- Andrew Stern
|Dogz and Catz|
A virtual pet can also be a physical object, like Tamagotchi or AIBO (robot dogs made from 1999 to 2006). The Tamagotchi was first marketed in 1996, as a playful exercise in responsibility. If the pet wasn’t cared for regularly, it would die. It was aimed mostly at kids, although people of all ages got into the craze. But planning your life around the needs of a fake pet is not practical. Schools started to ban the pets, because students were taking care of their little plastic eggs instead of paying attention in class. So the product was forced to adapt, adding a pause button. In time, many pet games would drift from this idea of constant care, to make them more appealing and practical as games.
The idea of virtual pets gained ground, and expanded. Like the Petz games, some focused on breeding animals. Other games focused on decoration, like the popular SuperPoke Pets. You had one adorable pet that barely moved, centered in a scene that could be decorated with a wide variety of items. Many of these games came to focus on new decoration items released every week. Some virtual pets had the appearance of anthropomorphic cartoon characters who could wear clothing, adding costumes to the fun items you could enjoy. At the same time pet games were developing, some companies used the idea of autonomous characters in non-pet games, like the Sims.
Losing GoPets was difficult for me, emotionally. But when I was ready for a new game, I asked my GoPets friends what they were playing. They said the best pet game out there was Pet Society. I wasn't on Facebook, so I joined up just to play.
|Sprite and Friends|
Pet Society had such a wide range of activities, and kept adding more. You could play all day if you liked. Of course I’m preaching to the choir here! I quickly realized I loved my pet Sprite, as much as I did my GoPets. I love how she always rearranged her plush toys, she took after me in that, lol. My family and friends started playing with me, as they had in GoPets. One of my funniest Pet Society memories is teaching my mother-in-law how to run the races in the stadium. We were both dying of laughter, as she tried to navigate the hurdles. I made many new friends in the Pet Society community. But as we all know, Pet Society closed, as well.
Today there’s a dizzying array of virtual pet and similar games. You can play with photorealistic dogs on your phone, with Dog Sweetie and other games. There is a gorgeous game for Xbox called Kinectimals, where you play with charming lifelike tiger cubs and other baby animals, using a motion sensor. You can play with 3D cartoon-like anthro characters in games like Animal Crossing and Happy Street. Almost every pet game today includes some mini games.
In spite of the many games currently on the market, I feel their is still a lot of unfulfilled potential. What’s missing?
Many players bond strongly with their first virtual pets, as I talked about in The Unfulfilled Potential of Virtual Pet Games – Part 1. People often name their virtual pets after real pets that passed away, thinking it will be a lasting tribute, and are terribly disappointed when the games close. Pet game players are among the most dedicated, for example, there is still an active community of ol' fashioned Petz players—people don’t want to let go of the very first virtual pets to exist! And yet game companies view virtual pets as ephemeral, casual games. This is a disconnect between game makers and customers.
I'd also like to see a virtual pet game on a large scale, similar to a MMORPG, an idea Danine suggested in A New Gaming Model: in Star Wars? I realize many Pet Society players hate violent games, but if you can stomach some violence, and you want to get an idea how great a MMORPG-like anthro pet game could look, I suggest playing the Pandaren starting area in World of Warcraft, for free. You'll have to download the program, and you’ll need a fairly up to date computer to use it. On the character creation screen, choose the panda. You could try other races, but the Pandaren starting area has the newest graphics, and is breathtakingly beautiful!
|Pandaren female in World of Warcraft|
Another thing I'd like to see are more cross-platform games. I'm currently playing a city building game on Facebook that a friend plays on her cell phone, and yet we are neighbors in the game. I hope gaming companies are working to make this kind of connection more common.
So I’ve been toying with these concepts, and I want to wrap them into a complete package. Many game companies today let you managed the games you play on one account. I'm envisioning an account for managing not only your virtual pet games, but also your virtual pets.
|Different Versions of Your Pet|
Most virtual pet games today include at least a few mini games. Perhaps the site could host a variety of mini games, and you could play the mini games you like most, then apply the currency won to whichever game you choose.
Your pets would always be available, ready to go into new games even if an old game closed, or the platform became outdated. Your pets would grow with you, and with current technology. But the actual games should also be designed for long term playability, with solid game design and a variety of activities. The goal is to keep them relevant, not yank each game after only a couple years.
How would the company make money? I think there are viable options. For example, some simple games could be free, several others could be covered under a $5 monthly fee, while a full blown adventure game (similar to a MMORPG) might require an extra fee of its own. All games would also have a cash shop. Some clothing or decorative items could have both 2D and 3D forms, and be used between games. You could buy, or perhaps even win, items that you'd be able to give to friends and relatives playing games you don't even play yourself. If the site became popular enough, perhaps they could even sell physical toys or figures customized to look like your pet.
It’s hard to imagine any of the current game companies buying into this, but it would be possible with today’s technology. I've believe the concept would be appealing to a broad audience of low-pressure gamers, and profitable. Grandparents could buy items for grandkids. People could play whichever games they liked best, while socializing with friends on the site. I wouldn’t want it on another platform, like Facebook, subject to their changing game terms. I’d rather see a website made specifically for these warmhearted games. Of course they’d have to start small, with just a few. I think you could get a foothold with a couple solid games and good pet design, if you respect the customers and sell them on the concept.
If they started with Pet Society, that would be icing on the cake. :0)