New innovator: BookieWookie

For the past 10 years Noel Donegan and his wife Luz have been creating games for children with an educational twist. Both love traditional toys and have a number of prestigious international awards to their credit. However, they also recognised the huge impact digital gaming platforms were having on how children play.

In the spirit of “if you can’t beat them join them”, the couple embraced the world of online play and have created BookieWookies, a game that supports literacy development and creative writing skills in children aged three to nine. BookieWookies will be launched later this year.

“We knew that increasing numbers of children were going to the digital world for their play experience. What surprised us was the age at which they were entering this world. Children as young as two are playing with digital devices,” Noel Donegan says.

“Literacy is a big problem worldwide and we challenged ourselves to make a difference to the shocking statistics,” he adds. “The earlier in a child’s development you engage it in educational play the greater the benefits and the best way to convey an educational message is on the back of a great play experience.

“BookieWookies does just that through a world of magical characters who have books in their tummies. The online characters have real-world equivalents and children can write stories and create their own books by interacting with the characters. BookieWookies is digital play that children can cuddle.”

‘Digital platform’

The Donegans do not have backgrounds in IT and had to spend time learning about the technology required to support the BookieWookies world.

“We needed to develop a digital platform that could be scaled to accommodate global sales and structured to maximise its commercial potential,” Noel Donegan says.

“Having looked at the leaders in the children’s gaming field we were in no doubt this was the way to go if we wanted to reach as many children as possible. For example, Moshi Monsters (where children adopt monsters online) has more than 90 million online members.

“We knew we could create a world that would provide as much play value as the established players. Secondly, we knew we could turn that imaginary world into real-world products that we could sell. This in turn would create global licensing and merchandising opportunities and potentially generate significant revenue streams for the company.”

Launchpad

The Donegans presented their BookieWookies idea to publishers Penguin Random where it was enthusiastically received. However, there was still a big gap between the concept

and its digital realisation. Securing a slot on the Launchpad programme run by the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) proved to be the stepping-stone the couple needed.

"The Dublin City Enterprise Board put us in touch with Gary Leyden from the NDRC and he 'got us' straight away and suggested we apply for Launchpad. The NDRC has been fantastic. They have linked us with reputable people to build our platform; they have given us access to the experience and knowledge of their team. As part of Launchpad we also got the opportunity to pitch to a room packed with VCs and are currently following up on those investment opportunities.

"Our aim now is to build BookieWookies into a billion dollar brand and to provide employment for a lot of talented people. We also want BookieWookies to become global ambassadors for developing literacy skills in children. We are already helping to fund classrooms and equipment for schools in disadvantaged areas in south-east Asia. If BookieWookies becomes really successful then our ambition is to build entire schools."

– OLIVE KEOGH