Saturday, September 15, 2007

A new generation of toys


If you haven't seen Webkinz, then you haven't seen the future of toys! The idea is that you purchase a stuffed animal (husky dog, raccoon, platypus, frog, etc.) for about $12.99. They are a little larger than beanie babies, about as plush as furbies, but have no sound. Seem unremarkable? Without internet access, they are. However, once you log in your "secret code" with Mrs. Birdy (what an annoying voice!) , you enter a new world with unlimited hours of exploration and play. You also get your printable adoption certificate (a la Cabbage Patch Kids) .

Your real pet is mirrored by a virtual pet. You adopt a pet with a personality of its own. You are also awarded some gifts and some kinzcash. With this money, you can buy a room for your pet, clothes, toys, decorations, etc. The more webkinz you adopt, the better the gifts. The premise is built on capitalism. To earn kinzcash, you work at jobs at the employment office , challenge opponents in tournaments, answers trivia questions, play games in an arcade, and periodically log in to certain pages for extra cash via gambling-type games (a la slot machine, wheel of fortune, etc.). With this cash, you can buy goods. The goods that are more desirable are those that are "exclusive" or "super exclusive" (supply and demand theory).

The site allows for interaction among kids. They can visit each other's rooms and play with the items that are placed there. Kids can also send each other things (kinzpost). There is also a chat feature though the interface is a bit cumbersome.

What you might find amazing is the number of adults on this site! Everywhere I go, I find parents logging in to their kids' accounts and playing. You don't know that a webkinz is being powered by an adult or a kid (there are strict processes in place to dissuade personal interaction outside the boundaries of the game).

OK, I admit I am addicted to the Goober's Lab arcade game (it is a tetris-like game that involves timed strategy moves). I also like the Kinz Post job (you need to stack boxes with the correct addends to equal the sum listed). Of course, you can't miss getting your free kinzcash by completing the daily activities like the Wishing Well and Arte's gem hunt (you can sell what you find or save them for the "legendary crown of wonder"). I am also amazed at the farming feature (kids buy seeds, plant, sow and then feed the farm-fresh foods to their pets). If pets get ill, they are taken to the doctor. There are books to read, recipes to create, clothes to fashion, and the list goes on. It is a somewhat complete virtual world!

I spoke to one teacher who harnesses the power of Webkinz. She bought one pet and brought it to her second-grade class as the "class pet" (no more dirty hamster cages to clean!). Each child got to take it home each weekend to log in to the computer (or perhaps just hug it for the weekend). The students each contributed to the pet's account, earning money, buying items, increasing the skill level, decorating the rooms and dressing it! The children collaborated to create the best possible home for their pet. The Webkinz account expires at the end of the year unless a new pet is bought and added. Thus, the next year's class gets two pets!

I've also seen blogs posted by kids about their webkinz. Check out this one, complete with images of the adoption certificates!

While a lot of the webkinz site is purely entertainment, there is learning strewn throughout. It doesn't seem like an educational site (thus the allure!). What many find questionable is Canadian toymaker Ganz's marketing strategies and emphasis on commercial ism that is obvious throughout the site. Having kids log on for free items at a certain time certainly motivates them to keep coming back! Kids spent an average of two hours and eight minutes per visit on Webkinz between April 2006 and January 2007. Ganz reports that toy buyers have snapped up more than 2 million Webkinz pets since April 2005 and better than 1 million users have registered online. More than $20 million in retail sales in less than 24 months! With Club Penguin recently purchased by Disney for $350 million (and another $350 million promised if performance objectives are met), Webkinz is poised to become one of the most lucrative toys of all times!

In the words of Goober, that's "atomicolicious!"

11 Comments:

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Ed Tech Blog said...

That was an amazing bio of Webkinz and you should add it to Wikipedia.

My 9 year old daughter has 5 Webkinz and what she likes best is the ability to either play by herself, or play with other friends. She also loves earning money and playing in the arcade.

I asked her what has Webkinz taught you about the computer, and she said it taught her how to type.

In reality it has actually made her more self-confident with her friends, and provided a platform for a child who is shy.

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger Ed Tech Blog said...

That was an amazing bio of Webkinz and you should add it to Wikipedia.

My 9 year old daughter has 5 Webkinz and what she likes best is the ability to either play by herself, or play with other friends. She also loves earning money and playing in the arcade.

I asked her what has Webkinz taught you about the computer, and she said it taught her how to type.

In reality it has actually made her more self-confident with her friends, and provided a platform for a child who is shy.

 
At 8:15 PM, Blogger Patti said...

I remember when they first came out...couldn't get one. I went from store to store trying to find one. I felt like it was Christmas and I was searching for the "hot" item. My students from last year are still talking about it. :)

 
At 10:51 PM, Anonymous michelle hillison said...

Thanks so much for mentioning the blog that I have with my daughter, http://atomicolicious.com/

I'm a web producer/developer and I thought this was a great way to teach fun technology skills to my daughter.

My nine year old daughter is not a traditionally book smart kid despite many and varied attempts. But I noticed early she was very comfortable with technology and had a great eye (she shoots nice photos with my high end Nikon). So I thought how do I put all this together - webkinz was the answer.

She'll write and read on her blog, which also means practicing typing. She can take a screenshot, edit it in photoshop (basics like copy, paste, crop, flatten, fill and save), knows how to use ftp to connect to our server and how to post the images with the wordpress tools. She is actually now learning the html code themselves since they are fairly intuitive. I'm thrilled!

She wrote and produced a news broadcast this summer on webkinz that we edited (or I did with her ideas) and we streamed it online. It was hysterical and she was learning without even know it!

In school now, she helps other kids with technology. She feels pretty smart about things.

No one taught me how to do this stuff, I just learned and I've had a job in new media since 97! I don't know if my daughter will follow in my footsteps but she'll need these skills for life at all.

While I love that my child is soaring with this, it is pretty cool that we've had over 30 other blogs created by kids who hang out on the blog.

-Michelle hillison

(of course I got hooked into the game too for the fun and the people involved)

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger Elvin Aviles said...

Elvin Aviles
EDTC 621 USING THE INTERNET IN EDUCATION

I had not heard of Webkinz before reading your blog. I don't know what that says about me, perhaps I'm too involved in my own little world. But it definitely sounds interesting and scary at once. It seems like it's just one more on the long list of toys and products that children get obsessed with and in turn end up sucking their parents checking accounts dry. Sure, like you said, it may have some educational value, but so does spending the same 2 hours plus reading a book, or playing a sport, of spending time with the family (or dare I say, playing Halo). And the issue about getting kids early with the whole consumerism aspect of our society can be serious, depending on our views.

Personally, my first opinion is to say the same thing I say about any product or software that involves customers in a fictitious, online, time-consuming, world: be careful. All I have to do is watch one of those shows where they set up pedophiles and lure them to a suburban home where they think they will meet an underage boy or girl whom they've been chatting with online for months. I think our kids are too caught up in the online world with chat rooms, myspace, etc. A lot of them need to get out to the park a little more.

 
At 4:15 PM, Blogger Danielle Petrucci said...

I have seen advertisments for webkinz all over and was wondering what they were all about. What a wonderful toy/learning tool!

 
At 2:06 PM, Blogger Ms. Paugh said...

Thanks for finally explaining the meaning behind all the Webkinz signs I've been seeing.

My teenage daughter skipped this phase. She never played with any toys we got her. Two years ago, we got her a laptop and it's been her world ever since. She's a moderator on Meg Cabot's website and follows authors on the web. She even found an international green project she is doing online with another teen from California and two from other countries.

 
At 4:07 PM, Blogger Laura Zieger said...

Michelle Hillison--
I'm happy to hear how you have used technology with your daughter as a teaching tool without her knowing she is learning! We parents can be sneaky! :) This is the goal of our Ed Tech graduate program: to show teachers how to use technology as a teaching and learning tool. Harnessing your daughter's passion is the key! Thanks for the post!

 
At 1:10 AM, Anonymous Webkinz said...

I must agree that webkinz are now starting to spread. Its the newest toys and game for the generation of kids today

 
At 3:00 AM, Anonymous Buffy said...

People should read this.

 
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