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Now that we've established that kids aren't gaming snobs and will dig into a good Flash game with as much relish as we grownups attack any top-rung MMO title, let's look at another up-and-coming Flash title for kids. Fantage (short for "Fantastic Age") has attracted nearly 7 million users since April 2008 almost entirely by word of mouth -- how's that for kid power?

I suspect the reason Fantage tickles my 9-year-old playtester's fancy is tied to the advancements she's been making with her real-life character this summer. The achievements are flowing: she's figured out how to use the Page Up and Page Down buttons to snag [Swimming in the Deep End], she's acquired her first epic mount [Big Brother's Hand-Me-Down Bike] and she's become fascinated with the possibilities of /dance... We're even breaking away from class-specific gear sets to farm all the mats for her [Tier 4 School Supplies] individually via hotly contested minigames all over town. So while she's still utterly captivated by the sparkling magic of a game like Pixie Hollow, this evolving little personality is hooked on Fantage's opportunities to show off her own style and personality via her avatar and accessories. Different game, different flavor -- so let's investigate the attractions.
Fantage
Developer Fantage
Launched April 2008

What systems does it run on? Slower systems and overburdened hard drives, rejoice! As a Flash-based browser game, Fantage runs on any PC or Mac. Anyone with a browser and internet connection can play; no downloads are required.

How much does it cost? Fantage can be played for free, although subscribers get access to more features. Memberships ("premium memberships") start at $5.99 per month and get cheaper as you buy longer subscription blocks; payment options are numerous, including credit card, a myriad of game card choices, bank transfer and more. The key difference between non-paying ("regular") memberships and premium membership is access to items; regular members are limited to the most basic rung of clothing, hoverboards and hairstyles. Since this is a big issue for most young players, this may weigh heavily in your subscription decision. Premium members rack up levels as they earn medals, while regular members plug along at one level per month; however, leveling doesn't appear to have a significant impact on the fun. Other premium member benefits include deluxe rooms, a 1,000-star (cash shop) signup bonus, the ability to earn and show off medals and more variety when collecting in-game stickers.

What's the game all about? With no single game activity taking center stage, Fantage is more of a virtual world for budding social butterflies than a traditional MMO. There are levels, although they're not central to the gameplay experience (and non-paying members level much, much more slowly than subscribers). There are minigames. There are missions (mostly more minigames and errands from NPCs). More at the forefront, though, are opportunities to meet other players; walking the runway at competitive fashion shows and attending or hosting parties offer the chance to earn stars (in-game coin) and rewards. Also big is the process of collecting clothes, hoverboards and new hairstyles via special gems found in mini-games and party activities; here's where being a paying member counts big, since subscribers get three types of gems to regular members' one. There are also houses to decorate and pets to collect.

What does the game look and feel like? This is definitely cheery kid stuff: bobble-headed avatars with immense eyes whoosh about on hoverboards amidst the bright colors of Fantage's traditional cartoon styling. Upbeat tunes top off a perky, kid-oriented feeling.

Who's the target audience? Fantage is aimed at boys and girls ages 6 to 14, but even the most casual observers will note that the activities wield girl-appeal.

Who plays? While logging in dumps you squarely into a mass of girls, girls, girls, you'll find a healthy population of boys playing Fantage, too. They seem to hang out a little less in the "lobby" areas and spend more time within the minigames and party areas. Most of the adults in Fantage seem to be parents playing along with their kids, although the company reports a small subset of early 20-something females who also play. Fantage is primarily based in North America, but there's also a new European version that reaches youngsters as far away as Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

What playstyles does the game most suit? Fantage is casual all the way. Activities are brief, chat with other girls is fun but mostly revolves around the game itself, and progression seems like a natural outcome of having fun without becoming obsessively grindy. If your young player enjoys meeting and making friends with other youngsters in game, this is the game for her!

How does the game address kids' internet safety? Fantage chat is filtered through an approved dictionary and tools that automatically block personal information such as phone numbers and addresses. Parents can choose several levels of chat permissions for their young players, from full chat to safe chat (a menu of preselected phrases to choose from; all incoming chat is also restricted to these phrases) to no chat at all.

Chat rooms are monitored by Fantage.com employees, who work to screen out questions and answers that might supply personal information. Players are encouraged to report players who are bothersome or ask intrusive questions. The game's simple code of conduct includes two points we wish more kids' games would state so clearly:

  • Teasing other users with conversation or avatar actions is not permitted.
  • Any other expressions or behavior not appropriate for children is not permitted.

That's boiling things down to kid level. Players who violate the chat and behavior code may receive a warning, suspension or permanent ban.

What kid-friendly features help guide children through the content? While Fantage's controls, instructions and help features are simple and clear for players in its intended age range, younger players who don't read yet may not find the game appealing. Experienced young gamers may find the absence of WASD movement awkward at first -- but hey, kids are adaptable, and with a choice between mouse movement or the arrow keys, this isn't much of an issue.

What's the social atmosphere? Fantage players are chattier with in-game friends and small groups than with the server at large; local/general chat consists mostly of announcements for parties and events. If that's too much chatter, you can always choose a quieter server when you log in. It's easy to connect with friends, as the game informs you if friends are logged in on another server when you log in. As for making friends, it's easy to hook up with others who play at the same general pace; player levels tend to cluster at either end of the spectrum, making it easy to spot who plays a lot or a little.

What else can players do outside the game? Kids will enjoy reading the Comet, the weekly online Fantage magazine, which is available in game/on the web. There's a Fantage Facebook page and even a budding YouTube channel. A visit to the Fantage web site also uncovers Fantage stationery, greeting cards, wallpapers, banners and coloring pages. Be sure to check out the blog for more game-related news.

Still looking for more details? Read our article on all the different ways you can evaluate kids' games, or visit MMO Family's Parents Guide to Kids & Family Gaming.

When it's time to find just the right game for your family, turn to MMO Family's growing Parents Guide to Kids & Family Gaming. We're taking your questions and observations about gaming and parenting at lisa@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.