As Lazaro Fuentes, CEO and creative director of the Hip Chicas brand, tells Gamasutra, 50 percent of kids born in America since 2004 are Hispanic. And while there's plenty of culturally-focused content for young kids -- Dora The Explorer, Handy Manny, and Maya and Miguel, among others, there's a "gaping hole" for Latino content aimed at 'tweens.
Hip Chicas recently launched
a beta for its Latina-themed virtual world hoping to change that. It's a Latina-themed virtual world for tween girls with a strong theme of "helping improve the planet" -- instead of the "traditionally negative" themes Fuentes has noticed in products targeting Hispanic girls, like "bling-bling, shopping or lipstick."
Fuentes here discusses the product's intentions, the importance of the themes to the world and its design, and what the future holds.
Why did you establish the company?
Lazaro Fuentes: We saw that games targeted at Latinos were stereotypically negative. We then looked at casual games targeted at girls and they were either inappropriate, or about bling-bling, shopping or lipstick. So we decided to create a hip option that engaged more fully girls in general and Latinas specifically, treating them as more than just lipstick and bubblegum while maintaining a feminine appeal. The result was Hip Chicas
Why a Latina-themed virtual world?
LF: 50% of the kids born in this country since 2004 are Hispanic but there is a gaping hole in the market for Latino tween content. If you look at the pre-school content, there's plenty. You have Dora, Diego, Handy Manny, Maya and Miguel and Dragon Tales. Dora, the leader of the pack, kicked off serious interest in the space in 2000 and has done $8 Billion in revenues alone in only 8 years. Most importantly, it introduced kids from all walks of life to Latino culture. But as girls graduate from pre-school content into their tween years, suddenly the options narrow to Barbie and Bratz.
We wanted to extend that general introduction to Latino culture that kids received as preschoolers in more specific ways and with content more suited to the age group. We also wanted to update it for a digitally savvy tween market and bring it to where they are: online.
How was the world developed?
LF: Several things came together to create the mix of content, themes and imagery of Hip Chicas
. If I had to choose one word to describe how the world came to be developed, the word would be "needs". There are needs that exist across the board. Needs like better cultural understanding, better self image of girls in general, better content by toy, game and TV producers. The need for sustainable behavior by humans with our planet; the need to strengthen these kids roots so they know who they are; the need to connect us with the history and cultures of other peoples because we are really a globalized world.
The need to re-think the single-platform-centric view of content coming out of the 20th Century that tries to fit itself into the multi-platform-centric 21-Century where content has to be thought of in multi-screens. Now those screens are handheld, console, TV, computer, and movie screens all being utilized at once. We wanted to create a 21st-Century brand that from its inception considered all of these platforms and all of those screens.
I notice the world also has a strong "green" theme via "Help Improve the Planet" -- the "HIP" in Hip Chicas.
LF: We saw that kids had a desire to be more fully engaged and to feel more empowered to change the world. We wanted to tap into the enthusiasm that is being felt towards helping improve the planet in general and tie it to many of the places that kids came from, or where their parents came from, or where their neighbors came from, or where the kids that sit next to them in class came from. Places like Mexico, where rare dolphins and turtles are becoming extinct. Places like Puerto Rico and Cuba where the Caribbean Seal just became extinct two months ago. Places like the Amazon where Jaguars are disappearing.
So we bring that facet to the games that we are creating with scenarios where kids are directly helping these situations or indirectly helping by improving the habitats. We take it one step further and empower kids to help improve the planet offline from their online play with something that we've coined "Positive Parent Power". As kids play, they are served up opportunities to send their parents emails or SMS with discounts from carefully selected sponsors that meet our "HIP" criteria. All in one click.
What were the other design goals of the virtual world?
LF: Other design goals include strong "user-generated" aspects of the site and multiple opportunities for the user to gain recognition. We come out with a really comprehensive offering of places, but we have a powerful suggestion capability that allows users to tell us where they want to go beyond the existing offering in the world, what scenes they want to have, what they want to save and what they want to improve. If we use their suggestion, they are recognized for it and as people give it a thumbs up rating, their rating as a user goes up and they achieve higher status levels and corresponding badges. The same goes for suggestion of videos, music, clothing items, etc.
What do you expect will keep users coming back?
LF: Helping improve the planet requires constant attention. If you don't take care of the habitats, they begin to show the lack of attention. Further, as we upload video, music, scenes and games from people's suggestions, the content will constantly be refreshed. Lastly, the kids will come back to follow the antics of the Hip Chicas, the cartoon series that guides the principles of this world, and its five characters: Maria, Ceci, Dulce, Sophia and Isa. A unique solution that I have yet to see in any other virtual world.
How does it distinguish itself from other web-based girl-orientated virtual worlds?
LF: Our scenes are not fantasy; they are real places, albeit fantastical. These are places familiar to the user, places they can relate to. The animals are not the stereotypical Chihuahua pet but instead are animals in their habitats and our relationship with them is based on how well we help improve their planet. The site takes into account the global nature of the internet and is international, like our nation's population.
How do you intend to monetize it?
LF: It is a subscription-based world not wholly dependent upon subscriptions but also sponsorship, merchandising and licensing.
What does the future hold?
We've recently signed with Alegro Capital, an investment bank, to represent us for our capital raise in the next round of funding. Beyond that, we expect to expand our strategic relationships in the areas of publishing, TV, and merchandising. We're also keep in our back pocket the option to expand the concept to include Hip Sino in China, Hip Desi in India and possibly other niche brands.