siblings, so it became a family activity.
It’s gotten to the point where I’m hiring people who have played Wizard101 as kids and love the game.
GH: You just went through an extensive update for the game. What’s new in Wizard101?
WH: The update was a combination of things. We wanted to bring it up to date visually. Some of the artists who worked on it originally wished they’d had another run at that and this was their chance. And, we thought, here’s a chance to take the front of the game and give it a little bit of a facelift for our 10th anniversary.
GH: How has the game expanded over the years?
WH: We have 16 worlds now. We originally shipped with 4 worlds, so the game has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. We also did a couple of side worlds as well, adding in smaller self-contained stories.
GH: What’s special about this game is that you’ve created controls that allow kids to interact but in a safe space. Could you talk about some of those safe interactions?
WH: In the early days, open chat and filtered chat allowed us to find bad actors very quickly. Over the years, it’s been an overarching philosophy that governs the game, that it be a safe space for kids overall.
For instance, we don’t depict realistic firearms. It’s an artistic balance. We’re proud to take on the balance and we don’t want to fall into the tropes like realistic firearms that might be edgier and instead, we use the force of the narrative of the fictional universe to inform what the weapons can be.
GH: What were some of the things that surprised you along the way?
WH: When we first started, we did market testing and had some preconceived notions of how it would go, and how preteens might embrace it from ages 14-16, but it wouldn’t appeal to older teens or adults. We didn’t expect the number of parents and grandparents who got into it playing with children with grandchildren, or that service members on duty would be playing with their families stateside.
Our original intended market was kids. We were pleasantly surprised at the enduring power of fantasy in general for everyone. And the layers in gameplay in Wizard101 gave it a range gave for adults and kids, and turned into something special for them.
GH: What feature of Wizard101 are you especially proud of?
WH: One of the new features: Photomancy—it gives players the ability to give an internal Instagram, with pictures of their characters and pets. We want to bring new internet things to the game and this gives players a chance to peacock a bit. It just came out in July, as part of the update, and we love it.
GH: What do you envision for the future?
WH: We have 50 million users currently. I think it’ll be an exciting time for players who have left the game to come back. And we expect new players with the expansion to Steam. With the newest story arc that will begin in the next year, the narrative will go in a great direction as well.
Any MMO has endured for ten years has a reason for it. We would love for people to find out for themselves. It’s not something that you have to pay 1,000 percent at a given moment, you can play in a casual fashion too.
We would love to have people come check it out.