How to Build Feelings of Ownership in an Interactive Space

by Warren Buckleitner (reference: FOO fighters instilling feelings of ownership yields big returns
KidsScreen Magazine, August 2008, p. 28)

Everyone wants to attract kids to a website, or keep them interested in a new video game. The secret? You just need to employ the FOO factor. Instilling FOO (a.k.a. Feelings of Ownership) in children within their first few minutes of using a game, website or interactive application may be one of the most important keys to digital success. It works like magic. Just ask game designers Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo or Will Wright from Emeryville, California-based Maxis. Neither are strangers to the concept of FOO - or money.

Not sure where to start? Keep the following in mind.
• Can you turn up, or turn down the music or sounds, or is there an obvious "mute" button?
• Can you pause the game at any point?
• Does the program ask for your name upfront, and then use it at various points in the game (e.g., on a bill board in a racing game, or hidden in an I SPY puzzle?)
• Let kids choose the gender and ethnicity of their individual digital characters.
• Give the child a variety of "skins" or customizable elements to choose from. For example, if the game or environment provides users with a room, give the kids the ability to click on the walls and toggle between different wallpaper designs. Also, make sure one is white, in case they don't feel like having any designs pushed at them.
• On-the-fly control. If there's music playing in the background provide a radio icon so kids can choose the channel, just like Grand Theft Auto does in the adult digital space.
• A space of one's own. One of the most compelling things about Club Penguin is that it lets kids have their own igloo, where they can store their stuff. Kids come to depend on having a place to sock away meaningful items, so it's worth building that into an application, even if it isn't the focus. Note that if you let them collect stuff, make sure you don't use it as blackmail to get their parent's to subscribe. See the Code of Ethics.

Kids aren't always good at articulating what they need to adults, so let me try to translate for them. TVs, books and movies are your (the producers) space. Interactive media, on the other hand, is as much MY space as YOUR space. Please give me some.

Miyamoto's Mii avatars populate the millions of Wiis installed in houses across the globe and represent the underlying philosophy of the revolutionary console-every player is instilled right off the bat with FOO on every game. Instead of filling the grandstands with animated characters in Mario Kart, for example, kids get to see their best friend's Mii avatar cheering them on. They feel part of the game.
Wright has famously applied FOO to SimCity and the bestselling social game The Sims, which includes a powerful set of face and body editors. And Maxis is looking for lighting to strike again with Spore. This month, the company started giving people a sneak-peek with the Spore Creature Creator, a 300MB mini-application available as a free download from
Maxis is also giving would-be users some free server space to share their creatures with others. Wright has ensured that people will fall in love with Spore by entrusting them with the tools they need to create a creature at the very start of the relationship.
But the best part of FOO is it's royalty-free. No one entity owns the concept. And it's not new. Remember Mr. Potato Head, Play-Doh, Lego and sandboxes? All are high in FOO.

Adapted from an article I wrote in the August 2008 issue of KidScreen Magazine, page 48
FOO fighters instilling feelings of ownership yields big returns

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