Archive for the 'Age 08-10/Grade 3-5/Tween' Category

10 Years of Kids Virtual World Data

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

10 years of cumulative online uniques to children's virtual worlds in the US

(Click image above to see larger, complete version of chart.)

In the early virtual world days, when Club Penguin and Webkinz were just beginning to be the biggest online destination for kids, I started collecting online data about those worlds. Bit by bit, month by month. Over a few years it became kind of a data archiving obsession, which also included the older NeoPets world, and in the years to come hundreds of other online destinations of interest to kids. Poptropica, WoozWorld, Jumpstart, Wizard101, Roblox, Fantage, Moshi Monsters, Minecraft, and Animal Jam to name some of the most popular virtual worlds. Over time I followed almost 600 virtual worlds that appealed to kids and occasionally some for adults. In those early days I used an online tool called Compete.com to collect my data. It was a rather inexpensive tool, and when I compared the data coming from this product to actual data shared with me by some of these virtual worlds, I found both sets of data to be surprisingly in line with each other.

Fast forward to today. A client recently asked for some historic data on successful virtual worlds for kids, in particular those destinations that are still an ongoing concern. Sadly many worlds despite their earlier success didn’t survive. (More on that in a moment.) So I brushed the dust of of my old data, added in some new data, and much to my surprise I found I had information that collectively told the story of the rise and fall of children’s virtual worlds. That is the rise and fall of many,… but not all.

If you click on the smaller first chart above you will see it will pop open a larger and more detailed chart. This larger chart compares the top 12 virtual world destinations for children over a 10 year plus period of time (2006 – 2016). It contains cumulative monthly unique traffic in the US. Unique user traffic piled on top of other virtual world traffic. You can see in the earlier years of this chart Neopets, Club Penguin, and Webkins traffic combined reached a high collectively at the end of 2007 which is about a third of all traffic you see when comparing it to the many more virtual worlds in the race by the year 2013. Virtual worlds for kids were not only growing in popularity, so too was access to the internet for children.

You will notice some lettered markers placed at the top of this chart (A, B, C, D & E). Each marker notes the growing popularity of Apple iPads over time, starting with its debut in 2010 (A). Once iPad popularity reach a tipping point in mid 2013 (D), with 55% of all 2 – 10 year olds having access to an iPad, things in the online virtual world space started to change. You will note the sizable drop in online traffic over the next two years. What happened to the success of these virtual worlds? Well, most virtual world destinations were built with an interactive authoring tool called Adobe Flash. Sadly, Flash wasn’t supported on iPads. This was intentional on Apple’s part. Whatever Apple’s reason for not allowing Flash to work on its iPads, it was a real processing hog, and back in the day it would usually be the reason your computer or laptop fan kicked on, which if you had a laptop, the fan turning on would start to drain your laptop’s battery.

Virtual worlds that were developed in Flash now had a problem. With kids migrating from desktop or laptop computer to iPads, most virtual world companies had a decision to make. That decision often involved deciding how their virtual worlds would work in another tool, and individually would these companies have the time, resources and money to migrate to another tool. Yes, there were other factors involved as the virtual world space matured, COPPA and privacy concerns for one, but the Flash development issue was a sizable problem for many and one that most couldn’t overcome. The few worlds that were able to cross this chasm were Minecraft, Roblox, Poptropica and Animal Jam. Part of their solution was to develop their virtual world products to work on the iPad, and often later Andriod tablets, while at the same time keeping an online web-based version of their products operational, even if it meant having two different technology solutions moving forward. One for web, and another for tablet.

10 years of cumulative online uniques to children's virtual worlds in the US

(Click image above to see larger, complete version of chart.)

This next chart, when clicked to enlarge, provides additional detail about the overlap in traffic from online uniques to app downloads, only in the US. A couple of things immediately to note. First, the app download traffic is a fraction of the online unique traffic. Online traffic for children’s virtual worlds in its heyday was collectively almost five times that of app downloads of the same product. Also, the Compete.com data ends in November 2016. Sadly Compete.com as a service shut down in December 2016. The online tool I’m using to track app downloads is Priori Data. This data does not provide the full picture of when these surviving virtual worlds originally launched their virtual worlds as an app, but the app data service App Annie does provide that information, and is included as a table on top of these charts.

When looking at the app download data it looks like Roblox is seriously beating out Minecraft. An important distinction to make about the two apps; Roblox can be downloaded for free, whereas Minecraft costs $6.99 to download. Minecraft users have to pay to use the app from day one. Roblox users can try before they buy, though users might enjoy the experience more with in-app purchases. This is also true for Animal Jam and Poptropica, where you can download a freemium version of the app, and convert to a paid monthly subscription after trying out the product or simply purchase in-app items.

If you have any insights to share about this data, or you have any questions, please send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!

Additional references for the first chart:

Rideout, V. J. (2011). Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America (p. 19, 21). San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. (click to view).

Rideout, V. J. (2013). Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America 2013 (p. 9, 20). San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. (click to view).

Rideout, V. J. (2014). Learning at home: Families’ educational media use in America (p. 18, 19). A report of the Families and Media Project. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. (click to view).

Rideout, V. J. (2015). The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens (p. 22). San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. (click to view).

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Noteworthy Tech Toys from Toy Fair

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Scott Traylor's 2019 Technology Toy finds from the International Toy Fair

Every February I write an article about the lastest technology toys announced at the International Toy Fair. Playful gifts that have buttons, batteries, and sometimes motors and screens. I first started attending Toy Fair in 2002, and have followed it almost religiously ever since. My interest is specifically electronic toys; sometimes educational, sometimes just playful.

It’s really hard to make a successful tech toy product. Since I fist started following the category (the NPD Group calls this toy supercategory “youth electronics”) I’ve seen really great advancements not only with components used, chip sets and price points, but more specifically play patterns that actually appeal to children. Not an easy thing to get right. Most major technology toy misses spend more time focusing on the wiz-bang of the electronics than the play appeal.

Each year I put together a presentation of what I found in the tech toy space. I share my document with clients and other toy reviewers, but this year I thought I’d simply make it available for anyone interested in taking a look. You can click the image above or click here to download a copy. Please feel free to share with others and send me an email to let me know what you think!

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Toys with a baked-in tech twist top New York Toy Fair

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

Hidden Side by LEGO

[The following is a feature article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, February 20, 2019.]

With the close of New York’s International Toy Fair, toy fair season has ended. Toy companies spend months, even years, preparing to unveil their playful masterpieces in NYC. The toy industry is one that lives and dies by the new ideas it has to generate every few months to stay ahead of the game. It moves fast to stay ahead of trends, and if a company is very lucky, it defines those trends.

The category of technology toys has matured well over the last decade, and has taken a giant step forward over last year’s products. In the early days companies chasing shiny new tech often released toys that had forced play patterns, which resulted in poor play experience coupled with sizable financial losses. But things are changing. Tech toys are a high risk, high reward game – and here are some of the brightest tech toy announcements to come out of Toy Fair in the last week.

Pictionary Air by Mattel

Pictionary Air by Mattel

Mattel has a modern twist to the popular Pictionary game. Using a special light-up pen that pairs with the Pictionary Air mobile app, the drawer illustrates their clue in the air. The app captures the drawing in real time, and displays the masterpiece on a screen. Live drawings can be recorded and saved for playback. For larger groups, the image can be projected onto a TV screen through Apple TV or Chromecast. The new game is for kids eight and up, retailing for US$19.99, and will be available fall 2019. The app will be iOS and Android compatible.

Hidden Side by LEGO

Hidden Side by LEGO

LEGO Hidden Side is an augmented reality-enhanced play experience. Once a LEGO kit is built, kids explore a haunted alternative reality hidden within their construction. Each kit has AR mysteries and challenges to solve, and the play expands over the many kits. Ready for summer 2019, sets are appropriate for kids eight and up, and range in price from US$19.99 to US $129.99, depending on the LEGO kit purchased. They will work with iOS and Android devices.

Rockit Twist by LeapFrog

Rockit Twist by LeapFrog

LeapFrog’s Rockit Twist is the latest learning game platform with a clever input alternative. The various buttons on this handheld device feel a bit like a fidget box, which is a great input extension and appropriate enhancement from the traditional D-pad found on most gaming systems. Available fall 2019 for children four and up, the US$59.99 device comes with 12 preloaded games, with six additional game packs sold separately.

smART Pixelator by Flycatcher

smART Pixelator by Flycatcher

Flycatcher’s smART Pixelator device allows kids to make some creative, pixel-like artwork, in both 2D and 3D. The base of the product is a screen that displays a grid of colored lights. The user places beads on the screen to match the underlying color, filling the space with their creative work of art. The product includes 50 different images to build, but the beauty of smART Pixelator is that kids can upload their own photos to the device via the iOS or Android app and a Bluetooth connection. Additional beads, sequins, pegs and project packs can be purchased separately. Clocking in at US$59.99, smART Pixelator is appropriate for kids seven and up and will be available fall 2019.

Mech-5 by Elenco

Mech-5 by Elenco

The kids’ robotics space is a crowded one, and there are few screenless coding options. Even fewer solutions come in under US$40. The Mech-5 coding approach is unique. Users program the robot by snapping coding pegs into a moveable “coding wheel” at the center. Specific combinations instruct the robot to move forward, backward, turn, spin or pause. No computer or app required. At US$39.99, the bot is good kids ages five to 12, and will be available summer 2019.

Plugo by Shifu

Plugo by Shifu

Here’s an interesting twist on using a tablet’s onboard camera for learning games: Plugo comes with a base game board to hold your iOS or Android tablet on one end, and a variety of kit components to arrange on the other, all of which triggers real-time responses from your tablet’s screen. Challenges are displayed on your tablet’s screen, and the user needs to place specific game pieces correctly to advance the activity. For kids ages five to 11, there are five different kits to purchase (each focuses on a different set of learning skills). Base game and additional kits are US$45.00 each, and will be available spring 2019.

Light Racer Kit by Tech Will Save Us

Light Racer Kit by Tech Will Save Us

Light Racer (US$24.99) is a simple and clever, electronic component that once assembled can attach to your bike’s wheel. Wireless coil components and capacitors trigger LED lights to shine when bike wheels are spinning. Available now, and for kids eight and up, assembly instructions are provided via an iOS and Android app.

Juno My Baby Elephant by Spin Master

Juno My Baby Elephant by Spin Master

Spin Master’s experience creating animatronic dolls is a specialty in the toy industry, and applied to a baby elephant results in a super cute experience. Touch sensors on Juno bring out charming expressions, sounds and it has an animated trunk. The adorable US$99.99 elephant is good for children four and up and will be available fall 2019.

Scott Traylor is a consultant to many child-focused businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article). He’s the founder of 360KID, where his company’s work has received many awards, including multiple Emmy nominations and one Emmy win. He’s also a former computer science instructor at Harvard, and currently lives in Silicon Valley, searching for the next big opportunity in the children’s industry. Scott can be reached at Scott (at) 360KID (dot) com.

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Links to full list of AAP referenced research

Friday, October 21st, 2016

On Friday October 21, 2016 the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) released three policy statements regarding health recommendations on media use by children. A review of these policy statements shows the AAP has referenced 190 different research papers and articles to support their position. Almost 30% of the papers were made available in 2015 and 2016, and generally reference a large body of helpful information regarding screen use by American youth. Over 75% of the referenced research can be downloaded for free. In an effort to help advance the interests of researchers, educators, and industry here is a collection of all of the AAP referenced research in an Excel spreadsheet with links to easily access and download all of the material.

A collection links to the AAP referenced research on children and screens

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Toy Fair 2015: Brand Mashups, Smart Toys and Indie Innovation

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

The following is an article I wrote for the February 20, 2015 issue of the iKids weekly online magazine.

Mattel's Hello Barbie was among the top tech toys talked about at the 2015 NY Toy Fair

Creative play pushed the envelope once again at this year’s International Toy Fair, held earlier this week in New York City. Organizers of the event reported over 7,000 new toy products were unveiled for the first time at the show. For those who follow tech toys you may be asking yourself, “Were there any new playful app announcements at Toy Fair?” Yes, but fewer breakthrough announcements compared to last year. “How about new robots?” Yes, too many dinosaur robots. Again nothing really noteworthy. “Indie startups?” Yes, a handful to keep an eye on. “Tech toy innovation?” Yes indeed, with clever business collaborations, brand mashups, and new player innovation that pushes the industry forward.

Before jumping into notable tech, there were a few non-tech announcements worth sharing:

ThinkFun Maker kits, one of three different kits available

Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls celebrated their 100th anniversary. (Note: Toy Fair celebrated its 112th year.) Funko’s Pop! Vinyl cube-like head collectible figures made a PR splash. Silly String now glows in the dark. ThinkFun debuted a great set of maker kits that are bound to fly off the shelves (pictured left). And those tiny green plastic army guys had a makeover, re-introduced as Yoga Joes (pictured below), where military clad figures strike various yoga poses. Clever idea indeed!

Green army guys reinvented as Yoga Joes

Tech announcements fell into one of a few different groupings. Some tech toys relied on creative business alliances. Others relied on the strength of a brand tie-in for its inspiration. Others took something old and made it new again. Indies provided the freshest tech toy ideas.

Mattel's update to the View Master with a little help from Google VR

View Master – One of the biggest announcements dangled before the start of Toy Fair was the Mattel/Google partnership to bring the classic View-Master into the 21st century (pictured above). Last year Google released an innovative and inexpensive virtual reality headset kit made out of cardboard. The VR screen is powered by an Android phone dropped into the back of the cardboard box. The update to View-Master relies on similar thinking, though the body that holds your phone to has been neatly designed. While Google Cardboard is the lowest price VR experience you may find anywhere (with some assembly required,) the View-Master update is a slick design and only cost just a bit more.

CogniToys by Elemental Path

Hello Barbie – Another big tech product announcement by Mattel, Hello Barbie (pictured at top of article), might easily be referred to as Hello Siri. Hello Barbie is a WiFi-enabled plaything that can engage in a conversation with you. Ask Barbie a question and she will intelligently respond back to you. Mattel partnered with technology company ToyTalk, this tech toy has a similar feel to last year’s WikiBear announcement. Talking toys are nothing new, but natural and fluid two way conversation through a toy is. Late in the week another similar announcement was made by Elemental Path with a product called CogniToys (pictured right), which is a collaboration with IBM’s Watson technology. Fluid toy communication is destined to be an active product area in the years ahead.

Hasbro's latest Furby creation, with a Star Wars twist: Furbacca

Furbacca – Hasbro has had great success over the last two years thinking up clever new extensions to the Ferby brand. This year the Star War’s themed Furbacca is the latest, complete with free app. Furbacca moves in place and hums different Star Wars songs.

The DynaPod, wearable kidtech with a built in programming twist

DynaPods – Last year we saw a few wearable tech toys make it to market, but most didn’t really have a purpose. It was wearable tech for tech’s sake. DynePods from newcomer Dynepic ties together programming concepts with a wearable display. The DynePod 5×5 LED “screen” (pictured above) communicates with an app through Bluetooth, empowering kids to make small if/then programming routines. These routines are then shared back to the screen, which can detect motion, light up, buzz, and vibrate depending on the programmed request. The display is also Lego compatible so it can be combined to create new interactive experiences.

The Moff Band is a wearable device that communicates with your smart device as you move

Moff Band is a clever motion-based wrist band that interacts with your smartphone or tablet to produce sound effects in real-time. With Moff everyday objects become new pretend play experiences. A broom can become a golf club. A spatula a magic wand. Any physical item can now include a magical sound effect when taped, touched, or moved. Everything around you becomes a plaything. Moff is sure to be the big tech toy hit of the year.

While it was a good year at Toy Fair for tech, it was easy to be left with a feeling of wanting more. More toy tech innovation will indeed come. Watching this play category you will definitely notice the wind through your hair. New product announcements are coming faster through independents rather than through long established traditional toy selling cycles. Stay tuned for many more tech toy announcements to come!

Scott Traylor is the founder of 360KID and an advisor to a number of children’s interactive businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article.) He’s also a former computer science teacher and currently lives in Silicon Valley, seeking out the next cool kidtech business. Scott can be reached at Scott (at) 360KID (dot) com.

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