As social games continue to flood the pages of the world’s most-trafficked social networking site, Facebook, kids content owners and producers are eyeing the space warily, with an adventurous few diving in. French prodco Marathon Media, a Zodiak subsidiary, is arguably one of the first to test the waters to further engage the audience of its tween-centric toon Totally Spies!, extend the franchise and, if all goes to plan, make a bit of extra dough.
Marathon GM David Michel and his team commissioned long-time French gaming collaborator OUAT Entertainment to develop Totally Spies! Fashion Agents for Facebook, which currently houses some 400-million profiles worldwide. Airing in 120 countries, with five seasons completed and a core fan base of ever-social, ever-chatty tween girls, Totally Spies! is Marathon Media’s most successful property and seemed a natural test subject for Facebook as a gaming platform. ‘Girls are more keen on meeting up online,’ says Michel. ‘We wouldn’t do it for a boys show.’
The game, conceived and developed over seven months or so, targets users ages 13 to 25 and encourages them to create identities and become fashionable spies while building teams and sharing virtual apartments with their friends. (Though the audience of Totally Spies! is younger than the intended Facebook demographic, Michel says the show’s longevity has allowed it to garner loyal fans who grew up with the brand and continue to identify with it.)
The business model for the game revolves around converting visitors into paid users and relies on micro transactions, whereby users can buy individual virtual items or credits through a subscription. The site takes payments through traditional means like credit cards or up-to-the-minute modes à la mobile apps. The goal over the next two to three years is to hit a 5% conversion rate with a marketing budget of less than US$1.2 million. And right now, marketing is fittingly focused on social media efforts.
Marathon’s Totally Spies website alone currently has 800,000 subscribers and roughly 50% of these are frequent, active users. And the fans, it seems, have proven to be reliable. Since its soft launch in English and French on April 20, Totally Spies! Fashion Agents has garnered approximately 2,000 users, who have been privy to the new missions and functions added to the game every week. Still in beta format, the title will officially launch at the end of June and have versions in five more languages by the end of the year.
For both Marathon and OUAT, the feedback from the fans has been integral to the game’s evolution and an eye-opening experience. ‘We definitely need to have direct communication with fans on the shows,’ says Michel. ‘With Totally Spies!, we received lots of feedback from the audience without even requesting it – that’s how we started thinking about communities.’
For its part OUAT, which has developed five games based on Totally Spies, is planning on making the game accessible just about anywhere, and is currently working on iPad and iPhone versions.