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Interview: Tinkatolli Co-Founder and CEO, Kevin McLean

We saw this cool website focused on kids and decided to check it out. Tinkatolli is a virtual play and learning ground for kids. The site was created by concerned parents who thought that they needed a safe place for their kids to learn and play online. We talked to the co-founder and CEO of Tinkatolli, Kevin McLean.

What is Tinkatolli?

Tinkatolli is a multiplayer virtual world for tweens – basically its like a big virtual playground in a safe, secure environment. Kids can explore, discover, make new friends, hangout with old friends, play mini-games, compete with each other, share. Its a universe that encourages kids be creative and have faith in their own ideas and ingenuity.
How did you come up with the idea? How many are you in the Tinkatolli team?

We came up with the idea while looking at the games that our own children were playing. We saw fun games and educational games, but found very few games that were fun and educational. We started asking ourselves what a game that kids really thought was fun but also taught them valuable lessons would look like? What would a game that kids loved and parents felt good about look like? The concept of Tinkatolli evolved as the answer to these questions.

The Tinkatolli team is very small. We are only 4 people but we are very passionate and really hard working, so we’re able to accomplish quite a bit, pretty quickly.

How much work was involved in it and how long did it take to put up such an impressive piece?
We started working on Tinkatolli in 2008 as a kind of hobby. By 2010 we were so excited by what we had and what we were doing that we decided to focus 110% on Tinkatolli. So for the least 2 years we have been working full-time on Tinkatolli. I suppose that is a long time compared to the development cycle of many games, but considering the size of our team, we are quite proud of what we have achieved in that time.
How do you wish to maintain the sanity to have kids benefit from it more and more?

We obviously want kids to play Tinkatolli, but we also really want them to keep a healthy balance in their life between screen time and other valuable activities. One thing we try to do in Tinkatolli is encourage kids to actually get up and leave the computer. We do this directly, by popping up a green icon every 10 minutes or so telling the player it’s time to get up out of the chair and move. You would be amazed at how many kids actually do jumping jacks or pushups in front of the computer in order to boost their “Move” status in the game. We also do it indirectly, by allowing kids to earn points for things they do in real life. For example, if a kid rides his bike to school, he can log the activity on Tinkatolli and earn points for it.

Are you planing to have any Facebook, Android or iOS apps?

We are already working on our first iOS app and are really excited about it. We have a lot of cool ideas for mobile apps, but at the moment we still have to spend the majority of our development hours on the core game. Facebook is something we are still looking at. We need to get a better idea of how many in our target group are actually on Facebook.

Any projects which you have planned for after this?

One of the most challenging (and most fun) things about a virtual world is that the development never stops. Players look forward to new games, new quests, new characters, new items and more. So we don’t have any projects planned after this, but we have a lot creative and exciting updates, features and tie-ins planned for Tinkatolli.

What are some of the lessons you have drawn from this experience?

Probably the biggest lesson we have learned is: Get it out there quickly. We didn’t actually let players into Tinkatolli until the end of 2010 and even then we kept it closed to all but a handful of players for about 10 months. I think the reason was that we wanted it to be perfect. But nothing is ever perfect.

One of nice things about web based products is that you can fix them as you go. Of course you don’t want to subject your users to a lot of frustrating bugs, but getting them into your game and getting their feedback as early as you can will help you to add the right features and improve quickly. A lot of the best changes we have made have happened since we opened the game up last september – it would have been an advantage to us if we had let players into the game at a much earlier stage.

Written by Robert

Respected Kenyan blogger, tech evangelist, and social justice activist. Robert is known for his hard-hitting articles and opinions disseminated through his Twitter handle @RobertAlai or Facebook page (www.fb.com/RobertAlai).

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