I have been dreaming up some ideas for a high-school MMO. Something along the lines of ‘Surviving High School’ (which is quite a nice little linear RPG for the iPhone where you try to become the school’s quarterback while passing your exams and being popular etc.) and ‘Princess Maker’ (which is a game-of-life type thing where you make decisions about the activities of your character as she grows up, as well as getting her jobs, scheduling her week’s studies/routines and taking her on Rogue-like dungeon crawls).
On the iPhone, the one (thematically) related game is High School Hero. It’s pretty similar to Mafia Wars – i.e. the game is the grind. I still can’t claim to understand the appeal of this; repeatedly pressing a button and watching your stats climb, then attacking other players and stealing a bit of their stats when you beat them. No depth or strategy or even graphics, just grind.
I tried watching some youtube reviews, but really learned little new due to the incoherency of the 10-yr olds who made them.
I think High School Hero has a social draw – there’s cliques (=clans) which have private noticeboards and can run parties for an all-round stat boost (yes, it really is mostly about watching numbers climb). There’s the dress-up part of the game, which does make good sense if you assume the game is social – buying clothes and hairstyles etc. There’s dating, which again is mostly about stat boosting and earning badges but also again there’s a social hook there – your character spends 4 hours presumably with a private chat room available with his/her datee.
Imagine a high school game where there are different schools, and football leagues, exams to sit etc. Your character needs to be managed wisely if he/she is to come top of the class, or become the star quarterback, or even get to progress through school at all. This could add a longer-term and strategic element while removing the grind as central gameplay element, and retaining the social aspects such as cliques, dress-up and dating. One day real-time is one week in-game, so a year would take 1.5 months, and you’d need to log in daily to adjust your plans for the week, attend special events and deal with little roleplaying curveballs that the game would throw at you. Or do kids really prefer grind to gameplay?