Software toy for kids a hard sell

Coquitlam's Ken Kavanagh, the president of Clicktoy Interactive Inc., at home with his computer creation, The Meadow.

“We underestimated the marketing,” starts Ken Kavanagh, the president of Clicktoy Interactive Inc., a Coquitlam company that in 2008 came out with a software toy for tots and preschoolers called The Meadow.

Kavanagh and his staff had built the computer program with the aim to get young children and their parents to sit together and create an original narrative instead of being force fed media from mega corporations.

A former software engineer with Electronic Arts who helped to develop Sims Online, NBA Street, Fifa Street 1 and 2, and NBA Live 2007, the father of three was unhappy with the “badly written” -and often complicated content for kids.

So he produced The Meadow for one- to five-year-olds that features 3D animated animals, allowing kids to press buttons, listen to sounds and music and watch as the computer zeros in on the creatures’ actions — sometimes in pretty scenes, sometimes in comedic situations.

Each keyboard button commands a specific response.

“It’s an open world where they can imagine,” said the enterpreneur, who won an award for his original score for The Meadow.

Since it launched, The Meadow has sold about 5,000 units, far lower than Kavanagh’s expectations. But it hasn’t been for lack of trying.

It took two years to get his product (repackaged in cardboard boxes) on the shelves of 250 Apple stores. Still, while the approval — on Dec. 12, 2010 — came too late for Christmas sales, Kavanagh was optimistic The Meadow would eventually do well.

But three months later, Apple pulled the plug and decided it would not carry any retail software programs in its stores.

Disheartened, Kavanagh appealed to have The Meadow included in Apple’s online store but he was turned down because the program has a feature that locks the computer keyboard to stop children from accidentally leaving the application (parents need to press the Esc button). “It’s designed that way. It’s supposed to be safe for kids,” he said.

Clicktoy was dealt another blow again this year when Target announced it would take over Zellers’ outlets in Canada. The Meadow is sold at Zellers in B.C. and Alberta but the changeover will mean new buyers.

“We’re hoping we’re good until at least the fall,” the PoCo high school graduate said. “We have our fingers crossed that it will stay there for as long as possible.”

Meanwhile, Clicktoy is promoting The Meadow at local events and fundraisers, and offering a $20 download through — on top of figuring out how to stand out in a market where competition is fierce and profits can be slim.

Kavanagh said the iPad has also added to his woes, making his product stale as it’s not compatible. “I would have to re-write it and I don’t know if I’m prepared to do that,” he said, adding, “I was supposed to be making money by now to be able to do more of this because I believe that software programs for kids are very important for teaching and learning and it’s unfortunate that the mega corporations have such a grip on the industry.

“They have their curriculum that includes primary colours, shapes, the alphabet and the same cartoon critters.

“I, perhaps, am a little more granola and want better quality and more variety than that.”



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