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Today we are talking to Pennie Sølbeck, Partner in Tinkatolli, an excellent new kids virtual world that focuses on content creation and fostering kids creativity. We loved playing with their Tinkamaker back when they were in development, and had to ask them some questions about Tinkatolli, where it came from and what plans they have for the future.
Tell us, what’s different about Tinkatolli?
There are many things that make Tinkatolli different. The most unique would have to be the way that players’ offline activities become a part of the play – we actually require kids to do stuff away from the computer in order to advance in the game. Another exciting thing that differentiates Tinkatolli is the high level of creativity in the game – this can be seen in everything from the incredibly customizable avatar (the Tinka), to the way players’ offline creations are actually built into the virtual world.
What type of kids are your target audience?
We’ve found that the game appeals to a much wider target group than we originally intended. While the core age group is about 9-13, we have younger and older kids playing the game as well. What really excites us, is to see that we are about evenly split between boys and girls. We think this is a result of the many different levels of gameplay, and the extremely customizable Tinka. The player’s Tinkas can be as uniquely different as the players themselves.
What gaming features are you using in-world?
There are many different types of gameplay in Tinkatolli. There are mini-games, quests, scavenger hunts, skills and badges to be earned, Tinkas to care for, homes to decorate, furniture and vehicles to build. On top of that there is the very important social layer.
The fact that it is a multiplayer means that the kids are constantly interacting and finding new ways to play with each other. They chat, give gifts, make friends, trade and barter, help each other on quests, and so on. But what is really fun for us is to see the types of social games they invent – many revolve around changing the look of their avatar. For example they invented a game they call Tinkaflauge, where they change their avatar in order to completely blend in with the background, and hide from others.
Another cool gameplay element has to do with the fact that there is no currency in Tinkatolli. As a result, players have to build all of the virtual items they acquire. For example, if they want a bed for their Tinka, they have build it. In order to build, they have to find the raw materials – a match box, a cork, a cotton ball. In this way, each item a player wants leads to a kind of mini-quest where they explore the islands in search of raw material. It also creates social interaction where players give each other tips on where to find things, and they are constantly trading and bartering with each other.
We can’t talk about gameplay, without talking about the offline element of Tinkatolli. One of the most interesting ways the gameplay extends offline, is with creativity. Just as they build things in the game, players are encouraged to create and build things when they are away from the computer. For example, a player named “Coconut” collected raw materials from his home (some drinking straws and matchboxes) and designed a miniature bunk bed for his Tinka. When he came back to the game, he uploaded an image of his creation (earning points and status boost), and submitted it to the Tinkafair. A few weeks later, the other players voted for his creation to be made into Tinkatolli. Now in the game, other players can collect the raw materials and build a virtual version of this bunk bed, called the “CocoBunk”. This is just one example, the workshops in Tinkatolli are filed with virtual items – beds, tables, robots, helicopters – all designed offline, by kids.
Are there any safety features in Tinkatolli?
There is a strong emphasis from our side to keep Tinkatolli a happy, safe and fun place for kids and we monitor the world very closely, with our zero tolerance policy for hurtful behavior.
We currently have filtered chat as well as emoticon only chat for the younger players. The children’s scrapbooks (where they upload their offline creations and log activities) are locked and can only be viewed by another player if they have been given a buddy code. We recommend that the children only give the buddy code to people they actually know offline. We have a parent control panel, where an adult can control the settings such as disabling chat and staying in charge of who the buddy code is given to.
All players are aware of the rules of Tinkatolli, and are very good at reminding each other when someone starts to misbehave. There is an emoticon that can be used to indicate that a player would like another to stop their current behavior. There is also a “Report player” button that kids can press when another player is breaking the rules. We check each and every report, cross check with our chat logs, and act on them if necessary.
We already have an amazing community of kids who are passionate about taking care of other (especially new and young) Tinkas, and thanks to their commitment and love of the game, bad or suspicious behavior is nipped in the bud faster than we could ever have imagined.
How much will it cost to become a member?
Membership on Tinkatolli is priced at USD 5.95 for a one month, reoccurring subscription, USD 33.95 for 6 months or a 1 year, one-time payment of $49.95.
Tell us a bit more about you and your company’s background?
Tinkatolli’s founders: Kevin Mclean, Luke Séguin-Magee and Pennie Sølbeck have over two decades of combined experience making web based viral marketing games and games for kids. Previously Kevin and Luke co-founded UOVO, a media design company with a focus on online solutions for kids.
How long did it take to build Tinkatolli?
Work on Tinkatolli began in 2008 as a side project, after being awarded a grant from Nordic Game. For the first two years we worked part-time on a prototype which was started while also working part-time on client work. In 2010 Tinkatolli was founded as a full fledged company and started working full-time-plus on the production.
Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign for Tinkatolli
Unlike many other virtual worlds as ambitious as ours, we don’t have any investors or large companies backing us. We are just three parents who wanted to create a better way for kids to play online. We are so passionate about it, that we put everything on the line and threw everything we had into it, including both our time and personal savings. The original (and hopeful) plan was to launch the game and start generating income before our savings dried up. That didn’t quite happen. We were actually very close to being able to launch, but the two ends were not going to meet and we needed a buffer to bridge the gap.
Kickstarter seemed like a great way for us to do this. It was a platform where we could both get the word out about Tinkatolli, and give fans and future players a chance to support us in exchange for memberships and a lot of cool rewards.
How much have your raised via that method, and do you think it is a good way of raising funds?
Kickstarter was more than worth it, but not necessarily for the sake of the money alone. We reached our goal of $30,000 which was great, but what was more exciting was to see how the word spread about Tinkatolli and the way people reacted to the product.
It is a good way to raise funds and we would definitely do it again. That being said, it is important to realize what you are getting in to. A Kickstarter campaign requires a tremendous amount of work – before (preparing the campaign) , during (promoting the campaign) and after (sending rewards to all of the backers). It is also important to understand that after fees, taxes, and the cost of rewards, the amount of capital remaining to use for the actual production, can be considerably less than the amount raised.
However, what you give, you get back. It was an incredibly energizing experience for us. What really thrilled us about crowd-funding was the way each new backer became a cheerleader for Tinkatolli, a supporter in the true sense of the word. And that’s what we think is really cool – that so many of our backers realized that they are playing a part in building this fantastic universe. That’s very much what the spirit of Tinkatolli is all about.
Are you involved in any other product / marketing campaigns?
Since Kickstarter ended, we have been focused 110% on releasing the game. But we are now starting to put our marketing hats on again. We are super excited about the power of organic marketing, particularly with our target audience and a game like Tinkatolli.
For example, about a year ago we had a 6 month marketing campaign focused on the TinkaMaker – the avatar maker with endless possibilities. Each week, a player won a t-shirt with their very own Tinka on it. We launched the campaign basically by sending a link out to our friends on Facebook. Within a very short amount of time, word had spread far beyond our circle of friends and there are now kids all over the world wearing Tinka t-shirts.
By the end of this contest we had thousands of signups, and around 20 Tinkatolli fan blogs and we hadn’t even released private beta. We plan to start doing more of this kind of thing soon.
Do you have any future plans for Tinkatolli?
Absolutely! One thing about a membership based virtual world is that the development never stops, and we actually think that is just great. We are creators at heart, and our ideas pile up a lot faster than we can implement them. For example, we are just getting started on our quest-line, which will lead players on discoveries and adventures to many different islands (and hidden places on the current islands).
Apart for the constant development of the online world, we have also begun work on a few mobile phone apps. And we have plans to expand the online/offline play integration by using both new technology and “old fashioned” methods.
Oh, and our testers have also been pressuring us for a while to put those Tinka t-shirts on sale… we will have to see what we do about that one ;).
And finally, Why should kids visit Tinkatolli?
Because it is an incredibly fun, friendly, creative place to be. Tinkatolli is by no means a typical virtual world, it is different in the very best sense of the word. This means it might take a bit of getting used to, but as you discover the many exciting ways to play, the unique features, the way it lets you be creative and express yourself, you will quickly come to love Tinkatolli.
Keep an eye out for some exclusive AvatarGeneration Beta access, and every 25th sign up that uses the code will get a free 1 month Tinkatolli membership to the value of $5.95!