The Horrible Histories brand is highly successful and has expanded since its inception in 1993 to include a highly acclaimed television series, and it has won several awards.
But What Happened To The Horrible Histories Virtual World?
Developing The Horrible Histories Virtual World
In April 2010, Scholastic Children’s Books announced that it was developing a virtual world based on its very successful range of Horrible Histories books.
It was working with Yomego, a virtual world designer and social media integration specialist.
Users of the Horrible Histories virtual world would be able to explore the various areas of the world such as Terrible Tudor London or Awesome Egypt.
According to the publishing and commercial director of Scholastic Children’s Books the virtual world would allow children to explore the books in an interactive way and be as entertaining as well as a learning experience.
Visitors to the virtual world could create an avatar who was dressed in an authentic historical costume, explore virtual shops, and chat with other users.
They could also subscribe to events and get the chance to meet with one of the book’s authors, Terry Deary.
At the beginning of 2011 the brand posted that it was seeking ‘gruesome guinea pigs’ to test the virtual world.
It was planned that it would go live in June 2011 but was delayed until September 1st 2011. Beta testing began in May of that year.
What Was In The Horrible Histories Virtual World?
So what exactly could visitors to the Horrible Histories virtual world expect to encounter?
Built on Yomego’s sister company Huzutech’s platform with entirely new technology, there were five areas which were based on the books.
These included the Ruthless Romans, Awful Egyptians, Terrible Tudors, Measly Middle Ages and Perilous Pirates.
Kids under 13 years old were required to have someone supervising them but could take part in quizzes and quests within the different areas of the world. They could also trade with other visitors to the world.
Games included Mummy Madness as part of the Awesome Egyptians experience, Chops Away with the Terrible Tudors and Putrid Pirate Battleships alongside the Perilous Pirates.
There was also moderated chat and live events.
Every week the Horrible Histories virtual world team would add new things and in the nine months that it was up and running it attracted 70,000 users.
However, it was only open to UK residents.
Why Did The Horrible Histories Virtual World Not Succeed?
Yomego worked with Scholastic Books on the design of the Horrible Histories virtual world for more than 18 months.
Together they devised the gameplay, designed and developed the features and recruited commercial partners. So what went wrong?
The books and the subsequent CBBC television series had both been hugely successful. Kids loved the way the books presented history as fun, and a bit gruesome.
With the virtual world they could dress up as a gladiator or play with pirates, bringing history to life.
The heads of Yomego and Scholastic Children’s Books were convinced that the Horrible Histories brand was made for the virtual world and would be a commercial and marketing success.
The world could be accessed via all new platforms including iPads, mobile phones and tablets.
It opened the door for media companies and brand owners to build their online presence within each user’s digital social life.
It was combining an educational topic with the functionality of a social network and massive multiplayer games all in an entirely new way (see also “How To Use Educational Games In The Classroom“).
The online worlds were persistent-state, meaning they continued to change even when the user logged off.
Nevertheless, in June 2012 the Horrible Histories virtual world was shut down.
What Happened After The Horrible Histories Virtual World Closed Down?
After shutting down the Horrible Histories virtual world the main parts of it were integrated into the main Horrible Histories website.
Scholastic Children’s Books said that after the shutdown the main features of the virtual world such as the games, quests, quizzes and virtual trading would move to the core brand site.
This site, horrible-histories.co.uk has since also closed down.
The company had hoped that by migrating the content from the virtual world to the main brand site it would be able to enhance and open up the brand’s online experience.
They were hoping to bring it more inline with the Pottermore model that was launched in the same year as the Horrible Histories virtual world.
This website, created by the Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling was launched as a virtual world where users could play characters from the stories and engage in adventures parallel to Harry Potter.
When it came to selling the books as e-books online, rather than taking a deal from Amazon or other online booksellers, Rowling decided to sell them via the Pottermore website.
Unlike other e-book sellers who sell books in their own digitally encrypted format to prevent online sharing or reselling Pottermore did not encrypt the book.
Instead it included a digital watermark to prevent theft. So if the book were uploaded to a file sharing platform the trail would lead back to the owner.
Scholastic Children’s Books were perhaps hoping to emulate this model with their Horrible Histories books.
However, the e-book versions are now sold on Amazon for Kindle, on Kobo and other online book sellers around the world, so this clearly didn’t happen.
It’s not actually clear why the Horrible Histories virtual world was closed down when the books, and TV series were so popular.
In addition, Scholastic Children’s Books and the virtual world developer, Yomego were so convinced that it would be successful.
In fact, they said Horrible Histories was ‘perfect’ for the virtual world. In the end it lasted just nine months with only 70,000 users all of which were resident in the UK.
The reason for the demise of the Horrible Histories virtual world is not entirely clear, but luckily the printed books, and now e-books are still going strong.
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