One to Watch: Caped Koala Studio
Caped Koala Studio has stormed into 2011, ready to launch what it believes will become the world's top online education and entertainment destination for kids.
The firm has developed an online 3D virtual world called Pora Ora (www.poraora.com), which combines games, education and social networking. Pora Ora made its public debut in London on 12 January at BETT 2011, the UK's largest educational technology trade show.
Pora Ora has just been opened up for interested users who want to register for the beta launch, and the company hopes to attract between 5,000 and 10,000 users before a live launch in the UK and Ireland at the beginning of April. Founder Neil Gallagher told ENN.ie that Caped Koala also plans to launch Pora Ora in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America, and aims to have as many as 30 million users within three years of launch. Gallagher reckons that this prediction is realistic, considering the achievements of sites such as Moshi Monsters, a children's entertainment site, which recruited 30 million users in a similar time-frame.
Headquartered in Cork, Caped Koala Studio also has offices in London and Posnan, Poland. Operations, customer care and quality control are centred in Cork, while design is based in London and backend functions in Poland. The firm currently employs 16 people and aims to increase that to 42 by the end of the year, with the majority of these positions to be based in Cork and London.
The online world of Pora Ora, which is free to join, is targeted at children aged between 5 and 12, and all the educational content it contains is mapped to the national curriculum in the UK and Ireland. Pora Ora is essentially a social world where children can connect with friends and explore; however, within this world they are encouraged -- via in-game rewards, the progression of their character/avatar, and the unlocking of new game levels -- to engage with the educational content. Each player also has an in-game companion called a Pora Pal, whose mood and well-being is dependent on the child regularly gaining knowledge.
For now the educational content focuses predominantly on maths and literacy, but Gallagher explained that Pora Ora is in constant development. "We intend to continually add to the content and create new themed worlds, like a Roman-based world or an eco-world," he said. Also on the cards is the potential for a world focusing on learning languages, including Irish.
Pora Ora also features a separate 'parents portal' where parents can receive detailed reports about their child's activities and progress. "We wanted to encourage parents to play a central role in their child's educational progress and online safety through regular reporting features and clear security settings," explained James Lane, head of educational content with Caped Koala.
In terms of generating revenue, Gallagher aims to convert a percentage of users to an enhanced subscription service with access to extras -- following the 'freemium' model that's proving popular among other web firms, such as Spotify. As we move towards an ever-more mobile world, Caped Koala also plans to develop a version of Pora Ora suitable for smartphones. In addition, the firm has its eyes on partnerships with mobile operators and educational firms, who are keen to launch education-based games. Gallagher told ENN.ie that mobile operators in Europe, Turkey and Egypt and an education company in North America have shown interest in Pora Ora, but discussions are at an early stage.
Gallagher, who hails from Arranmore Island off the coast of Donegal, set up telecoms and mobile solutions provider Sentaca in 2000. Working with him at Caped Koala is Chief Creative Officer Conor Murphy (disclosure: this writer's brother), and Mohammed Abdeali, Chief Technical Officer, both former Sentaca employees.