It had to happen. You can’t say you didn’t see it coming. Everyone is jumping on the “kiddie” virtual world bandwagon these days. One of the latest is the real world brick and mortar “Build a Bear Workshop”. My youngest son has had a Build a Bear Koala Bear for over four years now. Kids that lined up to build their bear in the real world can now take them online to play.
You now get an access code along with the little bear’s heart (do the dance) when you build a bear in one of the Build a Bear Workshops at your local mall. Take the code home and you can create an account and bring your bear to life online to play games and socialize with other kids. The interesting thing here is that if you don’t have a bear code you can only use canned chat phrases online, a code unlocks full chat with other residents in-world.
Terra Nova has an interesting post up about this double standard for paying and non-paying customers in the Build a Bearville virtual world:
Sexual Safety for the Price of a Teddy Bear
(the article actually makes the case that those who buy a bear are more at risk than those who do not because of the unlocking of full interactive chat in-world)
This new Build a Bear world looks like all the rest, a 3D immersive platform designed for kids to play mini-games and to promote the brand. I have to keep asking these questions:
“When will a company move beyond these mindless recycled arcade games and actually try to promote some educational or socially responsible content for our kids online? Do we really need to saturate every minute of their young lives with glorified commercials for the products they consume?”
Done the right way, kids could become just as involved in socially and educationally redeeming virtual worlds as they are with these “junk food” kiddie virtual worlds. And the really sad part is that I’ve actually heard parents brag about how their children “use the computer” to play in these worlds.
And not to be outdone, Beanie Babies have been rescued from the clearance bin of your local store with the new and improved Ty Beanie Babies 2.0. Can you guess what makes these Beanie’s v2.0? I know, this is probably a tough question. They look like the same old Beanie’s to me too. Who said a Virtual World? Give that person a newly re-labeled Beanie! Yes, now you can take your Beanie Babies online in a Virtual World to play arcade games! Apparently in this virtual world you can add your own writing to online books about the Beanies. Since I don’t have a code, I can’t tell you what that might look like.
Here’s a promo video on Beanie Babies 2.0
Of course, if you’ve been following this for any length of time, Webkinz started all of this with their online stuffed animal virtual world. Their stuffed animal virtual world is a bit odd, as their stuffed animals can only live online for one year from the time their code is input to enter the virtual Webkinz world. I guess this means their stuffed animals come complete with an expiration date.
This is only the first wave of these “kiddie” virtual worlds. I imagine that this hot trend is going to lead to other copycat platforms to promote everything from toy cars and dolls to breakfast cereal. I bet we have a “generic development platform” in the not too distant future that can be pawned off to anxious marketers wanting to enter this space with their youth targeted products.
This model is completely upside down. Stuffed animals have always been the post-toddler security blanket for young kids. These fuzzy friends allow children to tackle scary and challenging situations with their stuffed buddy in tow. They eventually outgrow the bears and dolls and move up to bigger challenges (like Middle School) all by themselves. I would much rather see a young child exploring a variety of educational and knowledge based virtual worlds with the ability to bring a virtual facsimile of their real world bear or doll to adventure with them rather than seeing them wasting their time in these virtual wastelands.
As for me, I’m holding out for a spot on Cap’n Crunches Pirate Ship. Aye, shove off ye virtual commercial lands!