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Transatlantic transmedia Moshi craze aiming to become a UK billion dollar start-up

At the recent Digital Life Design Conference in Munich, Jason Calacanis, CEO of web knowledge-sharing service Mahalo, advised budding entrepreneurs of the importance of being able to pivot from Plan A to Plan B when Plan A appears not to be working. In other words, cut the losses and start a new business project. In her Telegraph tech start-up article back in January, Wendy Tan White, founder and CMO of website builder Moonfruit.com, appeared to also endorse this point of view: ‘..the best players in the world usually play in many games before hitting their first “home run” [exiting for at least $500million]…Twitter was Jack Dorsey's fourth business; Bebo was Michael Birch's fourth too.’

 

As the latest installment of the runaway success story known as Moshi Monsters, a social networking online game for 6-12 year olds, yesterday at the New York Toy Fair, Michael Acton Smith, founder of Battersea-based Mind Candy, unveiled his new range of Moshi Monsters toys for the US market. Experts now predict that the brand is on course to become the global numero uno in transmedia kids entertainment property, joining the hallowed ranks of icons such as Teletubbies and Thomas The Tank Engine. Yet this a phoenix-like outcome a far cry from Smith’s previous project, the alternative reality game (ARG) Perplex City, which in 2007 announced there would be no series 2. Hindsight now reveals his pivot was already being hatched.

 

The Moshi Monsters site has been likened to a cross between Facebook for kids, Tamagotchi & Brain Training as it combines nurturing virtual pets with social online gameplay and engaging educational puzzles. Both boys and girls like the unisex monsters. And the stats continue to blossom: 34m worldwide users (a third of those US-based), 2m more signing up each month, now a case that half of all UK 6-12s have ‘adopted’ a virtual Moshi pet and estimated 2011 sales for the toys and other  licensed spin-off products - $100m. 

 

The spring / summer range which hit UK shelves last month includes Talking Monsters, plush, collectible figures and Backpack Buddies. To date the campaign has enlisted the participation of some major UK retailers – Tesco, Sainsburys, Toys R Us, Argos and The Entertainer. The current licensing programme also presses on with a host of by-products  – Moshi Bandz, Membership Cards, Gift Packs, Trading Cards (Topps), Top Trumps (Winning Moves), Calendars (Danilo), Posters (GB Eye) and Books (Penguin). As stated by Mike Butcher of Techcrunch – ‘licensees are keen to get involved because the risk is removed as the IP has proved itself by creating a real fan base’.

 

Although this model of media merchandising has a history – e.g. the $500m George Lucas made from Star Wars products from 1977 to 1980 – Mind Candy’s current success still represents an entrepreneurial first. By taking a web-based children’s  entertainment brand into the physical products space, they have achieved monetization of untried territory. The toy market - estimated as worth an annual $22bn in the US – currently remains one of the last commercial spheres yet to be disrupted by the web.

 

Small wonder the guys (Finland’s Rovio Mobile) behind puzzle video game Angry Birds are also reported to be following suit. No wonder too, with his on-off-on-line marketing loop endlessly recruiting fresh engagement –  many of the toy products incorporate special codes which unlock extras within the Moshi Monsters website – Michael Acton Smith was recently prompted to declare: “We’re going to try and build a billion dollar start up in London and make Europe proud.”

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