Thursday, January 17, 2008


*****Originally drafted on January 9th*****

Inspired by the success of BarbieGirls, and building upon its past good fortune with fashion games (such as the Barbie: Fashion Designer PC games), Mattel made its mark on this week's Sandbox Summit by launching its newest girlie-tech initiative, a CD/collectible card game hybrid called Barbie iDesign. According to the press release:
Barbie® iDesign™ is the newest introduction from the "Barbie Tech" group, and builds on the success of Barbie Girls™, a hybrid play experience that combines a real world, doll-inspired music device with a virtual world platform., the first global, virtual online world designed exclusively for girls now boasts more than 9.5 million registered users worldwide and has been referred to as the "fastest growing virtual world ever".

Continuing to tap into how today's girls play, and expand the Barbie® tech line-up, Barbie® iDesign™ turns fashion play traditionally experienced through a doll into an interactive, computer-based game with scannable fashion cards. With Barbie® iDesign™ girls become the ultimate fashion stylist through a highly creative and engaging gaming experience.

The game's incorporation of RL play and virtual play is of particular interest to me, of course, as is the clever integration of collectibility into the game design. Sort of Pokemonesque, the collectible cards that go with the game could turn into quite the cash cow for Mattel, and quite the headache for kids (as gameplay will surely be limited unless more cards are acquired) and parents (who will be expected to pay for said cards). Of course, Barbie dolls have always promoted consumption through the collection of Barbie clothes, accessories, dream houses and friends....all of which now appear available in card-to-virtual form. As the press release explains:
There are 200 different, collectible fashion cards, consisting of various hair styles, tops , bottoms, dresses, shoes, accessories and fashion models, and each has a unique barcode that when "swiped" through the USB-connected scanner, is uploaded to the "Design Studio" closet within the PC software. Once fashions are scanned and loaded on the computer, girls can play fashion stylist and create more than 21,000,000 fashionable ensembles in the game's "Design Studio." When the fashions are runway ready, girls are able to customize their fashion show in the game's "Fashion Runway" mode of play.

Other than promoting micro-purchases, the game will allow girls to "create unique mixing and matching the different fashiosn that have been swiped and added to the "closet"" (just like on the Barbie Girls site, this sounds more like styling than fashion designing, and I'm pretty sure we'll see many of the same clothes available for purchase in Barbie doll sizes), design a fashion show featuring the runway talent of Barbie and her friends (again, through customization, and "play" in the "Designer's Club" -- where they can watch a recording of their "Runway Show", design a magazine cover using images from their Runway Show (or Design Studio), and use the "fashion cards" to play basic games like memory. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy, as this sounds like a perfect example of Mattel's now standard approach toward integrating marketing.

In related news, Mattel spent a good chunk of the pre-Christmas hype season building up its BarbieGirls brand and mp3 player, touting its popularity and claiming the title of "most requested toy" for girls, according to a number of magazines and websites that rank this type of thing. And although I did find a number of articles supporting the claim, the vast majority (i.e. all the ones I read) were cut and paste rewrites of a Mattel press release from late-November. Here's an excerpt:
As the holiday season's busiest shopping weekend kicks off today, gift-givers will be heading into the Barbie® aisle to find the season's "most requested toy" for girls. For the fifth year in a row, Barbie® toys were named the No. 1 requested holiday gift by girls, per the National Retail Federation, shining this year with the hugely innovative, tech-y Barbie Girls™ device and a new line of princess-themed dolls and playsets based on the popular new DVD "Barbie™ as The Island Princess." Additionally, several other Mattel Brands' toys have been named by toy, parenting, technology and retail experts as the season's must-have's.

I've gathered together links to all the sources cited in the Mattel press release that include the Barbie Girls mp3 in their top ten (for girls, or for younger kids, or for kids generally). These include:
All Aboard
iParenting Media
PC Magazine
The National Parenting Centre
Top Toys Guide
Toy Wishes
UK Toy Retailers Association.

The site/product has also won an award from the Web Marketing Association for "Best Toy Site", which I find particularly interesting and worthy of note. It seems that we are witnessing a veritable renaissance of the girls' games movement, with almost no deviation from its first incarnation, other than the massively increased presence of marketing and cross-promotion.

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