Getting the kids to save the world

The world of Ekoloko gives children a chance to chat and play games, while saving the world from destruction. When was the last time you saved the world? Now, there’s a challenge. Ekoloko, a new, green-themed virtual world not only …

The world of Ekoloko gives children a chance to chat and play games, while saving the world from destruction.

When was the last time you saved the world? Now, there’s a challenge. Ekoloko, a new, green-themed virtual world not only gives kids a chance to chat and play games, they can also help to save the world from destroying itself.

“All of the content is around the environment and social awareness,” says Guy Spira, CEO of Ekoloko. “We feel passionate about the mission. Kids can get involved with the adventures, have a total fun experience and at the same time absorb values and knowledge.”

Visit Ekoloko’s home page, and you will see that this virtual world is also one of the most gorgeously colored, animated graphic worlds out there. It never gets dark in Ekoloko.

Ekoloko’s free beta site was launched in Israel recently. “We have created a full world for kids. They really, really like it,” Spira tells ISRAEL21c. Picking up and tossing plastic bottles into a recycling bin, or helping a ranger build a tower to save the trees in the jungle, kids get emotionally involved in the challenging activities. Plus there is a reward. They can earn activity points, leadership points, and even kokos, Ekolokian money, with which they can go buy clothes or other items in the virtual “department store.”

Kids want to be part of a community

Spira, former general manager of Max Brenner chocolates, and his brother-in-law, Gal Darom, operations and technology, who has worked in the high-tech industry for some years, started Virtual Tweens (Vtweens) a year and a half ago. They were looking for the right business opportunity, and as parents, were aware of kid’s needs. “Kids want to be part of a community, they want to interact,” explains Spira.

Social networking on the Internet, a growing phenomenon in itself, is changing the way people spend their time. It is the strongest hook in measuring the success of a virtual world site, according to research.

“Over 350 million people visit virtual worlds now; 40 percent are kids (over 100 million.) It is a huge market. The under 16-age group is growing more than any other. There are several worlds for kids over 14, but the 8 to 12 year olds are underserved,” says Spira.

According to market forecasts, the number of users logging into virtual worlds is expected to exceed one billion by 2012, with total revenue $3 billion.

“Our concept is global, but we have a local marketing strategy,” says Ekoloko’s savvy CEO who has a MA in Business Administration from Stanford University, a BA in Economics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as years of experience in marketing and management. “We know that kids like to communicate in their own language. Each language has its own slang, and misspellings.”

Poised to enter Europe and the US

Currently available in English and Hebrew, one of Ekoloko’s major advantages is that it is built on a multi-language platform. It can be integrated into any language. The company is poised to enter the European market, and expects to enter the North American market in the second part of this year.

“Kill the monster and get the gold, is the main theme in most massive multi-player online games,” notes Spira. Virtual worlds for kids are typically a playground where kids play, earn money and buy stuff. Ekololo’s green-themed adventures are more intriguing. “We offer a full story line.” In one scenario, the jungle leader becomes ill and participants have to find their way to the medicine doctor. One of the lessons they learn when carrying out the task is that 25 percent of the world’s medicines come from the jungle.

“We have a top-notch team including science educators who provide us with information about different environments, and creative writers with lots of experience in animation projects to create the adventures,” says Spira.

Ekoloko provides in-depth adventures in the desert and the jungle, and will be adding “space” in the next two months. A visit to Atlantis (the ocean) is also on the drawing board.

A different experience

“Adventures are based on games that have proven playability. What we do is let the kids enter each game with their own character, customize the graphics to our look and feel, and tie the games together with our storyline. At the end of the day the kids have an experience which is very different from any other place,” says Spira.

In the beginning of 2008, Vtweens got $1 million in seed money from strategic investors: Gigi Levy, a leading investor in Internet in Israel, and Liran Talit, the founder of Baby TV, (taken over by Fox) and now in 60 countries. In the US, Adam Grossman and Elihu Gordish in the ALTA Fund are among the angels. The company plans to go for another round of financing early this year.

The company’s objective is to stimulate substantial growth in Israel in the next six months. One month after the launch, the company already had 5,000 registered users. On average, they spend 30 minutes a day per session. The most active bring their friends.

Somewhere down the line, the site will also sell real, as well as virtual merchandise to Ekoloko fans.

Ekoloko is foraging into turf that was first staked out by Club Penguin, now owned by Disney. There are a couple others in the field such as Zookazoo. But, given Ekoloko’s superior content and graphics, plus its multi-lingual platform, it is sure to take a big part of the market for green VW’s for tweens.