Big kids looking to send something more ingenious than a photo will be tickled pink by MonkeyGram, a messaging app from Toontastic developers Launchpad Toys. As easy to use as SnapChat and as fun as Moonpig, you use templates to create birthday cards, party evites, animations to make your crush blush, and toons galore.
Toontastic, Launchpad Toys’ globally successful kids app, provides the basis for the animation techniques and characters. So you’ll find pirates, strongmen and monkey characters waiting for you to voice and jiggle about on your smartphone screen. New slogans, music, and the ability to upload photos from Facebook and send via email or twitter make MonkeyGram instantly appealing for an older, smartphone-owning audience and for toon-loving parents who like to create with their kids.
Twenty-four hours into its AppStore launch [and a year before SnapKidz launches], I road-test Monkeygram on my way into San Francisco. Summer vacation means I have kids in tow for the ferry trip to the city from Marin.
“That’s good it’s taking a long time,” says my 10-year-old companion as Monkeygram takes a while to download. “It means it’ll have a lot to do.” So true – the rest of the 30-minute journey flies by as using the iPhone app she animates a girl on a beach singing Happy Birthday to a strongman and texts it to her Dad with a message.
Still chuckling over the iPhone toon, I buzz the heavy iron door of the Launchpad Toys office on Mission.
Co-founder Andy Russell is at work in his sky-blue loft. Launchpad Toys has just recruited new staff, but today this light-filled office is just for three – Andy Russell, his co-founder, Thushan Amarasiriwardena, and one large stuffed monkey on a wheelie chair.
Over latte at a nearby cafe, Andy Russell describes his app. “MonkeyGram is Toontastic all grown up. It’s a playful way for teens and adults to create and share messages with friends and family using the devices (phones) and the platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Email and Text) that pervade their lives today. We like to think of it as the world’s largest Toy Box combined with a Walkie Talkie… all rolled into your phone.”
Toys for today
Play is at the heart of Launchpad Toys’ vision – Andy Russell was a UX Designer for Sony Playstation and a producer on the Advanced Concepts team at Hasbro. Pride of place on a shelf in the otherwise minimalist office is a Buzz Lightyear – the toy that makes us all wistful for the pre-digital days of ‘real’ play. Ironically, this real-life Andy is going back to the ‘toy’ that inspired him to create apps in the first place: the iPhone.
“Teenagers today are sending 22,000 text messages a year – that’s 10 days of creative writing squandered in an endless stream of emoticons, LOL, and OMG,” he explains. “With MonkeyGram, we’re hoping to take back those 10 days and to help infuse a bit of humor, a bit of playfulness, and a whole lot of creativity into our everyday communications.”
He’s pinning his hopes on the fact that MonkeyGram will be a hit with a generation of texters who consider themselves to have outgrown traditional toys in favour of digital games. Whether those same smartphone-users have access to an iTunes account to ‘buy’ the animations once the free credits run out is another question.
“Pricing remains a big question mark in the mobile ecosystem,” agrees Andy, “but we fundamentally believe in competing on quality – that if we build the most compelling and engaging product possible and get it in the hands of as many people as we can, that everything else will sort itself out.”
As a game, MonkeyGram certainly is compelling. And through its clear design, the ‘costs’ aren’t disguised in the same way as the ‘pay-to-play’ games that traditionally get a bad press from parents. By giving away credits with the app, Monkeygram has a free trial for users with the point-of-purchase moved to ‘inside’ the app. As Andy explains, it’s basically a ‘try before you buy’.
“Toontastic and MonkeyGram are both free to download and include a couple of free playsets designed as digital postcards. If the user enjoys the apps, he or she can buy more toys (Vampires, puppies, giant-earth-stomping-robots, etc) to expand the app even further. With Toontastic, we even offer an “All Access Pass” that unlocks all 40 playsets (and all future playsets) for a one-time-purchase of $9.99.
“What’s more, every time you recommend MonkeyGram to a friend, you get free credits for yourself – recommend it enough and you need never ‘buy’ any credits at all!”