Monster Mash: Interview with Mind Candy
Moshi Monsters, the popular free online game for children, passed the 1.5 million user mark this month. New Media Knowledge met the people behind it to find out the secret to its success.
Moshi Monsters, a free-to-play online educational game for children, announced that 1.5 million ‘monsters’ had been created on its site since its launch in 2007. This is a major milestone both for the game and its creators, social gaming company Mind Candy.
Moshi Monsters is a world of adoptable pet monsters, a cross between a virtual pet, social network and educational puzzle games site for kids. Mind Candy says its puzzles test a variety of skills including basic maths, spatial awareness, logic, counting, anagrams and vocabulary. Moshi Monsters enables children to ‘adopt’ their own pet monster and play games online with millions of other children across the world.
Mind Candy was established in 2004 by Michael Smith, also the company’s CEO, a UK-based entrepreneur who previously founded Firebox.com and networking event Second Chance Tuesday. NMK got in touch with Smith to learn more about Moshi Monsters and how online gaming can bring children together.
What was the inspiration for Moshi Monsters?
I've been thinking about the game since 2005 although development didn't begin until 2007. I spent years in the toys industry with Firebox and was fascinated by the virtual pets space - Tamagotchi, Furby, Neopets etc. I wanted to create a new type of virtual pet that would be fully animated and take advantage of developments in flash technology and the uptake of broadband.
The site went live in April 2008 and we've just hit 1.5 million registered users without any marketing spend so the game is spreading rapidly via word-of-mouth
What’s the game plan?
You sign up and adopt one of six possible monster types. You can interact with it in a variety of ways such as tickling, feeding, playing, dressing-up, shopping and so on. You earn Rox (the in-game currency) to buy new things by playing the daily puzzle games. There is also a safe social element so you can add your friends and communicate with them. There are a host of other features as well such as a garden, mini games, daily blog, forums, competitions, stories and so on.
You have a world-wide user base. Where do most come from and what language options are available?
It's only in English at moment but we will start localising in a few months. About a third of our users are from the UK, a third from the US, and a third from the rest of the world.
What age group are the typical users?
The core audience playing the game is aged seven to 11.
What is the educational element of Moshi Monsters?
There are over 35 puzzle games in the site that test a variety of educational skills, such as anagrams, basic numeracy, spatial awareness, logic, and so on. Kids love playing the games and trying to beat their high-scores without realising they are learning at the same time.
If it’s free, how does it make Mind Candy money?
The basic version is free but users can buy a Moshi Membership for a few pounds a month that unlocks a host of premium features.
You say 13 million friends have been made – what’s the social networking element to Moshi Monsters? How can kids interact?
Every user has a friend's tree in their room and that is the interface through which they add and track their friends. They each have a pin board and can leave each other messages on it.
Is it parent-supervised? What security settings are in place to identify potentially sinister adult users?
We have a team of moderators around the world that are watching the site and ensuring everything is safe. We have a sophisticated administrative system to watch what is going on within the game and respond to any unusual behaviour. I've been surprised - and delighted - by how well behaved the community is.
How is the children’s online game market looking at the moment?
It's huge. Club Penguin was bought by Disney for $700 million and there are a lot of other kids’ sites starting to make substantial revenues. It's a very exciting space that will see substantial growth over the next few years.