A few weeks ago, my kids and I were talking about Webkinz, one of the latest kid crazes that take collecting beanie babies up a level, and it sparked my curiousity about how they are performing online. Webkinz are brought to us by Ganz, a privately held company started in 1950. Like beanie babies before them, Webkinz are limited, hard to find and quickly becoming the toy to give and receive for the 6-12 age cohort. With Webkinz, you also collect "˜plush pets’ BUT purchase of these pets gives you access to your own secret code, which unlocks membership to the web-based Webkinz world.
At webkinz.com, your plush pet comes to life with its needs for food, activity and of course, merchandise. Online, you earn kinzcash to buy food, clothing and toys for your pet and your pet’s customized room. The two top activities for Webkinz users are kinzpost, where you can send notes with stickers to others in the webkinz world, and games in which you win the kinzcash that gives you purchasing power.
The first Webkinz came out in 2005, but Ganz only recently experienced the tipping point with their Webkinz plush pets. The Webkinz site broke into the top 1000 sites in January 2007 and just this month, reached neopets.com volume. Neopets.com has been a top domain in user traffic for the last 6 years, and like webkinz.com, it allows you to care for ‘pets’ in the Neopia world. Unlike Webkinz, neopets is free and revenues are based on advertising, not merchandise sales. clubpenguin.com, another free virtual pet world (albeit penguin-only), also vies for attention from the pre-teen set.
While Webkinz has succeed in matching Neopets volume, it still has a ways to go to reach the same attention levels.
Taking advantage of low supplies and pet-up demand, Russ Berrie & Co recently entered the virtual pet world space with its launch of Shining Stars, another plush pet purchase that gives access to a web world. Although with Shining Stars it seems as if the web part was an afterthought, as the site is really still in the beta stage as compared to the others.
If you go to the shiningstars.com, good luck finding any parental information. As for my kids, I doubt shiningstar.com will be as regular a visit as Webkinz, which continues to add more functionality and better access (new servers in late 2006) to keep the kids coming back"¦ But you know how web-trends are"¦they change!