Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Virtual Worlds for Kids Continue to Gain Momentum...and Media Attention

Some more news this week about virtual worlds for kids, mostly coming from the marketing industry p.o.v. The first, from Marketing Vox by way of Wonderland Blog, reports on a recent study by Mediamark Research and Intelligence/Marketing Charts, that substantiates the now common finding that children play lots of online games. As Marketing Vox writes:
Nearly eight in 10 children (78.1 percent) age 6-11 report they play online games — by far the largest percentage performing any online activity, according to (pdf) the 2007 American Kids Survey from Mediamark Research and Intelligence (MRI), reports MarketingCharts.

The percentage of boys and girls who play online games was virtually the same, 77.7 percent vs. 78.5 percent, respectively. Boys are more likely to go online to get tips or cheats for gaming: One-quarter of boys (25.8 percent) reported doing so versus 5.6 percent of girls.

In related news, the New York Times (subscription required) did a story this week on virtual worlds for kids, and how the industry expects "nothing but net" for its existing and upcoming kid-targeted VWs in the coming year. As cited in the article:
“Get ready for total inundation,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at the research firm eMarketer, who estimates that 20 million children will be members of a virtual world by 2011, up from 8.2 million today.

Worlds like Webkinz, where children care for stuffed animals that come to life, have become some of the Web’s fastest-growing businesses. More than six million unique visitors logged on to Webkinz in November, up 342 percent from November 2006, according to ComScore Media Metrix, a research firm.

The article also offers a good summary of existing and upcoming projects (though not as good as Izzy's):
...Disney last month introduced a Pirates of the Caribbean world aimed at children 10 and older, and it has worlds on the way for Cars and Tinker Bell, among others. Nickelodeon, already home to Neopets, is spending $100 million to develop a string of worlds. Coming soon from Warner Brothers Entertainment, part of Time Warner: a cluster of worlds based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and D. C. comics properties.

Add to the mix similar offerings from toy manufacturers like Lego and Mattel. Upstart technology companies, particularly from overseas, are also elbowing for market share. Mind Candy, a British company that last month introduced a world called Moshi Monsters, and Stardoll, a site from Sweden, sign up thousands of members in the United States each day. well as some new and useful info about Pixie Hollow:
Tinker Bell’s world, called Pixie Hollow, illustrates the company’s game plan. Disney is developing the site internally — creative executives who help design new theme park attractions are working on it — and will introduce it this summer to help build buzz for Tinker Bell, a big-budget feature film set for a fall 2008 release.

Visitors to a rudimentary version of Pixie Hollow, reachable through, have already created four million fairy avatars, or online alter egos, according to Disney. The site will ultimately allow users to play games (“help create the seasons”) and interact with other “fairies.” When avatars move across the screen, they leave a sparkling trail of pixie dust, a carefully designed part of the experience.

“We wanted to come up with a way to make flying around the site feel really good,” said Paul Yanover, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online.

Good to know!


Izzy Neis said...

Thanks for the kudos, Sara ;)

How goes it? Your research has to be absolutely lighting up since all the convergence-- totally exciting, right?

Hope all is well. Happy '08!

Shaping Youth said...

Sara, I'm sure you saw Izzy's post about Disney 'flooding their own house' in the VW sphere, too, yes? It was a good one:

She made some really salient marketing points about Disney beginning to treat VW for kids like a 'Park Hopper pass'...which is definitely their branding m.o., as I'm sure you've seen in "Mickey Mouse Monopoly" from the MEF film library...

As I plopped into her comment section on her blog, Shaping Youth would just like to see VW for kids come up with MEANINGFUL content beyond hoochykoochie avatars strutting their stuff in virtual vampdom...

There's SOOOOO much potential in the VW platform for fun integrated with layered non-linear learning, poignant depth and innovation and positive behavioral cues...instead of the current "coinage & consumption" use that's dominating the sector right now.

Nice round-up of resources and commentary, thanks! I'll ping you when your guest editorial is up, HNY! --a.

Sara M. Grimes said...

Hi Izzy! All is indeed well - my research has, as you suspected, really taken off with all these recent developments, and I'm leaving for a research semester at the LSE in less than two weeks. How is everything at Six Degrees?

Sam said...

I can't wait to see the Pixie Hollow.
It will be good for my little cousins.
They love Disney, so I think they will like it.
Same thing with the cars. That looks cool for my other cousin.

Sam said...

Would you happen to know the release date of Pixie Hollow?

Sara M. Grimes said...

I don't think that Disney has announced the date yet...just that it is set to release sometime this summer. The first phase of the site was released in Jan. 2007, and I expect that new features will be added to the current site over the coming months as the site transitions.

Anonymous said...

In regards to Pixie Hallow, I'm buds with the community manager. She's all a-glow with the site, but she's got her hands tied for saying too many specifics. I'm on baited breath for it. For as much as I love Pirates-- it's VERY buggy & glitchy (bah). But, even with that, I still play daily. I'm a nerd like that.

Sara, deep question for you (ooo the suspense)... what are your thoughts on Virtual Worlds vs MMO's for youth & tweens?

It's something I've been debating all day, and I figured of ALL people, you'd probably have some great insights.

Cheers! -iz