As a child growing up in the 2000’s, watching cartoons was basically a given. Among other channels broadcasting to American children and young teenagers such as Nickelodeon or Boomerang, Cartoon Network stands out in my mind as a titan of colorful, animated programming. It was simply a staple for a child when they had their share of television time or, better yet, if they had their own TV. It is also fair to say that Cartoon Network thought of itself in a similar way, as it very rapidly spawned the Adult Swim network that aired late at night in order to grab and maintain a piece of the teen-age and young-adult audience. There was also a steady stream of new and popular releases such as Adventure Time that would occasionally become cult classics in their own right. Alongside all of this explosive growth, Cartoon Network quickly developed their internet presence, officially launching their website in 1998.
Cartoon Network noticed the importance of being able to access and play games online very early on, especially among younger users. On the February 1999 site, there is little to see on the front page other than a few pictures and other small areas with hypertext linking you to similarly simple web pages. Even still, there is plenty of color to catch the eyes of users, once again targeting the primary audience of children roughly eight to eleven years old. Perhaps some of this effort on color was sometimes lost to users without the right systems, but it was certainly important for those who could see it. These splashes of color extend even to links where site visitors can travel to share their opinion about the website or reach out to email one of their favorite cartoons. Within this front page one can find a link for “games” which, if followed, leads to some basic Shockwave Plugin games thematically tied to series airing at the time. There are titles such as “Nascar Wacky Racing Game” and “How Zorak Stole Christmas” with equally exciting captions such as “You drive this tricked out set of wheels!” and “Oh No! Zorak is stealing X-mas!” respectively. Finally, there is a link nestled under all of this that directs users to help them download the Shockwave Plugin needed to play their games. It is obvious that many users were likely unable to play the games based on the system requirements and the age of many of the users. Nevertheless, the intent by Cartoon Network is clear and probably made an impact on a number of children with computer access who were able to reach their site.
By October of 2010, it is not surprising to see that the website was radically renovated. This is especially true for the aesthetic features, which are where the eye of the user is first drawn. The background to the main page itself is fairly high resolution image as if one is looking toward the back of a geometric space. There is variety in color and small doodles or cartoons spread out throughout the imaginary room. Though it is hard to capture the full effect today, there were scrolling images tied to events or shows directly in the middle of the screen. These would cycle through 8 different announcements before beginning again, and users could likely navigate to pages that contained more information by interacting with the images. The “New Games” section is placed conspicuously to the right of this central panel, and itself features images as links to newer games along with a link to access the archive of games stored on the site, which at the moment was already 242. The importance of the gaming aspect is emphasized further by the panel to the left of the center. Here, there was a constantly updating feed that announced as account-holding users of the website earned badges by scoring achievements in the various games. As part of being a site for children, every name on the board is a three word combination beginning with an adjective or title, followed by a name and then a noun. This feed drives users to create their own account, as it is placed just barely below the links to sign up or log in and a notice to “Show Off Your Badges!” Clearly, the site already had maximizing the time users spent on it in mind. This would work in tandem with the designated advertising space, which was placed slightly away from the central focuses of the homepage but still visible to any and all users. Not only were there the games themselves, but there was also a comment section below each game or video. In order to spark engagement even in younger users, there would sometimes be a prompt such as “Would you want Scooby as a pet?” Mixed in amongst the replies to the prompt are presumably older users commenting on the games themselves, either strategically or thematically, and responding to each other.
Altogether, the site seemed capable of garnering a fairly large user base over even over its early lifetime. Though some kids would eventually outgrow the shows and their corresponding games, these users would be quickly replaced by new visitors who had recently become old enough to earn their share of computer time or get their own personal computer. By marketing online games tied to the network’s most popular shows, the website managed to convince many children to spend time playing along with their favorite characters whenever they were not busy watching them.
Featured image taken from Wayback Machine