The subscription version is designed to give girls more of what they love about the popular virtual world, including a world four times larger than its original size, with new locations to explore, new games and new experiences throughout the site. The V.I.P. membership costs $5.99 for a one-month subscription and provides access to the truly new experience launching today. Barbie Girls™ fans can also still play on the site for no cost with a basic version of the virtual world.
When they first announced BarbieGirls V.I.P. at the Virtual Worlds 2008 conference in April, Mattel reps described that the popularity of its site wasn’t based so much on the tie-in toys as on the kids’ desire to play together online. And it is in the exploitation of this desire, in the production of affect, that Mattel sees the real potential of virtual worlds. In an interview with Virtual Worlds News, Charles Scothon, General Manager & SVP Girls Mattel Brands, and Rosie O’Neill, Chief Barbie Girl, described:
"They wanted the pets, but they weren’t necessarily playing through the fashion plates," said Scothon. "They were really playing online. Where we were saying 'Hey, it's about music, fashion, and online community," what we really found is that it's about online with the supporting sides of fashion, socialization, and creativity. Those are the three pillars that drive the experience."
The play patterns remain fairly similar to when children pick up dolls and dress them, now Mattel is just trying to focus on re-creating that in a new medium.
"We look at how a girl likes to play and then translate that to online," said O’Neill. "We talked to a lot of girls and there were a few things that really emerged. Social play is obviously very important, so the way we translated that online was allowing girls to make friends throughout the site, but also to have a really deep experience, sending gifts and messages, and we give two ways to chat."
I look forward to seeing what the new service provides -- perhaps some actual play activities, and not just more lessons in hyper-feminized consumerism? What this announcement and new service remind me of, however, is the cunning of running a game like this in Beta mode...just like with adult and teen games, the strategy appears to be giving them tons of valuable market research info, player feedback and free labour, as girls are enlisted to co-create the game with Mattel, all within the added safety of the lowered expectations associated with a "work in progress". I'm thinking that the "Beta" status of BarbieGirls and similar games is more important than I first imagined...
Anyway, Business Wire provides a nice run-down of the new features associated with the V.I.P. subscription service, which include:
* A special virtual tiara
* Total access to the Extreme DreamPark [i.e. actual games!!!]
* Access to the Tail Shakin’ Tree House [a shop for virtual pets?]
* Adoptable virtual pets, which will live in their rooms
* The ability to give and receive makeovers in the Club Beauty™ spa
* Access to the Glam Gowns shop, where they can stage fashion shows
* Ability to "invite friends to their personally designed rooms and visit their friends’ rooms" [this feature used to be available to all, we'll have to see if this has changed]
* V.I.P. members-only fashions, accessories and more [just like with the mp3]
* V.I.P.-only furniture and room decor [again, like the mp3]
* V.I.P. only pet accessories
* Multi-player games [!!!]
* Gifts, which can be sent and received among online friends
And, in the "Coming soon" category:
* Earn pink “diamonds” to spend on special prizes
* Play the Sparkle Coaster Race multi-player game
* Customize your character to show off your mood, hobbies, personality and more