Now even though I say this myself, I have a really cool day job. I make games, I think of mad ideas, I get to sit in pink rooms with AstroTurf and beanbags, play with iPads and I can get to visit some very cool paces. I’ll save the story about the chat I had with Cameron Diaz in Beverly Hills about my socks for another day, but you get the point.
In the eyes of my kids (and to be fair, most of their mates too) I actually have the coolest job in the entire widest world, ever. Of course, I keep all the dull bits quite and concentrate on the good bits they like to hear about. My existence is spent doing the normal humdrum life stuff waiting for the next cool thing I can impress kids with”. I understand that as soon as my kids reach 13, I’ll be the most annoying, uncool and saddo dad, like, evaaaar! So I’m enjoying the run while it lasts. And today was one of those days when a cool thing happened.
How it happened
Friend, entrepreneur and “mummy blogger” Janis Curry, the brains behind ReallyKidfriendly.com kindly invited me as a +1 to a visit to the head quarters of Moshi Monsters, the kid friendly, monster-themed virtual world for kids. Clearly, this would have major kudos points for my Moshi Monster obsessed offspring so of course I jumped at the chance… and bonus… my 6-year-old son was invited too. I don’t know who was most excited.
Moshi Monsters in a nutshell
If you’re not sure what Moshi Monsters is, let me do an “in a nutshell” overview. Essentially it’s a fun virtual world where you adopt and nurture cute little monsters. You play games, walk around, meet other monsters (safely!), plant seeds in the garden and also earn Rox (the local currency). You can spend your Rox on little Moshlings (sidekicks), decking out your pad and so on. Much of it is free but there are premium accounts available for monthly, 6 monthly or yearly subscriptions. It’s safe, moderated and the games aim to have an invisible undertone of education, undetectable to the kids but welcomed by parents. Got it? Good… let’s continue.
Behind the scenes
The offices of Mind Candy, the company behind Moshi Monsters are pretty unassuming from the outside, and from the inside to be honest but big things are afoot and a move to bigger, better and no doubt funkier offices in Shorditch are planned later in the year. Katsuma will be sporting a Hoxton quiff and riding a fixie before you know it.
Once inside, we were ushered into one of those room filled with Moshi Monster paraphernalia, not to mention sweets and dare I say it, a beanbag. We met Andy Matjaszek (Global Product Marketing Manager) and Ed Relf (Chief Marketing Manager) and the assembled kids tucked into healthy snacks and played on the Moshi Monsters site. Meanwhile, the grown-ups listened to head honcho Michael Acton-Smith (CEO) explain the origins and future plans for Moshi Monsters. The Q&A session brought up some interesting tid bits which I will share below but the overall impression seeping through every answer was that the guys behind Moshi Monsters are doing it for all the right reasons. Success has not been at the expense of values (like keeping children safe and entertained) and has also afforded them the space to explore only the opportunities that feed kids enjoyment of the Moshi Monsters brand itself. You won’t find big ads for Sunny Delight on Moshi, likewise, you won’t find mindless shoot-em-up games or free-form chat rooms on their too. “Education by stealth” as Michael put it.
Of course, the inevitable comparison to Club Penguin (and indeed Webkins) came up but the resounding response was “There’s room for all of us”. Moshi Monsters arguably has more traction than Club Penguin with parents and teachers because of it’s smarter approach to games and activities.
TV ads still work
One of Michael’s slides showed the ubiquitous ‘growth curve’ with a fairly significant upward bend in it somewhere around last summer. When asked about it, the culprit was simple… TV advertising. It’s really interesting to see this time and time again. Online is fantastic at deep engagement for kids. TV is fantastic for awareness. Mix the two together and good things happen (assuming the online element lives up to the advert). There was, of course, a full media plan behind this meteoric rise, including outdoor, digital, press and the usual suspects but TV was the main pltform when it comes to introducing a new brand to kids. It certainly worked for my kids. Club Penguin was unceremoniously dumped in favour of Moshi Monsters a few months back, roughly the same time that the Moshi Monster aired on Disney XD.
So what other news is there from Moshi Monsters?
- Yes there will be the ubiquitous trading cards. The finer details are top secret (and I’d have to kill you etc.) but looked really good. Game mechanic and scoring is simple and will be well known to fans of trading cards. They will feature a huge variety of new monsters, many appealing to a wry sense of humour
- The ‘undeveloped’ areas of the Moshi Monsters world are being developed as we speak. an example is the ‘Goo-genheim’ art gallery and museum to showcase all the art and creativity kids send in.
- There are discussions for iPhone apps, a web TV series and toys to name but a few. Each one seemed carefully scrutinised to uphold the morals and valued of the Moshi Monster ethos.
- One resourceful teacher even used Moshi as a basis for inspiring her class to create puzzles and invent items for a home-made Moshi Monsters shop.
- Moshi Monsters is currently kept running by about 35 staff. But big expansion plans are coming.
- For those of you from the digital agency / game dev background, you may be interested to know Mind Candy run a fully Agile Scrum system with an entire wall filled with postits tracking the various projects. Very impressive to see in action.
Some fun facts from Moshi Monsters
- A new child signs up to Moshi Monster every second.
- The first monster Michael sketched was called Chico (pictured below)
- 75% of the Moshi Monsters audience are between 6 and 12 years old.
- There is a 60/40 girl/boy split but this is heading more towards 50/50.
- CEO Michael Acton-Smith’s own Moshi Monster is called MrMoshi
Get the crayons out
The day was topped off with a tour of the studio an appearance from Trevor White (illustrator and concept artist) who did a valiant attempt at trying to teach the assembled grown-ups and kids how to draw Katsuma, one of the Moshi Monsters. Nice touch. The guys at Aardman Studios do a similar thing and in a way, the Mind Candy crew have a very similar vibe to the Aardman folks down in Bristol. They are passionate about their craft, have been successful enough to keep hold of the creative reins and when all’s said and done, what they make does the talking… and speaks volumes.
And it gets better
And if all that excitement wasn’t enough, we were issued with several bags of Moshi Monster goodies for the kids. I won’t tell you what was in them but rest assured, I secretly wished I had one too! But on reflection, I’m not that worried about the goody bag (ish), I just had another cool moment to impress my kid’s friends with. That’ll keep me going for a few weeks at least!
I’ll be watching the new adventures of Mind Candy and Moshi Monsters with interest. The next 12 months sounds like a very exciting time both for the Moshi Monster world and it’s audience of little monsters.
If you’ve not been to Mosh Monsters… pull yourself together… go there now. And if you’re lucky, your friend’s kids will think your cool.