Exclusive: Nickelodeon's Kyra Reppen on Monkey Quest

With family-themed MMOs attracting an ever-growing number of players, it's little surprise that Nickelodeon has tossed its hat into the ring with the launch of Monkey Quest. It's a browser-based, light-hearted MMO that combines the action style of console games with the virtual world and questing that's traditional to MMOs. It's free-to-play, but it also offers several different subscription plans to suit practically every playstyle.

Massively was happy to talk with Nickelodeon Senior Vice President Kyra Reppen about Monkey Quest, the challenges of creating a kid-themed MMO, and trends for the genre overall. Read on for all the details!

Massively: First off, congratulations on the launch! How long has Monkey Quest been in production, and what influenced Nickelodeon's decision to branch out into the MMO market?

Kyra Reppen, Nickelodeon Senior Vice President: Thanks! We're excited to welcome players into Monkey Quest after over two years of development. Creating games that connect and entertain our audience is really important to Nickelodeon. It made sense to expand on our success with virtual worlds -- Neopets and Petpet Park -- and develop a new kind of MMO. We saw an opportunity with Monkey Quest to offer the deep gameplay, rich content and cooperative play found in traditional grown-up MMOs and combine that with console-style action that kids told us they wanted. And what we're seeing is that Monkey Quest is appealing to the older audiences of teens and adults too!

What made you choose to create an MMO around an entirely new storyline and characters rather than build something based on one of the shows in Nickelodeon's lineup?

Games and particularly MMOs are a great way to tell stories and introduce a world full of characters and locations, so we developed Monkey Quest as a new property just as we would a new TV show.

Do you have any plans to create a show based on Monkey Quest?

At this time, there are no plans to develop a TV series based on Monkey Quest. There are Monkey Quest TV ads and trailers airing on Nickelodeon channels and websites that combine gameplay footage and cinematic scenes to give players a sense of the characters, adventure and humor of the game.

My two young testers found it easy to get right into the action of the game. What sorts of things did you try to focus on when making a kid-themed MMO?

That's great to hear. During the more than two years of game development, we involved kids in the design through a lot of game testing on everything from the controls and interfaces to the introductory tutorial to make sure the game was easy to get into. The side-scrolling platform gameplay is so recognizable and instantly gratifying that it also allowed us to move the player quickly into the action of the game. As for the sophistication of features found in traditional MMOs (trading, crafting, dungeon raiding, character progression, skill leveling, etc.), we challenged our designers to make these intuitive for our audience without oversimplifying them.

Monkey Quest feels a bit different from traditional MMOs in that it has more of a action/console-style of gameplay rather than an open-ended world. What made you decide to break with tradition?

We were inspired by the idea of combining both action/console and the conventional MMORPG style to make something that really stands out. We focused on what kids want rather than being defined by the traditional MMO. Kids love their console games, but they also want to be able to play together with their friends anytime in the browser. We also found that kids want the in-depth gameplay and RPG elements of the traditional MMO worlds, so we combined these elements to give the game the right balance of accessibility and depth to appeal to a wide audience of kids and families.

Security is always important when it comes to children's MMOs. How do you ensure that young players will have a safe gaming experience in Monkey Quest?

We take online safety very seriously across all of our online sites. Our sites are COPPA-compliant, and our chat has several safety features, including a dictionary of words players can use, filters to prevent inappropriate phrases and a control option for parents to restrict chat permissions. We partnered with Crisp Thinking to provide additional monitoring technology to optimize filtering, and we have a live monitoring team 24/7.

Another issue in designing children's games is danger. How do you build a game that contains danger and challenge without making it too scary for young players?

We made sure to make the perilous situations fun for the player. We treat the situations where the player in jeopardy with the same humor and attitude you would expect from Nickelodeon. Our monsters, combat and weapons are grounded in light humor, like the Kernel Blaster, a powerful weapon earned in the game that shoots popcorn kernels at enemies. Also, there is no true player death in the game. Just as in other classic platformers, when players drops down to zero health, they are transported back to the nearest checkpoint

Monkey Quest is free-to-play but also offers a subscription-based membership as well as a pay-as-you-go option. What factors went into the decision to go with a hybrid model?

Parents are the gatekeepers for payment, so we asked them what payment model they would want. Some prefer the convenience of subscriptions, and others like the control of the pay-as-you-go option, so we believe the hybrid model gives them the choice they're seeking. Both options can be purchased online. At retail, parents can also buy Nick Game Cards, which can be redeemed online and used on Monkey Quest and our other Nickelodeon game properties.

Nickelodeon is also working on a SpongeBob MMO -- do you have any plans to create more MMOs around other popular titles?

Right now, we're focused on our Monkey Quest launch. When we look at new MMO concepts, we'll explore games around original properties as well as our existing shows.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about Monkey Quest!
This article was originally published on Massively.