Spending countless hours playing pond hockey as a kid in St. Albert was one of the factors that influenced Scott Rusnak’s decision to create a hockey-themed online virtual game called Rinksters, set for release early next year.
“I was totally inspired by growing up in St. Albert and having a really cool, active lifestyle and I just hope other kids can experience that as well,” Rusnak recently told the Gazette.
He said Rinksters will allow kids to experience what it’s like to be a professional hockey player while hopefully encouraging them to be more physically active.
Rinksters is what is known to those in the online gaming community as a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), which allows a large number of players to simultaneously interact online.
In focus groups for Rinksters, which is designed for kids aged six to 12, Rusnak said participants were keen to the idea of the game, which builds on the growing popularity of hockey and online gaming.
“We said, ‘Hey, would you like to be able to skate around in an Edmonton Oilers jersey and pretend you’re on the team and go into the locker room?’ And, overwhelmingly kids said yes, they would like to do that,” said Rusnak, on Wednesday, from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I played minor hockey in St. Albert as far as you could go in St. Albert in a minor hockey league roll and I always wanted to be in the NHL and there was really no outlet for me to do that other than street hockey,” he added.
“There are a lot of kids who are online right now looking for this sort of game.”
Rusnak got the idea several years ago while watching his own children play Club Penguin, another popular virtual online game.
“When I saw my kids playing it, I thought, “I can make one of those,” he recalled.
He said the real work began about 12 months ago, after his company, Visimonde Inc. met with the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers and various hockey teams.
“They said this is a great concept, move forward and we’ll figure out the agreement,” Rusnak said.
“What we would get from the NHL would be the different logos and brands so kids could skate around the world in their favourite NHL jersey and sort of live the life.”
Although Rinksters is played indoors, on a computer, Rusnak said one of his goals is encouraging more physical activity among players.
“There is a real problem with obesity and with kids not really getting outside and doing things,” he noted.
He’s already developing an offline activation strategy to create ties between the virtual world in Rinksters and the local skating rink in Scottsdale, the Ice Den. Rusnak said he is also trying to incorporate pedometers.
“So when a kid runs around or skates around, they can then plug that back into the game and their avatar will power up,” he said.
He said the appeal of online games among kids is their ability to allow players to experience something they normally couldn’t in real life.
Rusnak said they’ve built a lot of animation into the game, which allows players to perform moves on the ice, such as a figure skater performing a pirouette.
“Most kids can’t do this,” he said.
“We’re trying to give kids that feeling.”
Rusnak and Visimonde CEO Ted Bradshaw are planning the private beta launch of Rinksters for Dec. 17. Rusnak said kids who sign up for the launch can receive special virtual items for their avatar.
Players can sign up at www.rinksters.com for an opportunity to test the game before its official release in February.