Nickelodeon Enters MMO Games Space with ‘Monkey Quest’

Kyra Reppen, senior vice president of Nickelodeon's Virtual Worlds Group, tells The Hollywood Reporter that "Monkey Quest" is "an online experience that has the look and feel of a console game mixed with cooperative play."

SAN FRANCISCO, California – Nickelodeon used GDC 2011 as the coming out party for its first entry into the massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming space. The company unveiled Monkey Quest, a new family-friendly, free-to-play MMO game based on an original property, at a party held at AT&T Park. The game, which encourages players to work together to solve puzzles and partake in challenges, was also available throughout the week at the Unity booth at Moscone Center. Monkey Quest will go live in April. 

Nickelodeon has a rich lineup of popular gaming sites, IPs, and virtual worlds. Addicting Games and Shockwave are two of the top gaming destinations online. Addicting Games offers more than 4,369 games and provided over 102 million game plays in December 2010. Shockwave serves more than 1,800 games and provided over 47 million game plays in December 2010. The company also has over a thousand games available on
Neopets and Petpet Park, Nickelodeon’s two established virtual worlds, have a combined 300 mini-games that resulted in more than 1 billion gameplays in 2010 and they attract over 3 million monthly uniques in the U.S.  In its 11th year, Neopets continues to be one of the stickiest youth entertainment sites online with over two hours of time spent per visitor each month.
Kyra Reppen, senior vice president and general manager of the Virtual Worlds Group at Nickelodeon Kids and Family, took some time to talk about Monkey Quest and the new SpongeBob MMO game in this exclusive interview.
How is Nickelodeon taking advantage of GDC this week and what role do you see this show playing for Hollywood?
Gaming is becoming another integral way for the entertainment industry to bring their properties to life. For instance, our sister company, Paramount, launched a big initiative for the game tied to the theatrical release of Rango. We have our own slate of original games tied to our original properties, including SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. The Game Developers Conference is one of the key annual events for the gaming industry.  It’s a great place to find out about trends in the industry that can have implications for all of entertainment. We believe this venue provides the ideal opportunity for us to give the gaming media and developers a sneak peek at Monkey Quest before its live release in April. 
How have you seen the MMO space evolve in recent years and target a younger demographic?
Kids were the first audience to make virtual worlds popular with hits like Neopets.  Virtual worlds empower kids, encourage creativity and offer ways for them to play together. There are opportunities to evolve gameplay in new worlds and MMOs for this audience by incorporating the different game styles, social features and new stories that kids have told us they want.
How did Monkey Quest come about?
We wanted to create an MMO for kids and families that had relatable characters, compelling stories, humor and adventure. We have spent more than two years working with kids to ensure Monkey Quest offers an experience and gameplay they can appreciate, while adjusting the game based on their feedback. 
How will Nickelodeon support this MMO game?
The official launch of Monkey Quest will take place during the Kids' Choice Awards and will be supported by a TV and online marketing campaign.  We are also planning events this summer.
What separates this MMO from others targeting kids?
Monkey Quest is a unique virtual world dedicated to kids and gamers alike.  It differs from those currently available on the market because it’s an online experience that has the look and feel of a console game mixed with cooperative play. Our team of beta testers, which includes kids, tell us that it’s like playing a console game with rich design and dynamic levels, but with the accessibility of an Internet browser and that it’s unlike any other game they have played.
What business model will this game use and what are your thoughts on the free-to-play/micro-transaction model that most kids MMOs use today?
Monkey Quest is free to play and offers a hybrid payment model for those who want more ways to play.  Players can choose to access premium trails, add virtual goods and accessories through subscriptions and micro-transactions.
How do you see Monkey Quest evolving?
What’s great about Monkey Quest is that the world will grow and evolve with the community. We’ll listen to kids as we have during development and make sure the game continues to be dynamic, fun and entertaining. We are planning to roll out new content and features in the coming months.
What opportunities in film and television do you see for these video game characters?
Right now we’re focused on the launch and introducing the characters across our platforms via marketing on TV and online. 
With companies like Disney owning multiple MMO games, do you view Monkey Quest, if successful, as the first of multiple MMO games from Nick?
As a multi-platform entertainment company, Nickelodeon has a rich history of nurturing, growing and developing popular IPs, online games and virtual worlds for their audience. We’re also in development on a SpongeBob MMO for the Asian market. We will continue to explore opportunities to give our audiences more interactive entertainment, including MMOs.