Pretend play

06Feb09

A slew of Internet fueled toy sensations have introduced children to the Web 2.0 phenomenon and are giving them access to virtual worlds. It’s no surprise that these young tikes are easily navigating from one world to the next, and parents are thrilled they can control their kid’s accessto the site and monitor levels of protection. Here are a few popular virtual brand worlds that have paved the way:

webkinzWebkinz, small plush animal pets, have become the leader in taking products off the shelf and giving them a home online. Since 2005, the company has sold more than two million toys, and the value of the Webkinz brand is pegged at $2 billion. What’s more, the brand has designed a brilliant business model for others to follow. Upon purchasing a real-world furry pet (or trading card), children receive a secret code with the toy and its used to create the same pet in virtual Webkinz world where they care for their pets by feeding them, and play games with other virtual pet owners. By earning points in game play, children can then buy fun stuff for their pet’s pad with Kinzcash. The site also allows parents to set up time restraints for play and can restrict access barbiegirl1to chat rooms.

Mattel’s Barbie Girls is a fun, virtual community that encourages pre-teen girls to play and interact with friends by creating an online avatar, designing their own room, earning B Bucks virtual money, playing games, watching Barbie movies, and chatting with other girls. Established in 2007, the site has over 13 million registered users, and is dripping in pink. Barbie Girls is free to play, but the animation and interactive locations is limited, unless parents purchase a Barbie Girls V.I.P. upgrade for $5.99 a month, or a Barbie Girl MP3 player, which allows their daughters more access to members-only sections of the site. From a marketing perspective, Mattel has cleverly integrated their products, like the MP3 player and rolling Barbie movie trailers in Barbie Girls virtual cinema, and they’ve taken a different approach with the monthly subscription instead of on purchase codes.

 

 clubpeguin1The Walt Disney Company owns various virtual worlds that are also free with additional activities open to subscription holders. Club Penguin is where users waddle as penguins, playing games, chatting, and decorating their igloos. They also practice reading, develop keyboarding skills and practice math through managing virtual money, and new content is added every week. Toon Town USA is filled with familiar characters like Mickey and Goofy, and there are plenty of games and activities for children to do, but the primary goal is to protect Toon Town from the evil “Cogs.” Pixie Hollow, another virtual Disney world, promotes its site a little differently giving girls access when they purchace from Tinker Bell’s line of “eJewelry.” The product consists of a USB jewelry box that plugs into PCs and when girls wave their “Friendship eBracelet” or “Pixie eCharms” near the box, they unlock new items.

littlestpetshopSimilarly, Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop is a virtual world where users earn Kibbles to buy supplies for pets, and care for them while playing games, and Build-a-Bearville lets you take your real life bear home from the workshop, “claim” them as your friend online, and additional games are unlocked.

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