Friday, May 18, 2007

CNET Covers BarbieGirls and kids' MMOGs

CNET has just published an article on kids MMOGs written by Stefanie Olsen, and entitled Barbie's Last Online Stand?. In it, Olsen discusses the new BarbieGirls.com site, in light of Barbie's past success at attracting girls ages 2 and 11 to their websites (Barbie.com and Everythinggirl.com), as well as continued declines in sales of their dolls and products. She talks about the plans to incorporate an MP3 player into the BarbieGirls experience, which will allow players to unlock certain areas of the site, select special clothing options and accessories, adopt a virtual pet and become "best friends" with other players (players will have to physically attach their MP3 to another person's computer to become their "best friend" and share personal info through the site). Olsen also includes a bunch of very useful Nielsen/Netratings stats, some of which don't appear to be avialable on the Nielsen site. She writes:
The overall audience for Barbie sites has declined slightly over the last year, and has failed to grow over the last three years. According to Nielsen NetRatings, the Barbie site attracted about 1.9 million unique visitors from home and work in April 2007, down from 2.1 million in April 2006. Those numbers are in line with about 2 million visitors in the same month in 2004.

In contrast, Webkinz--plush pets with corresponding virtual homes on the Web--have exploded in popularity over the last year. In April, Webkinz attracted 3.6 million unique visitors from home and work, up from just 285,000 a year before. Webkinz has even usurped the long-reigning virtual pets site of the Web--Neopets, which went from 2.6 million unique visitors in April 2006 to 3.2 million in 2007.

Another major contender in the kids category, ages 2 to 11, is Club Penguin, a virtual community of penguin avatars for children. It drew more than 4 million unique visitors in April. And Disney.com, the generalist playground of Mickey Mouse and other characters, attracted more than 11 million visitors that month.

Just to recap here, according to Olsen, Neilsen/Netratings measured the following web traffic in April 2007:
- Disney.com sites = 11 million (visitors)
- Club Penguin = 4 million
- Webkinz = 3.6 million
- Neopets = 3.2 million
- Barbie/Everythinggirl = 1.9 million

While these numbers don't specify what percentage of these visitors actually belongs to the 2-11 year old demographic (all?), I'm guessing that they're assuming that a large or majority percentage do. As for BarbieGirls, the site is claiming to have registered half a million kids since April 26. Of particular note is the growing excitement for real world/virtual world crossover play (a la Webkinz and this new MP3/BarbieGirls play), which appears to be developing quite quickly from the "premium"-model that Neopets was applying a couple of years ago (where purchase of a Neopets toy came with a special activation code that allowed you to get into a special area of the site), to a more integrated and ongoing approach (watch for Viva Pinata's toy/avatar venture later this year). Another promising aspect is how Mattel has integrated this real/virtual crossover into its safety features, via the special access players can obtain for "best friends".

Update (May 26, 2007). Check out Izzy Neis' response here. Though I feel I should point out that when I say "promising aspect", I'm speaking from a research approach...that this could be a promising development of study for my thesis.

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