An idea for engaging girls in science via an imaginary world has blossomed into a cutting edge multi-media project and attracted big name backers.
At a glance
The interactive fantasy world of Planet Zingoshi started out as a tv programme. Then it was going to be a video game, and now it’s a book heralding an upcoming 3D immersive experience.
Ultimately, it’s likely to be all these things and more as its creators Ronel Schodt and Bridget Ellis-Pegler transcend media boundaries to bring their long-held concept to life.
The Kiwi entrepreneurs developed The Zingoshi Chronicles after spotting a gap in the market for content that would challenge pre-teenage children, particularly girls.
As mothers they had searched in vain for material that wasn’t “pink and fluffy and fairy-princessy” or, in the case of young adolescents, about dating and fashion.
The Zingoshi Chronicles features well-behaved human Sylvie and her tomboy Zingeral friend Willabella, and revolves around a quest to find the next leaders of Zingoshi. As part of the project children are required to complete off-screen tasks, such as designing their own wings which they upload into the game.
After seven years of searching for a way to make the world of Zingoshi a reality, Ronel and Bridget got their break when high profile investors Theresa Gattung, Dame Julie Christie and Cecilia and James Robinson backed the venture. The capital raise allowed the pair to apply for a co-funded Callaghan Innovation Project Grant, and Episode One of the chronicles began.
Pivoting and prototypes
Ronel Schodt, a television producer, met script writer Bridget Ellis-Pegler on the job, and initially the business partners were intent on creating a tv programme. But although they had backers they couldn’t find a local broadcaster willing to take up the concept.
“So, we pivoted and said, ‘why don’t we make a game?’,” Ronel says.
With Callaghan Innovation assistance they headed to the United States to sound out gaming companies. “Everybody said, ‘love the idea, go build a prototype’,” she says.
But they needed money to build the prototype. Eventually they secured a meeting with business woman Theresa Gattung, who liked the concept of inspiring courage in young girls.
Gattung brought the other investors on board and offered a key piece of advice – don’t worry about a prototype, go straight to creating Episode One.
This was where the Callaghan Innovation grant was invaluable, Ronel says. “It was amazing, we couldn’t have done it without it. We had to bring in an external augmented reality specialist to create what we wanted, and as a startup you have to make the money go as far as you can.”
The project has evolved from their initial proposal to their investors. “It’s so much better,” Ronel says. “We were going to do a bit more of a top-down game, and it’s now turned into this proper three-dimensional immersive game.”
To date they have launched the Zingoshi illustrated book, ‘Dragonfly’, complete with an associated app and AR features, and the game will follow shortly.
Two markets and two worlds
The next step is a second investment round which will allow them to deliver episodes two to four over the next 12 to 18 months. Meanwhile they are in talks to find a game and book publisher. “You need a game partnership to distribute internationally, and it’s the same with the book,” Ronel says.
They are also talking to other commercial partners about joint marketing campaigns. The great part is Zingoshi has not one but two audiences – parents and kids, she says.
Meanwhile interest in a television programme is building. “It’s a different story now - we’ve got parallel worlds running. A lot of broadcasters are looking for interactivity,” she says
Marshall Couper, Callaghan Innovation’s Customer Manager Digital, says the agency worked with Ronel and Bridget on their R&D Project Grant application while at the same time helping them through the capital raising process, which they needed to complete to qualify.
“They’ve developed some unique technology, and there’s quite a social impact aspect to this as well,” he says. “It’s a way of getting girls to engage with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects but without them having their heads buried in a laptop.”
Updated: 18 April 2018