Following in the footsteps of socially conscious toys and games such as Karito Kids and Xeko, TrashCanKidz is taking an everything but the kitchen sink approach with a unique game and retail product one-two punch that contributes 20% of its revenue to charity.
The startup hailing from Mauritius is seeking funding via Kickstarter, hoping to raise US$100 000 to bring the project to life. The aforementioned game Xeko also took to Kickstarter for funding and succeeded in reaching its target of US$250 000 earlier this year.
TrashCanKidz — as a game — is currently in closed online beta, with an iPad version planned for later. Founder Sean Roelofsz hopes that the game can assist the empowerment of children to effect change in real life. The game aims to teach children between the ages of four and twelve about the socio-economic hardships experienced by millions of orphaned, vulnerable and street children globally.
The tasks that players need to complete in order to progress through the game, mirror real life scenarios in under-resourced regions. Completed tasks contribute to a better living environment for the in-game characters.
When the game starts, players are asked to adopt a customisable TrashCanKid. As in-game tasks such as scooping up litter or and rebuilding a broken water supply are completed, the health and happiness of their TrashCanKid increases. The more challenges are completed the more game rewards are unlocked.
The basic game will be free to play, but additional levels and more items for customisation won’t be.
Moving beyond the game aspect, 150 trading cards as well as physical plush dolls that resemble the in-game characters have been designed. Like the Karito Kids dolls — an Oprah favourite — and Hearts 4 Hearts (H4H) Girls, revenue from the sale of the dolls — and in the case of TrashCanKidz, in-game purchases — will go to a charity of the purchaser’s choosing.
“In all our communication, our customers are empowered to choose which charity will benefit from the 20% allocation of revenue and in this way understand that they have made a meaningful difference through their interaction with TrashCanKidz,” says Roelofsz. Customers can choose to follow their nominated project and receive feedback on progress.
With funding through Kickstarter, TrashCanKidz would like to offer more dolls — five have been developed so far — as well as mini character collectibles and build out the game’s features which would include avatar customisation, in-game pets called “Bugz”, better multiplayer gameplay and new levels. Roelofsz says that the company has already spent in excess of ZAR20 million (± US$2.4 million) developing the concept, products and online game. Funding thus far has mainly been sought through selling shares in the company. Shareholders are primarily small investors with stakes ranging from one percent through to five percent.
TrashCanKidz is beautifully presented. The character illustrations, doll designs, in-game graphics, videos, marketing and other merchandise items are immaculate. It remains to be seen however, how a game with a strong socially conscious message will be received. The key is in the execution. If the gameplay is fun and addictive without overbearing finger-waving and TrashCanKidz can deliver on its very ambitious merchandise play, a relatively inchoate socially conscious gaming industry could see a new star emerging.
“Socially conscious social game design is a virtually unexplored field. As game designers, we have an opportunity to design for good. Through good game design we can lead a whole generation to realise that they can change the world, that they can make a difference, and that it is both easy and fun to do so. It’s not going to be easy though. And poor design will only further fossilise bad perceptions and bad behaviors. Publishers are afraid of the model, it is unproven, and few have the guts to try it out. When you approach investors or publishers with this concept their first response is “I can’t think of any company that has tried this and succeeded.”
TrashCanKidz set a goal of contributing “no less than US$200 000 000 towards uplifting orphans, vulnerable and street children, worldwide”. Although no time frame was given to reach that target, it’s a rather ambitious one. Actually, calling it ambitious is a grave understatement. Wildly successful Angry Birds managed revenues — not earnings — of US$106.3-million in 2011.
There’s another challenge. With TrashCanKidz targeting children under the age of 12, it puts integrating with Facebook, which has a minimum age requirement of 13, just out of reach. Facebook integration is one of the key reasons why Zynga managed to grow to its current market cap of US$3.2 billion.
Let’s hope Roelofsz and his team are up for the challenge.