Saturday, September 06, 2008

Everybody's Talking About Kids' Virtual Worlds

This past week L.A. played host to the 2ns annual Virtual Worlds Expo, which brought together various industry types to discuss the future of virtual worlds culture, technology, business, etc. With an entire stream dedicated to Kids' Virtual Worlds, which included speakers from Disney, Neopets, Global Kids and more, there was subsequently a lot of news about kids' online culture--as companies, analysts and the like made announcements, predictions and assessments of this ever-growing market. Rather than provide an overview of the Expo (which you can read all about at Virtual Worlds News), I've decided to link up to some of my favourite bloggers' blog posts about kids' vw's that were (coincidentally or not) also published this week, for a more nuanced and (I hope) focused discussion.

1. Although Amy Jussel over at Shaping Youth also missed out on the VW Expo, she didn't let that stop her from putting together an excellent piece on new and upcoming kids' games virtual worlds. Inspired by the industry's newest list/claim of 150 vw's for kids (currently launched or in development), Amy provides a detailed run down of the games/vw's she's particularly interested in for their "considerable promise in Gaming for Good". She includes a diversity of games, from Elf Island and the Me2Universe, to Dizzywood and Playnormous.

2. Over at Terra Nova, Greg Lastowka has posted a thought piece on Habbo Hotel alleged cap on how much players (mostly teens) are allowed to spend on Habbo virtual items a month (according to an interview with a Sulake executive, no more than $35/month). As Greg describes:
Limiting what kids can purchase = consumers' rights? So, by extrapolation, in Scandinavia, I suppose the private candy manufacturers will only sell kids so much chocolate per month, because too much is bad for their teeth? And video game makers will sell kids only one game a month so they can spend more time on their homework? And what else?

Pham's claim -- and the price limit -- say something interesting about virtual property sales, I think. I honestly have no reason to doubt that Sulake really doesn't want to charge kids over $35 a month ($420 a year) for certain pixels, for their own good. I'm just interested in hearing more about what the "ideal market" for selling pixels to kids should look like (and why).

3. Tameka Kee at MediaPost wrote a fascinating and slightly chilling article about back-to-school brands using virtual worlds to reach young more ways than one. For example:
Kohl's set up shop in fashion-focused world Stardoll, while Sears turned to the quirkier Zwinky, but both companies saw a tremendous demand for their virtual wares, according to eMarketer senior analyst Debra Aho Williamson. "Stardoll members purchased 1.8 million items from the Kohl's store within its first 16 days," Williamson said. The retailer honed in on Stardoll's female tween users with Abbey Dawn, the clothing line designed by pop star Avril Lavigne.

Paramount Pictures established a grand presence in Habbo Hotel (as Habbo's world is called) for its film, The Spiderwick Chronicles, complete with quests, contests and a ton of virtual merchandise, including themed furniture. "It was completely ingrained with the story and characters," [Jeremy Monroe, director of business development for Sulake] said.

[Note: Be sure to check out Monroe's hint about using Habbo Hote for market research a bit later on in the same article]. And...
Meanwhile in August, Sears launched a two-story virtual boutique in Zwinktopia, which sold more than 850,000 items in its first 16 days. The retailer also hosted a fashion show, allowing the "Zwinkies" (as the members are called) to get more involved with the brand and its merchandise. "A cool new fashion event hosted by Sears is going on NOW at Lexi Hall!" wrote Miss Cosmopolitan, one of Zwinky's dedicated bloggers. "As an added twist, you'll be able to let users know how you really feel as they strut the catwalk."

4. GameDaily provides an overview of a new NPD report on the Canadian digital games market. Among their conclusions? Kids are a significant part of what drove the market's recent 56% increase (in revenues - June 2007- June 2008). Read more about it here.

More to come, I'm sure, as people who actually attended the Virtual Worlds Expo (such as Izzy Neis) have a chance to digest and report back to the rest of us.

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