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Tech-savvy children abandon the web for 'free' mobile play: App developers face challenge as youngsters use parents' phones and join adult networks
[July 05, 2014]

Tech-savvy children abandon the web for 'free' mobile play: App developers face challenge as youngsters use parents' phones and join adult networks

(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Britain's technology companies are struggling to attract a new generation of mobile-savvy children who are using tablets and their parents' smartphones to log on to "free" games. Parents fear this shift could lead to large bills for expensive in-app purchases, which children make once they are playing the games. It also threatens to allow access to potentially inappropriate adult social media sites.

Meanwhile, new media companies - which are being disrupted as much as traditional firms by the shift to mobile technology - are struggling to find ways to make their products profitable.

London-based Mind Candy has more than 80 million children registered to its Moshi Monsters online virtual world, but its chief executive, Michael Acton Smith, admitted at last week's Children's Media Conference in Sheffield that the company has found it hard to follow them to mobile devices.

"We thought it would be easy to move our web stuff to mobile, and it wasn't. It was extraordinarily difficult," said Smith. "There are so many new challenges, not least how the commercial side of things works. We certainly haven't cracked it yet, despite trying very hard with a well-established brand." Smith was speaking as Mind Candy launched PopJam, a new iPhone and Android app pitched as a safe alternative to Instagram for children aged seven-13. Children can take pictures, customise them with digital scribbles and stickers, then share them with friends. "Kids don't have their own app where their voice and creativity can be heard, so they are joining up to grown-up social networks in their droves. Facebook, Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram in particular are hugely popular with kids," said Smith.

Mind Candy has a team of staff "pre-moderating" images before they are published, and is encouraging children not to share selfie photos of their own faces, unless they are disguised using the digital stickers.

Games for adults, like Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans, have attracted large numbers of children, even though they sell virtual currency in quantities of up to pounds 69.99 as in-app purchases.

"The challenge is that a lot of things possible for adult apps and game apps - in-app purchasing and advertising - are really frowned upon in a lot of kids' content," said Tom Bonnick, digital project and marketing manager at Nosy Crow, a British apps and books publisher.

The alternative is charging upfront for children's apps, but parents are unwilling to pay, which is one reason why their kids may be playing the "free-to-play" games instead.

"I find it really strange that a parent will spend pounds 10 on a beautiful book but would never spend pounds 10 on a beautiful app in a million years," said Antonio Gould, digital producer for Teach Your Monster to Read, an online game that helps children to hone their early reading skills.

Captions: Mind Candy's Popjam is an app pitched as a safe alternative to Instagram for kids aged seven to 13.

(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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