Posted on Feb. 9, 2011. Listed in:
How successful can an online game with a social conscience be? For Kiwi entrepreneur Melissa Clark-Reynolds, founder of the MiniMonos virtual world for kids, very—if the growing numbers are anything to go by.
“Kids are capable of far more than playing online games and buying stuffed animals. We wanted to find out just how much more by growing a community of good green kids dedicated to having fun and contributing to a sustainable world,” says Clark-Reynolds.
Based in New Zealand, MiniMonos (little monkeys in Spanish) is a virtual world for green kids centred around values of sustainability, generosity, community and fun. Children create their own monkey avatars and embark on living in an environmentally conscious world, which translates to real life learning in a way that doesn’t preach.
Clark-Reynolds describes is as “a place that embodies core values like sustainability and generosity, without turning those values into a boring lecture”.
The core concept at play with MiniMonos is that rather than being "taught", sustainability is normalised. Kids grasp that if they don't play the recycling game their tree houses get messy; or if they don't clean the lagoon, the fish don't come back. By catching clouds in the Flight game, kids can make wind turbine spin which generate power for their tree houses.
Currently, the MiniMonos online community has passed 87,000 members representing 150 countries, not bad for a venture launched in 2009. And come April, the team is anticipating the numbers to break the 100,000 mark.
In creating MiniMonos, Clark-Reynolds, who has been personally trained by Gore to present The Inconvenient Truth slideshow, was spurred into action when snorkelling with her daughter on a family trip in Greece. Looking for sea turtles with her daughter, Clark-Reynolds wondered how much longer the turtles could withstand ocean temperature changes, and was terfied by the thought that one day her daughter might have to tell her own children that “there used to be turtles.”
Funding for the initial development of the game came from Clark-Reynolds and a number of angel investors, including Movac, one of TradeMe’s key investors.
But what sets the game further apart from other online games targeted at a similar age group, like Club Penguin for example, which was acquired by Disney in 2007 for a cool US$350 million (NZ$451 million), is that there’s not a spot of adverting to be found on MiniMonos. While membership is free, there are subscription options.
“We’re incredibly conscious of keeping our revenue in alignment with our core values,” says MiniMonos online community manager Jonathan Collins.
He says the MiniMonos revenue model is three-fold: First, MiniMonos generates revenue from the sale of subscriptions. Paid membership, known as Top Banana Gold, allows monkeys to change the colour of their t-shirts, get special items for their treehouse, get Top Banana status for as long as their Gold memberships remain active, and get a variety of other perks and privileges.
Collins says the online behaviour is tied in with intiitiatives that touch the real world.
“Every MiniMonos Gold membership goes to provide clean water for children in India, we've adopted orphan orangutans and are currently helping the WWF-NZ with their tiger campaign.”
Another revenue stream is micro-transactions whereby members can purchase Banana Chips or Shells to exchange in-world for a range of virtual items—from recycled furniture for their treehouses to clothing for their Monkey avatars. Shells can also be used to purchase virtual tiger suits, which trigger a donation to the WWF Tiger Initiative.
The third form of revenue comes via corporate partnerships, like the company’s arrangement with Meridian Energy. Collins says the partnership with allowed 10,000 kids to get free Gold membership and supplied clean water to 20 children in India for a year.
The journey of MiniMonos so far is one Collins says has blown the team away, especially in terms of the generosity and compassion shown by members.
“Several of them have adopted their own orangutans. They've come up with initiatives like Pick-Up Trash Fridays, run eco-themed competitions using their own money, and in general are leading us with their tireless efforts to steward the planet.”