The BBC has launched its first-ever online multiplayer game. It’s called Nightfall and aims to offer younger players a fun online environment that’s free of advertising and in-game purchases.
The main drive behind Nightfall seems to be creating a safe, non-commercial alternative to the popular online games that attract young children. Examples include Minecraft, Fortnite and many more.
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The BBC revealed Nightfall will be available on iOS, Android and Amazon devices and can be played online in-browser.
Alice Webb, director of BBC Children’s and Education said:
“Nightfall is a wonderful new game that puts collaboration before competition, giving young gamers the opportunity to team up and work together to defeat the enemy characters. It’s also been designed with safety at its heart – we’ve carefully built this game in such a way that that children can feel free to play, explore and have fun with their friends online while their parents can have confidence that they’re doing so in a safe and secure environment.”
There is increasing pressure on such games to remove ‘loot boxes’ and similar in-game purchases. Loot boxes particularly, due to the randomised nature of the ‘loot’ that a gamer receives, have been linked to the development of gambling addictions.
Following a governmental investigation into the link between loot boxes and gambling, a House of Commons committee suggested the randomised in-game purchases should be classified as gambling.
Chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, Damian Collins, said: “Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.”
Demonstrating the scale of the issue, a survey of children aged 11-16 found that 31% had paid for in-game loot boxes (via The Guardian).
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However, if the BBC wanted Nightfall to combat this, should they have targeted an older audience? At first glance, the online multiplayer game looks to target gamers younger than 11-16. That said, there are several recorded instances of younger gamers falling prey to in-game purchasing and surprising their parents with huge bills. In those cases, Nightfall would no doubt have been a useful alternative.
Whether the game succeeds in its aims, of offering a fun, safe and non-commercial online environment, largely depends on whether children actually enjoy the game. The site invites kids to “play with your friends” and whether that happens will be crucial in deciding whether the game is a success or a flop. For the game to work as an alternative it has to build an enthused online community – children simply aren’t likely to stick with the game if none of their friends do.