Bonnier has been one of the Nordic front runners amongst the media companies, researching and trying to put together pieces on how to best harness new technology for the media industry.

Back in 2009 and 2010 the Bonnier R&D department came out with a concept called Mag+, a new way to experience media on a tablet. Later on, Björn Jeffery now Director of Digital Commerce at Bonnier Digital, started a Brickmark as part of Bonnier Digital. Emil Ovemar joined him and together they developed the focus of the new company; new digital products and services. We interviewed Emil Ovemar about something new they’re working on, called Toca Boca.

ArcticStartup (AS): What is Toca Boca?

Emil Ovemar (EO): Toca Boca is a game studio that makes digital toys for kids. We think playing and having fun is the best way to learn about the world. Therefore we make digital toys and games that help stimulate the imagination, and that you can play together with your kids. Best of all – we do it in a safe way without advertising or in-app purchases.

We make fun things for touchscreens and initially we’re focusing on Apples iOS.

AS: How does this all relate to Bonnier?

EO: Björn Jeffery and I worked together at Bonnier R&D from 2009 to 2010. There, among many things, we worked on a vision for a tablet magazine. A project that later become known as Mag+. Björn then started Brickmark as a part of Bonnier Digital and I joined him. Brickmarks focus is new digital products and services. We set up criterias for possible projects and Toca Boca came out of that. So Toca Boca is a part of Bonnier Digital and our research at Bonnier R&D lead us to the creation of Toca Boca.

We at Bonnier already have a strong connection with both kids and parents via our magazines, books and films, so it makes sense to offer something that our customers want, not something we want to deliver. One of the paid digital products that actually works are games and therefore it’s an interesting area. If you believe digital toys have a bright future, we are in the right area.

AS: What are the first products of Toca Boca and the story behind them?

EO: Our first products are Helicopter Taxi for iPhone and Toca Tea Party for iPad. They are designed for children aged 3-9.

When we started our product development we decided that we wanted our products to feel more like toys than games. We also wanted our products to be more open-ended and less focused on goals and points. Most apps targeted at kids in the App Store are focusing on games, learning, books, construction play and to some extent creative play with music and painting. We wanted to explore fantasy and active play. What happens if your app stimulates kids imagination and facilitates make believe play? Would pretend play make it more fun for kids to play together and for parents to join in? Can we make children move around with an iPod Touch and pretend they are flying a Helicopter? The goal became to create new ways to play with themes that are already popular with children and parents.

So we created Toca Tea Party where kids can set the iPad table with drinks and cookies of their choice, get their toys and family together and host a Tea Party. By giving your guests a personality, the app helps stimulate your imagination. We found that children play much better together on a single iPad when focusing on pretend play instead of trying to reach the next level. Also, parents seems to enjoy joining in.

In Helicopter Taxi, your iPhone or iPod becomes a helicopter that you control. The rotatable 3D helicopter is shown in your room using the camera. You get phonecalls from customers, you pick them up by putting down the phone on a flat surface, and then you can decide where the place they want to go to is located in the room you’re playing in. Simple interactions trigger your imagination and kids create a fantasy world around the game when they fly around.

AS: How important is research into this digital space for Bonnier/TocaBoca?

EO: Research has been very important for us. By understanding and creating models for everything that is available for kids in the App stores we hopefully made better strategic decisions initially. By researching toys and digital play we understand childrens and parents needs better, and by looking at all possibilities and limitations in ecosystems such as Apple’s we make sure we prioritize things in the best possible way.

Research has given us a solid starting point to build from, but gathering a great team, delivering fantastic products and succesful marketing in an app world does not come automatically from research.

AS: Does Toca Boca have any revenue pressures from Bonnier?

EO: We have a yearly budget like all Bonnier owned companies and right now we want to make sure we sell at least as much as our estimates. We know that we can’t expect hits such as Angry Birds, therefore we will make a lot of products to learn as much as possible as fast as possible.


Below are a few videos explaining the Tea Party and Helicopter Taxi games.