"The goal is to grow revenue in the franchise year over year. The model is its Disney Princess business, a group that joins Sleeping Beauty and Snow White with more recent heroines like Pocahontas and Mulan, and reaps $4 billion a year.
Disney's been pretty tight-lipped about the population sizes and profits made from its various virtual worlds, but comScore recently released new stats about Disney's MMOG empire, which now includes Toontown, Club Penguin, Pirates of the Caribbean Online and the new Pixie Hollow:
Among the 65 million avatars so far created in Disney's four worlds, there were 9.2 unique visitors in September, up 37 per cent from last year, according to comScore Media Metrix.
Steve Parkis, the senior vice president of Disney Online Studios, said makers of virtual worlds generally convert 5 to 20 per cent of visitors into paying customers with monthly subscriptions - which enable users to buy better gags or weapons, pursue more interesting quests or, in Pixie Hollow, make and buy outfits.
"Ten to 12 per cent is where you want to be, 20 per cent is very successful," Parkis said of the conversion rate. "We would be in the more successful range across the majority of our products."
The Canadian Press estimates that Disney's online worlds make about $7 million a month and $85 million a year, which they describe as "on par with one low-budget hit movie." Not to mention all the promotional activity that goes on in the sites, even just in terms of transmedia intertextuality, keeping kids "inside" the narrative of a particular Disney media-brand.
I've now played several hours of Pixie Hollow and I've got to say...they've done a really great job with this game. The flying mechanics are really fun (though sadly in 2D), the different areas are very pretty and create a real sense of a surrounding environment (though a bit fragmented). And there's an underlying theme of community service which includes a coop-style market system. Contributing to the community is encouraged (and at least early on it's required in order to progress through the character's skill levels), and players get to "make" virtual items such as clothes and shoes...a process that is incorporated into a series of mini-games through which you dye the fabric, cut it into shapes and sew the pieces together. The other mini-games interspersed throughout the world are also pretty fun...no coop mini-games that I could find (at least not yet), but players are able to play tag and race each other in the regular multiplayer areas. Tie-in products are advertised on the site, but don't seem to appear inside the game environment...though I'll have to do more searching until I find out for sure.
My initial assessment - Disney continues to set the standard when it comes to commercial kids' MMOGs. It's not an extraordinarily high standard, unfortunately, but they're definitely playing by a different set of rules and expectations than the BarbieGirls and Webkinzes of the online world.