Q & A with Eevamaria Halttunen, founder of Petra's Planet

Q & A with Eevamaria Halttunen, founder of Petra's Planet

Tell us about the background to Petra’s Planet

Petra’s Planet is based on the book series about a seven-year-old Petra who finds a way to travel around the globe through a mirror at a local theatre where her mother works. She makes many new friends and finds herself in unfamiliar situations.

The idea for the books came to me as I was having discussions with my young children about other cultures and how other people see the world. I realized we could really use a children’s book series which would show everyday life and celebrations in different countries and open a dialogue for children and their parents. Children are naturally curious and in these discussions both parents and children would learn something. 

At present, the book series includes four books in which Petra visits Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sami land and Jordan. In each book Petra participates in a local ceremony and learns something new about the country she is visiting, as well as of herself.

How did you make the decision to go from books to a virtual world?

As the books tell stories traveling the world, it was a logical step to think about the possibilities that the Internet gives us. The thought that anyone with access to a computer could go and visit other countries, learn about them and have fun with friends, new and old, was just exciting. 

It was also worrying to me as a mother to realize that there just wasn’t enough fun, and at the same time meaningful material available for young children to play with, such as computer games.

After doing lots of research it became obvious that the idea of a virtual world where children could travel the world, be safe, and have fun while learning, was something that was missing in the gaming world. The world was also moving very fast from a world of information technology towards a world of games, and we saw the potential of creating something unique for children and their parents. Petra’s Planet is a logical expansion from a book to a form of the future, which allows us to give the children an even more engaging experience of Petra’s world, the real world and its people.

What are your aims with Petra's Planet in terms of audience, reach, engagement, languages, countries?

Petra’s Planet is a virtual world for 5-11 year-olds. At the moment it is available in two languages; English and our native Finnish. It is a global product, available for anyone who has access to the Internet. Petra’s Planet will grow independently from the books. We will add new material steadily and create countries which have not been featured in the books. 

Tell us how it works in terms of narrative, user-generated content, etc

Petra’s Planet is a browser based MMO. Petra is the guide within her Planet, and she leads the player to many possibilities, tasks and games from which the player can choose from. The player is rewarded for discovering new areas, for helping others and for learning new skills. An important aspect of the experience is the possibility to interact with other players, to play together with them, such as sliding down the sand dunes in Jordan or rowing boats in Senegal. All the material is country specific, and has been, just like in the books, researched specifically to be interesting for children.

How does it make money?

We have wanted to create an alternative product for children. There are no hidden costs or hard push for selling something to children. We do not accept advertisements on our site. We value childhood (we partner with UNICEF in Finland) and want to keep Petra’s Planet as commercial -free as possible. Therefore we have created a system of both the monthly memberships and the purchase of virtual goods. We want to be very transparent and to clearly tell children what there is to buy and how much it costs. Petra’s Planet is free to play and the child doesn’t need to buy anything to experience it fully. We believe that parents will understand the value of Petra’s Planet.

What resources does it need ongoing? How do you accommodate that in a publishing company?

We have hired all the required resources, in fact we have transitioned from a book publisher into virtual world production company.

What are the specific things that a publisher gains from a virtual world?

Because of the transition, we are looking for gains from our publisher background in the virtual world business, which is our main focus now. With Petra’s Planet we are able to share many more adventures with much wider audience than only with the books. We believe that children will cherish the adventures they have with Petra and each other and learn to understand the world and its people in a very personal way. And most importantly Petra will be more alive than ever before, a true friend to all the little explorers, who want to join her. 

What 3 things have you learned from this experience?

We have learnt to take bold, fast action when needed. If the story is captivating enough, there will be an audience, no matter in which form you tell it. We have also learnt to stay focused in the core of the story, in all the aspects throughout the project. Needless to add, we have learnt a lot about the gaming industry and mechanics behind it.

Find out more here. Virtual World developed by Dubit.