A Visit to Magic Town


Magic Town is a wonderful new virtual world experience for kids, that’s full of exciting stories and playful interactivity. The website is also supported by an iPad app that allows young users to enjoy Magic Town almost anywhere!

Created by some very clever people at Mindshapes, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a conversation with them about Magic Town, and thought I’d share the questions I asked.

“Louis the lion is a charming character. Will we get to make friends with other Magic Town natives in the future?”

“Louis the Storyteller lives at the big tree in the middle of the Magic Town landscape. Louis’ back story is that he has traveled the world, collecting stories, and brought them here to Magic Town for kids to enjoy. Every day you can visit Louis at the tree to get the new, free story of the day. If you subscribe, you get to keep the story forever. If you don’t subscribe, but just register to use the site, then you can read the story for free, for one day. Each child gets unique stories depending on how they set up their personal profile.”

Magic Town

“Other Magic Town characters include the guides Izzy and Max. They greet you when you start playing, and appear at different points when you go into the houses to read the stories, which we call Livebooks.

There are also a series of little critters all around the landscape. Click on them to see what happens.”

“Virtual World” can be a four-letter word to some parents. How do you convince parents that Magic Town is safe for their child to use?”

“We don’t see virtual world as a four letter word. In Magic Town, the world is a safe, fun place where children can read and play and explore, either alone, or with an adult. The more you read, the more houses appear in the landscape. The site does not have any advertising. There is no interaction between users. There is no social sharing. You can read our T&C and privacy policy here.

Magic Town

“How would you make a virtual world like Magic Town for older readers?”

“Magic Town is designed for kids ages 2 to 6+, but we know older kids like it too. Picture books are great for kids of all ages.”

“Also, we are getting ready to release a game called Language City. It’s a virtual world for adults to learn english as a foreign language.”

“What comes first, the story or the interactivity?”

“All of the stories in Magic Town are called Livebooks. There are four different ways to read a Livebook. You can read about that here.

Magic Town

“The Livebooks are lightly animated and interactive. When you are online, the points where you click to advance the story flash slightly. When you are in the app, the flash and you tap. The touchpoints all relate to key parts of the narrative.”

“How do you think children will read stories ten years from now?”

“We believe both printed books and digital books have a place in the lives of children today and in the future. Magic Town is designed to inspire kids to develop a life long love of reading and learning.”



Ruby Skye P.I.


Mark your calendar, Ruby Skye P.I. is a brand new online detective series for tweens, premiering in October!

15-year-old Ruby is a detective-obsessed mystery solver, always looking for clues involving her friends and neighbors. You can follow her adventures via Twitter, FB and of course the Ruby Skye site. In the meantime, take a peek at the trailer below.

You can also watch an interesting interview with Jill Golick, the creator of Ruby Skye P.I. Jill describes her vision of how the franchise will live across different platforms, particularly web and in print, as well as mentioning a iPad app.

I have just one question.

There are already several brands out there doing the cross-platform story-telling thing for tweens, like The Amanda Project and Sweety High, and now Ruby. They’re all primarily aimed at a female audience, and that’s great.

When are we going to see a boy-aimed brand like these?

Yes, I know the research. Boys use the internet differently, they’re not as collaborative, and it’s a struggle to get them to write more than a sentence. I’m also pretty certain boys like a good adventure with challenges, victories, or at least a good old fashioned fight. At least that’s what I gather from playing World of Warcraft, which I guess is as close as it gets to a male-aimed online community.

I’m positive, if it was done right, something like Ruby Skye, or all the other cross-platform brands, could work for boys, heck, even both sexes would be fantastic… a flirtatious moderation nightmare, but still, fantastic!

Does anyone else think it’s possible? Or am I going to have to create this thing myself?!

Hmmm…


Making Your Big Break In Kids Media


Eric and I recently received a lovely letter from someone in El Salvador. Claudia is a recent graduate who really wants to take her career into the world of children’s media and wanted some advice on how to get involved – what better reason to write a blog post?

All the usual clichés of the wider entertainment industry still apply; it’s super competitive, not all fun and games and not always what, but who you know. Still, more specifically, what advice would you give to someone looking to make their big break, creating content for kids?

I’ll start with three things I think are most important, but would love to hear some other professionals share their wisdom and help newcomers like Claudia find their way.

Focus.

Whatever goal or position you want to achieve, be specific and keep trying to get there. Telling people you want to work in the media is too vague. Think of it like this, if Steven Spielberg showed up on your doorstep and asked you to help him make a movie, what would you tell him you want to do?

Now there’s a caveat to this I wish someone had told me when I graduated. Unless you’re best friends with someone like Mr. Spielberg, you’re not going to simply graduate and become a Producer or Director overnight. College is merely the first step on that path, so figure out the route you need to take to get where you want to go.

Join In.

Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Blogs – the opportunity to discover what kids media conversations are occurring right now is immense. Learn from others, but don’t be shy; contribute your own thoughts and ideas too! Don’t be afraid to share your work either, it’s what will get you noticed.

Do Do Do.

I don’t have any solid evidence to back this statement up, but I bet Picasso’s first painting wasn’t as good as his last. Whatever creative skill you want to develop, design, animation, photography, writing, or whatever; you have to keep doing it all the time. It’s the only way you’ll get better. Again, tell the world about your work, get noticed.

So there you go! I would love some other professionals to chime in with their tips, and likewise if you’re looking for advice, be sure to get in touch.


About.com Readers Choice Winners


I’m shamefully late on writing this, but the winners of the 2010 About.com Readers Choice Awards were recently announced, so Eric and I wanted to extend our congratulations.

The category for best website for kids had two great winners – Ziggity Zoom and Disney Digital Books. Take a look here to find out more about them.

In the category for best virtual world for kids, Webkinz World beat some very tough competition to claim the prize. Go here to learn more.

A very big well done to all of this years’ winners!


Competing Opinions


I’m confused.

It seems hardly a month goes by without a study being released showing how society is putting too much pressure on kids to achieve. Whether it’s sports, music, dancing or just good old-fashioned grades – you name the competition, there are bunches of families spending their yearly vacation travelling across the country so their son or daughter can win it.

I know, this is an extreme example, but there’s a vocal group of objectors crying, “Just let kids be kids!” They talk about the dire consequences of putting too much pressure on children at such and young age, and use phrases like “unstructured play time”, which I think is the scientific way of saying, tip the sofa over and pretend to be a pirate or a cowboy or something.

But wait a minute. There’s another group of experts saying parents and teachers have adopted a win-win attitude that frowns on any child facing the trauma of coming in second, third… Heaven forbid, even fourth! Again, there’s a growing concern that we’re leading kids down a path that leaves them unequipped to the reality that for every winner, there’s a loser too.

Hold on, I’m not done yet. Forget whether children are being pushed too hard or not enough, it doesn’t matter, because there’s another faction claiming children are too busy getting overweight in front of their television or computer for it to matter. According to this group, kids are just junk food chompin’ zombies, too unmotivated to do anything anyway.

So which is it? Are children pushed too hard, not hard enough or does it not even matter because they’re all to obese to care?

The only connection I can gather from these contradictory views is that no matter what, today’s children are doomed. This is a tragic assumption. Did people have a similar view twenty or thirty years ago? Is it just natural to be pessimistic about the potential of near-future generations and what kind of message does this negative outlook give to a child?

As I’ve said before, I’m not a parent yet, so I’m going to reserve any judgment until I have my own experience to draw on. However it’s a question that concerns me and I would love to know what any parents out there might think.


About.com Readers Choice awards


Don’t miss your chance to vote for the best website for kids in the About.com Reader’s Choice Awards. This year’s exciting list of nominations are:

But wait there’s more! About.com are also giving another award for the best virtual world. The list of contenders are as follows:

Here’s what’s super-interesting. Take a look at the amount of votes cast for each category, or just keep reading this if you’re lazy. At present time of writing, there’s been nearly three hundred votes for favorite kids website, but there are nearly three thousand votes cast for favorite virtual world.

That’s a serious difference, and one I’d love to know the reason behind.

Could it be that the level of competition between virtual worlds is stronger? Are virtual world fans more passionate about their favorite? Or are virtual worlds simply becoming much more popular across a rapidly growing audience? What do you think? Share your thoughts!


So you think you know Webkinz, huh?


Sometimes the coolest insights come when you least expect them. Allow me to share a tale of some impromptu audience research I experienced recently, which for me, was both eye opening and humbling in equal measure.Webkinz.com

Like everyone else on the planet, judging by the amount of people at LAX, I traveled back to the folks for Christmas for some rest and relaxation. It’s the last place I usually expect to put on my curiosity cap. Until, that is, one of my parents’ friends paid a visit, nine-year-old daughter in tow, along with a brand new Webkinz – a platypus to be exact.

“Do you guys have a computer?” Bella, the little girl asked, “I need to register Gabriel here”, waving the fuzzy creature, and confirming my belief that the box of my old toys which gets dragged out when kids come around, just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

So we went to the Webkinz site, and registered Gabriel, and this is where the magic started to happen for me. See, I know a lot about toys, and I thought I knew everything I needed to about Webkinz – you buy one, register it online and there are a bunch of rather basic games you can play with it.

No. There’s way more to it than that.

We started off playing the Webkinz Chef Challenge, a cooking game where you and an opponent must guess the right ingredients to include in such fantastical recipes as Knotty Numnums and Sorcusorbet. I figured it was a random scissors-paper-stone game mechanic, but again, I was to be mistaken.Webkinz

Narrowly impressing the chef judges more than the other player, we were awarded a bunch of KinzCash to spend on virtual clothes and accessories. Not just any old bits and pieces though, Gabriel has specific needs. According to his bio, he likes skateboarding and painting, so that’s what Bella bought to keep the virtual version of Gabriel happy, along with food, drinks and a range of décor for his new room.

As if this buying frenzy was entertaining enough, it dawned on me that the shopping experience we were enjoying was almost exactly the same as a if you were buying something for real on Amazon or eBay. This kid was confidently clicking away at the same kind of thing I remember nervously doing for the first time myself, only I was twice her age at the time!

We played some more games, earned some more points and went back to the store for more accessories, including some furniture for the fluffy little creatures’ virtual room.

One of the items Bella picked was a television, and this is what blew me away – you can watch the TV and learn the ingredients needed to win in the Chef Challenge game we’d played earlier! The recipes weren’t random, there’s just more of the Webkinz world to explore and discover in one interlocking package.Webkinz.com

This sums up my experience in two ways. Firstly I got a real kick out of the seamless experience involved in finding my way around the Webkinz site, it really is a deeply layered world offering a complete content package.

Secondly, and more importantly was a more introspective lesson. As a children’s media professional, there is so much content constantly being released, that in an effort to stay on top of it all, you’re often forced to get by with the basic concept of something really special, without fully appreciating it. I’m very happy to say this is one instance where I got to slow down and enjoy a great concept, and I encourage everyone to do the same thing.


Asterix’s Sky Celebration


This was too quirky for me to resist sharing! In celebration of Asterix’s 50th birthday, the French Air Patrol sky acrobatics team jetted off to paint a very special picture in the clouds…


Children’s Brand Timeline


My second Thanksgiving in the U.S. has been and gone, and while I enjoyed most of it relaxing and playing iPhone games, Eric has been very busy creating the long list of squiggles and boxes on the left – it’s a children’s brand timeline.

Actually, I helped a bit, so blame any mistakes on me.

Beginning with the earliest kids brand we could think of, we feverishly made a list of other important ones and then set about researching the year they were released. It was a lot of fun, but also incredibly interesting to put some perspective on a lot of household names. Did you know Mickey Mouse is a year older than Popeye… who’s the same age as Tintin? Cool!

From a commercial point of view, it’s useful to note how many classic brands were created in the 50′s and how the market virtually exploded in the late 70′s, with brands that are stronger today than ever before.

However, the timeline isn’t finished yet. Eric and I need your help.

We still have lots of space to add other significant children’s brand names, so we’d love you to send your ideas to us to be featured on the timeline. Anything from television or radio shows, to toys and breakfast cereals are welcome, so get sending.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy scrolling through memory lane. Who knows what we’ll be adding in the years to come!


When is it time to retire a children’s brand?


It has been brought to my attention that a certain large yellow creature of the avian variety, a vampire with a penchant for counting to ten, and a myriad other equally fantastical residents of a cozy New York suburb have been educating kids on televisions around the world for a staggering 40 years.

Similarly, Paris has become the center of much celebration for the 50th birthday of one of France’s greatest cultural heroes; a plucky big-nosed Gaul who likes nothing more than bashing a few Romans with his rotund superhuman friend.

But while the masses are clamoring for more Sesame Street, fans of Asterix around the world are generally agreed – enough, sadly, is enough.

While Sesame Street continues to evolve and entertain, Asterix seems to have run out of magic potion, however both brands continue to release new content. The difference lies in the fact that to countless Asterix fans, every new adventure book is a disappointment, gradually chipping away at the value the brand has built over the years.

So when, if ever, is it time to draw the curtains and put a brand to bed?

Some brands are in a constant state of expansion, keeping their core concept, but adapting to the times; Mickey Mouse might be digitally animated, but he’s still the same character. Similarly, Star Wars continues to explore a galaxy far, far away with a constant stream of video games, cartoons, toys and even an upcoming television series. Other properties may drift in and out of public conscience, but there are a rare few that are always at the fore, and seemingly untouchable when it comes to sustained popularity.

Then there’s the most unique of all brands; the one with a defined ending. The kind of book or show that finished with the audience wanting more, instead of eventually jumping the shark. Further products may still be released, but the core remains the same.

J.K. Rowling adamantly proclaims there will never be more Harry Potter books written, or movies made. Many people, myself included may find her integrity in telling a specific story admirable, but I’m left wondering if authors like A.A. Milne or J.M. Barrie thought the same thing about their creations decades ago. Both Peter Pan and now Winnie-the-Pooh have been given the sequel treatment, years after their original creators have passed away. Should their creations be left alone, with or without their estate’s approval?

Nowadays there is another element to consider – the fan created piece. Gone are the days when content was developed purely between dedicated creatives and the studios who funded them. The Web is absolutely heaving with videos and fan fiction, creating a dearth of new content. While it’s almost never recognized as an official component of the brand, the amount of content falling into this category is growing, and some brands even encourage it.

Of course the elephant in the room is the question, where are all the new brands being created? There are only so many re-makes that can be made, surely?

There are still many new ideas being explored, even more so as the technology involved in creating and delivering media continues to develop and become more accessible, however studios will continue taking the safest financial course by investing in a brand that already has a proven track record, be it securing younger new audiences with an already successful format, or luring back older audience with an existing emotional connection to the brand.

At the end of the day, profitability is going to define whether a brand continues to generate new material, but if we continue to creatively pursue new ideas, and tell new stories, it’s okay to accept a time when a character or series has finally ran it’s inevitable course. Or bashed it’s last Roman.


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Copyright © 2012 Shane Lindley