Thursday, April 3, 2008

More Virtual Worlds for Children

The annual virtual worlds conference is taking place in NYC today and tomorrow. Just a list of the speakers is instructive; there are a lot of major brands that are becoming players in the virtual worlds space.

The announcement that caught my eye was from Nickelodeon. They’re planning more virtual worlds to join Nicktropolis, now about a year old. They include the popular SpongeBob SquarePants, which will delight my grandson! More to the point, if you look at the comparative site statistics for the Disney Virtual Kingdom and Nicktropolis (both of which are relatively generic), versus the Barbie World, the wisdom of building a virtual world around a more targeted brand seems evident.

Virtual worlds have taken a lot of hits lately, but they seem to be here to stay, especially for the young crowd that likes to spend time playing games and communicating with a network of friends.

A couple of questions. First, is there a strong first mover advantage here? Even for kids there are a limited number of sites that they are going to patronize at any given time. The real question is, “Will they be loyal?” Kids? I think not. If their friends are suddenly all over a new site with cooler stuff, they’ll leave for the new one.

Second, when is a brand franchise strong enough to warrant this type of investment? Barbie seems obvious. SpongeBob may be also. But again, how many, how strong? And how do you keep the virtual worlds vibrant?

These are truly brave new worlds--watch for further bulletins from this space!
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Anonymous said...

I have a few thoughts on this subject. First I would like to say as the father of 5 kids, you are correct, their attention span is limited and even more so by the friends that they have and the influences that come along with them. That being said, there is certainly reason to keep content up to date and vibrant. After the initial costs have been absorbed, it is my guess that the revenue coming from advertisers and product promotion are worth every penny spent keeping the site fresh. However as time goes by there may be a cycle that becomes evident with Web sites that focus on social realms. If we look at there is evidence that the site has matured and is heading, however slowly to a diminishing state, ousted perhaps by I am sure that Sponge Bob will suffer a similar fate, at least with respect to the social aspect. One caveat might be Barbie, the brand is so strong they may have the luxury of long term sustainability, I guess only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

My daughter (6) loves Barbie World. The site has a few really smart features. One smart marketing feature is that most of the virtual world is accessible to anyone who logs in, but some functionality is only accessible if you have a BarbieTM (which I think is a kind of Barbie MP3 player, unfortunately its not available here).

A smart feature from the perspective of parents (and kids too maybe) and whihc really appeals to me as a parent is that girls can chat to one another on the site, but they can only use preselected phrases to talk to one another. Yes, it's limiting, but it also prevents online bullying/teasing, which I like since I choose not to stand next to my kids 100% of the time that they are online.