Created to fill the space of what kids do online after they outgrow the mega-popular virtual worlds of Club Penguin (www.clubpenguin.com) and Webkinz (www.webkinz.com) but before they are ready for the more adult online games of World of Warcraft or even the social networking sites of Facebook and MySpace, SuperSecret entices kids with the wish fulfillment of living a virtual life that ages them a lot quicker than in real life. After playing within this game for about 30 days, kids will age from the entry age of 10 years to age 15. With each birthday comes new privileges and things to do within this world, as well as access to new parts of this virtual world.
To make sure the game would appeal to tweens, the development team at SuperSecret turned to kids in the tween target age for advice. As explained by Ted Barnett, co-founder and the CEO of SuperSecret, "This game was designed by kids. It isn't what adults thought it should be, it is what they told us they wanted." While talking to kids, Barnett heard three themes repeated often: "Make it easy to find and communicate with your real friends, make sure there are new things to do every week, and finally, let me be not a puppy or penguin but a person who can grow up and earn the privileges that come with growing up."
Tasked with creating a game about growing up, the team created a world where kids play to earn age points – the mechanic that lets them grow older. To earn age points, kids go on quests, play minigames, and find hidden objects and collectibles. When they earn enough age points, their in-game characters have a birthday, which means that their avatars grows older visually and are granted new privileges. For example, when in-game characters reach age 11, they are allowed to own a pet. At age 12, they get a dorm room. By age 15, they are given an interest-earning bank account.
In addition to the overarching storyline about growing up, the game also allows kids to meet and hang with friends, explore secret places, and shop for cool things like clothing, furniture, and pets. For the shopping, the game has a virtual currency called "Spenders." Like age points, Spenders can be earned in a variety of ways, including playing games and completing quests.
For parents who are unfamiliar with virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games, SuperSecret is a good one for kids. Its theme about modeling real life is something tweens will find compelling. The quests require players to do good things and are easy to find by talking to nonplayer characters indicated by names typed in blue. The world is artfully drawn and each of the over 30 locations features a different musical theme. Kids choose from 20 ethnically diverse avatars that they can modify through hair styles and clothing choices, and everyone starts out as a 10-year-old. Humor is present throughout the game, and players can even send each other gag gifts. Plus, unlike other virtual worlds where the minigames can be hit or miss, SuperSecret licenses popular Flash games. As a consequence, these are games that kids want to play.
This game eases kids into how to chat in a virtual world. At first, the chat is limited to simple phrases selected from a drop-down menu. When in-game avatars reach age 12, they can ask that their real world parent grant permission to allow chat by typing. But even then, the chat is subjected to a strict filter that prohibits kids from using bad words or sharing personal information. As an additional precaution, the site uses live monitors as well.
SuperSecret is a great way for kids to learn how to play in a virtual world. It is fun, always changing, and a place to meet new and old friends. Plus, you can play the first few years of your avatar's life for free to see if you like the game. But to attain the age of 13 and beyond, you will have to purchase a reasonable monthly membership of $4.95 (or $19.95 for 6 months).
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.