MMO Family: A parent's look at Hello Kitty Online

MMO Family is your resource for leveling a gaming-specced family, from tips on balancing gaming with family life to finding age-appropriate online games for everyone in the family.

Hello Kitty Online is the first of our Parents Guide selections that's aimed squarely at teens and young adults rather than the kiddie set. Say what? We were surprised, too -- but given the mind-bogglingly persistent popularity of Hello Kitty among grownups with more discerning taste (and expansive wallets), it stands to reason that developer Sanrio would want HKO to reach as broad an audience as possible.

What HKO brings to the keyboard, then, is less a kiddie game than a crafting-oriented, sunshiny, Hello-Kitty-themed version of an MMO. Sure, it's 2-D. Sure, it's free-to-play. But despite the precious proliferation of pink, you'll find gameplay that's more in line with traditional, fully developed MMOs -- a purrfectly friendly MMO choice for your teen daughter.
Hello Kitty Online
Developer Sanrio Digital
Publisher Sanrio Digital
Launched August 2010

What systems does it run on? Hardware requirements for HKO are simple and sweet. Most computers equipped with Intel Pentium IV or equivalent processor will play the game without trouble. You'll need at least 512MB of RAM and 2GB of space on your hard disk. Minimum gameplay requirements: Intel Pentium 4, CPU 1.5 GHz, 512MB RAM, 5 GB disk space, Windows 2000 / XP / Vista (32-bit), a DVD-ROM (for DVD installation), Flash 10 browser plugin, 56K internet connection, DirectX 8.0 and DirectSound support. Recommended requirements: Intel Pentium 4 CPU 3 GHz or better, 1GB RAM, 5 GB disk space, Windows XP / Vista (32-bit), a DVD-ROM (for DVD installation), Flash 10 browser plugin, broadband internet connection (256K or higher), DirectX 9.0 or higher and DirectSound support.

How much does it cost? HKO is completely free-to-play. Premium content is strictly optional -- extra niceties that can be purchased in the cash shop, offering such bonuses as unique character customization options, in-game items and farm designs.

What's the game all about? Despite its 2-D display and cartoony pink design, HKO is at heart a traditional MMO. Yes, that means there's combat -- although it's definitely secondary to the crafting and gathering aspects of the game. Combat lingo is appropriately age-and-ambience-correct; you put monsters "to sleep" rather than "killing" them (although players don't bother using the "sleep" terminology themselves). As in any MMO, players fight, quest, gather and craft; the latter two activities are HKO's predominant focus. The current level cap is 30. There is a fairly robust pet system and player housing.

What does the game look and feel like? HKO is basically a fully functional yet streamlined, softer-themed MMO aimed at teen girls and young women. There's no escaping the saccharine-sweet, cartoonish pink environment, but underneath that, you'll find all the usual MMO gameplay elements. Because combat is not central to the game, HKO doesn't extend far into grouping, and there's no raiding at all. But if you enjoy gathering, crafting and chatting it up with a bunch of friendly young ladies, this just may be the game world for you.

Who's the target audience? Surprisingly, given the common public perception, Hello Kitty Online is not for young kids. Sanrio says: "We are targeting fans of Hello Kitty and Sanrio, which tend to be primarily female, although it's not to say guys won't find the game fun and engaging. Since HKO is an online experience, we therefore require a player to be 13 or older in order to register and play. Of course we understand some moms and their daughters will desire to play together, so we leave it up to the parent's discretion as to allow their children to play the game under parental guidance."

Who plays? HKO's core audience is females from ages 13 to 25. As Sanrio notes, "Of course, we know there are some very hardcore Hello Kitty fans out there in their 30s and older -- we welcome them to join and play as well!" The game is available in English for North American players, and English, French and German upon the European version's release.

What playstyles does the game most suit? HKO is a gatherer and crafter's nirvana. I could go on, I'm sure – but I won't. It's really just that simple.

How does the game address kids' internet safety? Since HKO is not designed or intended for children, game structure and policies aren't specifically designed to accommodate young children. However, GMs are on hand at all times to supervise player interaction, there is a banned word filter and Sanrio requires all players to be at least 13 years of age.

What kid-friendly features help keep children moving through the content? Since players must be at least 13 years old to play, HKO is not specifically designed to shepherd the interests and abilities of young children. That's not to say that things aren't simple; the UI and click-to-move mechanics are simple and fairly intuitive.

What's the social atmosphere? As you might imagine, it takes a fairly "sweet" type of person to want to play in Sanrio's Hello Kitty world. This game's personality is all sweetness and light, right down to the player chat. While I've heard anecdotal stories of typical chat nastiness, I've never personally witnessed anything untoward. Sanrio's chat filters and GM monitoring seem to be doing a good job of catching whatever wayward ugliness might slip through. This would be a comfortable environment even for players younger than 13.

What can players do outside the game? Hello Kitty Online's trump card is its integration with the SanrioTown online community. With the SanrioTown integration, players can exchange emails, blog, create and post videos, send e-cards, play minigames, manage their calendars and more.

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. Drop me a line with your thoughts, suggestions, family game experiences, and questions about gaming and parenting at lisa@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.