Archive for the 'Age 06-08/Grade K-2/Kid' Category

A Conversation With Vicky Rideout

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Summarizing “Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use in America 2013″

[The following is an article I wrote for the November 2013 issue of Children's Technology Review. A PDF copy of the article from this magazine can be downloaded here.]

A photo of Vicky Rideout from an earlier 2013 presentation

For those of us that work in children’s media, there’s nothing like finding a fresh, data filled report.

Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use in America 2013” is Vicki Rideout’s latest in a series of reports commissioned by Common Sense Media. Having followed Vicky’s work for more than a decade, I asked her for an overview of her findings.

The first key finding is this: Television and video game use is down for children compared to just two years ago. (Yes, down, not up!) In addition, overall screen media use is down compared to what was recorded just two years ago.

Television viewing in the bedroom is also down by a sizable amount. As with the television and video game drop Vicky says “I’d like to look back on these data points from a future report to see if this is a bump or a trend.” This finding does beg some additional questions that cannot be answered through the report, like has there been a drop in the number of televisions owned in the home? Has the drop in television viewing in the bedroom shifted to video viewing on a tablet in the bedroom? Vicky says it is too early to tell if this is a trend.

According to Rideout “Little drops in each platform add up to a half hour of less screen time per day on traditional screens. Then when you add in the increase in mobile use it brings that number down to 20 minutes less screen time per day. While this drop in overall screen time is significant and noteworthy, I’d like to see what the research says in another two years.”

There’s a lot of material in this report about tablet and related mobile media use. For example, two years ago only 8% of parents owned a tablet. “Today it’s 40% and children’s tablet ownership is nearly similar to that of their parents from the 2011 report. Years ago handheld video game manufacturers noted that when an older sibling purchased a new handheld gaming device, a younger sibling would ultimately receive the older device. Could the same thing be happening here with parents purchasing a new tablet and giving the children their old one? This report can’t answer that question specifically, but one thing is clear: Tablet ownership by children will increase in the years to come.

Another key trend: there is a giant shift in media use, and “the tablet is a game changer.” Vicky told me that there is “some computer use among young children, starting as early as four years of age, but because the tablet has simplified the interface so much and made things so intuitive, we see really young children successfully using this platform. If a one or two year old child can turn the pages of a board book, that same child can touch and swipe a tablet. If that child can point to an image on a board book, then that child can launch an app. As a result, a large world of content is made available to these young children. The floor for how young children use this platform has gone way down compared to other technological innovations, even compared to the Wii, which was a huge leap forward in terms of intuitive use and interface deign.”

In addition Vicky notes: “People keep saying how children are so technologically smart. We have that notion backwards. It’s the technology that’s become smart, so smart that a kid, or even a baby can use it. This change is also opening up access to content that is not just about passive video watching.

“People keep asking me ‘Is this a good thing or a bad thing?’ Unless you believe that a screen per se is a bad thing for kids no matter what, I usually respond that this is just a thing, it’s just a tablet. The good or bad about a tablet depends on the quality of the content you share with a child through this new medium.”

Vicky’s comments just begin to scratch the surface of what’s included in this new report. However, Vicky also shared she is working on a new report, focused on the same zero to eight demographic, but this time she’s writing it for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. This report will take a deep dive into educational media, eBooks, and joint media engagement (a fancy term for parents who share in the same media experience with their child). The scheduled date of release is January 23, 2014. We look forward to reading more!

Related links:

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013
Common Sense Media

VIDEO – Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology – Vicky Rideout interview (2013)
360KID

Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology (2013)
Northwestern University


VIDEO – Vicky Rideout interview – Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use Research Overview (2011)

360KID

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America (2011)
Common Sense Media

Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds (2010)
Kaiser Family Foundation


Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Yr-olds (2005)

Kaiser Family Foundation

The Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero to Six: A History of Research (2005)
Kaiser Family Foundation

Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers (2003)
Kaiser Family Foundation

Kids & Media @ The New Millennium (1999)
Kaiser Family Foundation

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Kid Testing and Facebook – What? Are You Crazy?!

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

How 360KID uses Facebook to find kid testers to improve their digital creations and apps.

This has been a busy year of development for my company. We’ve been creating multiple interactive products for kids. Some are learning apps, some are online games, some electronic toys. Some are for preschoolers, some for tweens. All of them have one thing in common. The completed products must successfully engage kids. In an effort to make sure we are making the best interactive products possible, we need to test our ideas with children. When I say “we” I mean the larger kids industry, not just my company. For those who develop any kind of product or media for kids (especially all those children’s app developers out there! I’m talking to you!) you MUST kid test your products. Get your software builds, your animations, your web games, your characters, your paper prototypes out there in front of real kids! Do not go to market without testing your assumptions, you may find you had it all wrong. Testing is an invaluable part of children’s media development and should be part of every product you make if you work in the kids biz.

There are a number of ways to recruit kids for testing. You can reach out to family and friends, kids in your neighborhood. However, sometimes you need to reach out beyond your known circle and find kids from another location; say kids that live in a city, or bilingual preschoolers, or eight to ten year olds that belong to Girl Scouts, or tweens that like to play baseball. What do you do then?

While you can reach out to specific youth groups, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other kid-focused organizations, you can also use Facebook. Now I know you’re saying “What?! Facebook? For recruiting kid testers? Are you crazy?!” As with all kid testing, you’re starting a conversation with a parent, and recruiting through Facebook means you are looking to have a conversation with a parent about kid testing.

Here’s a more detailed look at one kid testing ad campaign we placed on Facebook. We started by selecting a particular town we wished our testers to come from. The 10 mile radius around that town had 168,000 parents using Facebook. Selecting a thinner slice from that group, parents with children ages 4 to 12 resulted in 1,400 Facebook users. When you start a Facebook ad, you can get very specific about the kind of person you wish to reach. Do you want to reach just men 25 years of age or older? How about just women with a PhD? All of this is possible to define in your campaign. However, the more specific you get with your target demographic, the smaller your audience will become.

We posted an ad for kid testers for 45 days, with a maximum bid of $2.50 per click, not to exceed a cost of $50 a day. Our ad appeared over 712,000 times (impressions), reaching more than 8,200 Facebook users in our target age and location (demographic), resulting in a click-through rate (CTR) of 427. We heard from about 45 parents, leading to 22 parents bringing in 30 children, all for a total cost of $560, or about $1.30 per click.

Another way to look at our recruiting costs: $25 per parent or about $19 per child. This was just our advertising cost and did not include email communication time, phone calls, testing time, analysis of results, or the stipend we offered a parent for having their child come in to test with us.

Was it worth it? Yes, in the end Facebook definitely helped us find kids from a specific geo-targeted location to test with.

Was it perfect? Hardly. There were many frustrating parts to working with Facebook. First time advertisers will be annoyed that once you place an ad, it can take many days before your campaign is approved and goes live. While you’re waiting, all you can do is think about what you did wrong and why your ad is not producing. During this time you’ll probably change your ad copy and up the daily maximum bid thinking it will help. But hold tight, Facebook is just being Facebook. It takes time for an ad to kick in, and you will receive next to no communication from Facebook while you are pulling out your hair, wondering what’s going on.

Were there any surprises? You bet. While many parents found our ad on Facebook, there were some “uber parents” that helped spread the word around their neighborhood that we were looking for kid testers. About four parents that came in were in this category. They were great at helping reach many more parents, including non-Facebook users as well.

In the end we met many great parents with some wonderful kids. All of which helped us refine our product and made it better. We couldn’t be happier, and our finished product shines as a result of the feedback we incorporated back into development! Thank you parents and our 360KID testers!

Bottom line: It doesn’t matter how you find kids to test with, using Facebook or some other means, what matters is that you test! Doing so will only help make your product shine, stand out from the pack, and lead to more successful interactions through your product with kids. Now get out there and start testing!

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Tween Virtual Worlds by the Numbers

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The Top 10 Tween Virtual World and MMO destinations which include Wizard 101, Minecraft, Roblox, Pirate101, Club Penguin, Moviestar Planet, Poptropica, AnimalJam, Webkinz, Fantage

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted some data on the virtual world space for tweens. I’ve been curious about a number of worlds and how they have been doing. Some questions that have been on my mind; How has Wizard101 been doing since the launch of it’s newer Pirate101 property? Has Roblox been growing and how has it’s traffic been in comparison to Minecraft? How have the Marvel and Star Wars designs worked out for Club Penguin? These are just a few questions, but what often happens as you start tabulating the data, may more questions start to emerge, along with some interesting findings. Let’s take a look.

A few immediate observations (see chart below). Wizard101 is crushing it! Their unique visitor stats (“uniques”) are off the charts! The big question I’ve had for the last year or so, can KingsIsle maintain it’s growth with two virtual worlds instead of eroding traffic from one to give to the other? In the first six months of Pirate101 it looked like Pirate was cannibalizing traffic from Wizard. Not so for the last three months. Both worlds appear to be growing in traffic very nicely together, and it appears without any cannibalization.

Chart - Top 10 Tween Virtual Worlds Comparing Unique Visitor Data
Chart 1 – Top 10 Tween Virtual Worlds – Comparing Unique Visitor Data. (Click image to see larger version of the chart.)

Another finding, it looks like unique traffic to Roblox has been following Minecraft’s growth pretty evenly. Roblox edged out Minecraft this past December and May, just a wee bit, and now they are neck-and-neck for the month of July.

While Poptropica’s numbers are still very nice, we’re not seeing the usual summertime climb in traffic. I find this a little odd.

Similar flat growth for Club Penguin during this summer, but they broke an all time record this past April, reaching the highest level of traffic ever in their history! The December before they also broke that record. Some nice high numbers, which I would also expect to see in July again.

Animal Jam continues its very steady slow climb. Always nice to see the upward trend here, even if it is small. Slow and steady wins the race!

What’s also interesting about Chart 1 is what it does not say. For the month of July Moshi Monsters didn’t place in the Top 10. Neither did MonkeyQuest, or for that matter the other two Viacom worlds as well, including PetPet Park and NeoPets. (More on Moshi in a moment.)

Chart - Top 10 Tween Virtual Worlds - Cumulative Unique Visitor Data
Chart 2 – Top 10 Tween Virtual Worlds – Cumulative Unique Visitor Data. (Click image to see larger version of the chart.)

From December 2011 to December 2012 unique traffic almost doubled to 50 million uniques across these ten worlds. The cumulative traffic for July 2013 is just over 55 million uniques! Compare that with July 2011′s numbers of just about 21 million uniques and you can see the overall growth in the tween virtual world space. However, the majority of the growth appears to be coming from Wizard101, Minecraft, Roblox, and Pirate101.

Chart - Top 10 Tween Virtual Worlds - Cumulative Unique Visitor Data
Chart 3 – Top 10 Tween Virtual Worlds – Percentage of Marketshare based on Unique Visitor Data. (Click image to see larger version of the chart.)

This marketshare chart above demonstrates how Wizard101, Pirate101, Minecraft and Roblox control almost 60% of the uniques combined for tween virtual worlds in the US. You can also notice some erosion with Webkinz and Fantage over time.

Chart - Moshi Monsters - Lifetime Unique Visitor
Chart 4 – Moshi Monsters – Lifetime Unique Visitor. (Click image to see larger version of the chart.)

Now let’s take a deeper look at Moshi Monsters. Why didn’t they place in the Top 10? The chart above shows the lifetime uniques for the destination within the US, more than five and a half years of data. You will notice that Moshi had a really great spring. Huge traffic! However, that traffic almost evaporated during the last two months. Let me remind you, the summer months in the US are a time for big numbers, not small. When this happens the first thing I often question is the validity of the Compete data for those months. The trouble is I’ve been using Compete for so long I’ve noticed they rarely get two months of back-to-back data wrong. It could happen, but I’m doubtful that’s the problem. Whatever the reason, it is a surprise to see after such a stellar rise in the spring.

These are just a few of the many stories that could be told with this data. There are many more stories to be told when you look at the data together with the hundreds of other worlds I follow as well. Especially when you break out the data by category (casual gaming, creative expression, education, sports, etc.) Do you see anything of interest with these charts? Do you see a story that needs to be told? If so, be sure to post a response in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

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Tech Toy Magic at Toy Fair

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

For more than a decade I’ve been going to the annual NY Toy Fair, and I go primarily for one reason. To check out the latest technology toys. I’ve seen some amazing toys over the years, as well as hundreds, maybe thousands of other toys that just didn’t make the cut. This year a few new tech toy products caught my eye, and I’d like to share what excites me about them. I’m not highlighting these products because of their suggested retail price, and my praise has nothing to do with how well I think they might sell come next holiday season. My interest is in the idea, and the execution of that idea. With that as background, let’s dig in.

Barbie’s Makeup Mirror by Mattel

Mattel's new Barbie Makeover Mirror nicely integrates an iPad with pretend play.

Let me start by saying Barbie is not my thing. I’m not really drawn to Barbie, and I usually pass right by all things related to dolls, but not this year. In an iPad world filled with shovelware there are few tangible toy and app collaborations that rise to the level of noteworthy. There have been too many forced mergers of toys and apps together on the iPad that simply don’t work. The toy world has been carelessly forcing this merger, hoping to find an answer without actually understanding the question… and that’s where this Barbie product really shines. Finally, someone merged software and a child’s play pattern together seamlessly. This vanity toy reminds me of the vanity toy tables that were popular with young girls many years ago. Dress up and pretend play have always been a strong play pattern with young children. This app and toy combination hits the nail on the head, by using the iPad’s onboard camera to allow a user to play and try on different personalities through digital makeup, and then easily share those creations with a friend. Lots of fun and lots of strong play. Bravo Mattel! My hope is what you have created will shine as a beacon for the rest of the toy world (and app world as well) to learn from, that you just can’t throw an app and a toy together and call it fun. Find the play pattern first, and build from there. Plain and simple.

Flutterbyes by Spin Master

Spin Master's newest flying creation, the flying fairy.

This next tech toy product defines a real milestone in the toy industry. The Spin Master flying fairy product called Flutterbyes nearly knocked me over when I saw it. Why? The toy industry has been dreaming of bringing a small flying fairy to market long before I started attending Toy Fair. I’ve seen toy inventors talk about it, wonder, plan, scheme, invent, try, fail, try again, and yet there has never been any really great breakthrough. Ever. Until now. Spin Master did it, and it makes sense that they achieved this milestone since they have been sitting on some serious flying toy technology through their Air Hogs line. This milestone marks the beginning of light weight rechargeable batteries that can be a part of all kinds of future flying toys, as well as the flying stabilization technology included within. Just imagine where this will go. This flying fairy is one simple, and elegant toy. Well done Spin Master! (Video clip)

Cubelets by Modular Robotics

Cubelets by Modular Robotics

I grew up on electronics kits. Lot’s of pre-cut wires and metal spring connectors were part of my everyday electronic play. Spending say 30 minutes building a project with another 15 minutes to figure out where the mistake was in order for the whole thing to work. No more! Cubelets has success built-in from the moment you place one cube next to another. Cubelets are a series of electronic cubes where each cube has its own unique characteristic. Some cubes are power sources. Others have motors. Some have lights. Others include sensors and some even include modifiable logic through programming. There’s even a website where you can download sample programming code made by other Cubelet fans to try out on your own. What most electronic kits miss is the ability to experiment and this collection of cubes allows for never ending building and experimentation. Want to make your own motion detection robot? Easy. Want to make a lighthouse? Done. Have an idea for something totally unique and original? You can make it! This is an amazingly powerful toy with endless possibilities. I can’t wait to see how this company grows over the next year. (Video clip)

Romo the controllable, programmable robot by Romotive

These are the big ideas I thought were executed marvelously at this year’s Toy Fair. I do have additions to my list, but I have been following these products and companies long before Toy Fair. They include Romo the robot from Romotive (video clip), Sphero from Orbotix (video clip), and the brainwave sensing technology from the company NeuroSky. All strong contenders to keep an eye out for in the tech toy space this year.

Did you go to Toy Fair? Was there a toy or technology that caught your attention? Was there something you saw that was a step forward in this space? Or maybe a step backward? Please share in the comments below!

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Inside the World of Webkinz – An Interview With Creative Director Karl Borst

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

[The following is an interview I shared with Children's Technology Review in their November 2012 issue. I've wanted to interview someone close to Webkinz/Ganz for a very long time. The first article I wrote about Webkinz was in August 2009. After years of trying I finally connected with someone within Ganz and the rest is history (HT BL!). I'm very thankful for the opportunity, this is a very rare public look inside Ganz, and hope fans will enjoy the piece.]

Karl Borst is the Creative Director at Ganz for Webkinz and their new virtual world called Amazing World

Karl Borst is the Creative Director at Ganz for Webkinz; a position that has given him the front row on the turbulent world of children’s virtual worlds. Last week, Karl shared some insights about the past, present and future of Webkinz, including the latest 3D virtual world from Ganz called Amazing Worlds. Here are some selections of our conversation.

Scott Traylor: How long have you been working on Webkinz? Where did the idea come from?

Karl Borst: Development started in late 2003, and I joined on March 1, 2004. The original idea came from Howard Ganz himself. He loved the toys and wanted a new way to market them. Taking inspiration from Cabbage Patch Kids, he wanted to create an experience where the child “discovered” their new pet. Later we expanded this to the idea that your plush “came to life” inside the virtual world. It was very important to us that the player feel the connection between their toy and the pet online. This was where I was able to really expand the original idea. It was critical to me that the pet feel a part of the experience regardless of where you were in the world. Adding the pet’s image to the dock, along with the multiple emotional states and speech balloons may seem very obvious right now, but back in 2004 none of the pet sites had this. This was a big improvement in Webkinz.

ST: How long did it take to get the vision of Webkinz off the ground?

KB: Well it depends on where we finally got “off the ground.” In August of 2004, after a day of play testing with kids, we realized we were going in the wrong direction. Honestly, we threw out a big chunk of work that we’d done up to that date. This was a very difficult decision to make. The toys were paid for, sitting in the warehouse, and plans were well under way to release the toy that October. Going back to the drawing board meant that we’d miss the Holidays. That said, in our hearts we knew that it needed to be done, so we buckled down and got to it. We ended up launching in April 2005, and it was a tough first few months. Retailers didn’t understand the product. They didn’t get how the world and the toy related. We even made a video that explained the product and gave the retailers televisions to show it on. All the while we were adding features and content to the site. The amount of work we did in 2005 is mind blowing. Realize we weren’t even in the top 100,000 sites at the end of 2005. Yet in 2006 we started to see real momentum. Christmas had given us a lift and then Easter, and the players were coming in at a faster and faster rate. Then in 2007 we exploded, and by the end of that year we were a top 100 site, and the number four Google searched term. If there was anything that I could tell companies that are considering building a virtual world, it would be you need to have patience. None of the virtual worlds have exploded out of the gate – not Webkinz, not Neopets, not Wizard 101, not even Club Penguin. You need to commit to the project and invest in making it better until you’ve got the perfect world for your audience.

Screen capture of the Webkinz sign in page from April 2007.

Screen capture of the Webkinz sign in page from April 2007.

ST: What do you look for when testing with children?

KB: We try to focus on what the child is doing, not what they are saying. You can really learn a lot from the actions a child is taking, or more often not taking. When you ask questions you find that kids have a hard time describing what they did or why they did it, and many times they really want to please you and aren’t as harsh as you really need them to be. When you see them fail at an action, or skip over a feature you thought was key, it speaks volumes.

ST: How did you shape the online experience over time? What guided your thinking?

KB: I’m sure this is where I’m supposed to say that we closely analyzed user trends and data, but to be honest we didn’t. A lot of the time we went with our guts and with what we were hearing from the players. First we knew that we wanted to make the world as interactive as possible. We wanted every object that looked like it was functional to actually be functional. I honestly think this direction has made the Webkinz room engine the best on the market. We also knew we just needed “more”. More games, more items, more stuff to do. Kids love telling you what they want, so you end up with more information that you could ever really use. The real challenge is taking all of that information and finding the gems to follow through with. Then turning those ideas into features that kids actually want to play. We weren’t 100% successful in this, but we had some real hits, like the Employment Office and the Chef Challenge.

ST: How has Webkinz changed over time?

KB: Adding more and more makes things complicated. Webkinz is much, much larger now than when we started. Tons of sections, thousands of items, dozens of games, multi-player areas… When we started it was so simple. Players could jump in and figure it out. Now we need to help players through the initial few plays so that they don’t get overwhelmed by the options. There comes a point where adding new features doesn’t improve your game. Now we’re focusing on refining our features, and using those features to create engaging events on a regular basis.

ST: Do you see differences in how kids from different countries use Webkinz?

KB: Actually, we don’t. I think that we’re tapping into some universal ideas of play and imagination. The core activities for all of our players are play games in the Arcade, do their daily activities and then play with their pets in their virtual rooms. While we’ve added dozens of features since the launch of the game, these core features which we’ve had since day one still resonate the best.

ST: Ganz has a number of virtual worlds now, can you share a little about each?

KB: We have four. First of course is Webkinz, which has been running strong for seven and half years now. Next is Webkinz Jr. It was designed as a truly pre-school virtual world. It’s highly educational, and requires no reading. While it did not see the success that Webkinz did, parents of children who play absolutely love the site. This year we released two more virtual worlds. In Amazing World you play a “Zing,” helping out the characters you meet, shooing away the nasty Nix, and working together to make the world more amazing. Finally, we’re currently in Beta with another new virtual world called Nakamas. This world has been specifically designed for girls ages 5-11 who love making friendship bracelets and hanging with friends.

ST: How long has Amazing World been in development?

KB: While I can’t say exactly how long we’ve been working on it, the development time was similar to Webkinz. Again we went through a number of iterations. Sometimes building a game takes on a life of its own. Many of the features that are now in the game, like the Nix, were added very late in development. And we’re still improving the game. We haven’t been happy about the interiors of the homes for some time now, so we’re working on making them much cooler – really taking them in a new direction.

ST: What did you do differently in building Amazing World from that of Webkinz? Are there any similarities?

KB: From the very start of the development of Amazing World, I wanted to build a virtual world that complimented Webkinz. I wanted players to have a very different experience in AW than in Webkinz. This is why you don’t “take care” of your Zing, and it isn’t a “pet”. The player should be able to play Webkinz for half an hour, then jump over to Amazing World and never feel that they’re duplicating effort. The other obvious difference was that the game was working with Unity3D to create a world that you can really live in. This meant that we wanted our games and activities to feel part of that world, and not independent sections. The fact that there is no “arcade” was a conscious decision. It also allowed us to do much more with the Zing’s room. Now the home and the yard provide greater freedom of design, without the restriction of a “grid.” This freedom comes at the cost of some more complexity but I think we’ve done a good job of balancing this out.

Screen capture of the new Ganz virtual world for kids called Amazing World

Screen capture of Amazing World. (Click image to see larger version.)

ST: What are you hoping for with Amazing World?

KB: Naturally we’re hoping that Amazing World captures the imaginations of kids, like Webkinz. While we’ve all seen many toy-connected virtual worlds come and go, Amazing World has the potential to revitalize this space, and most importantly, Ganz is committed to making this world great. Most people don’t remember that when Webkinz was launched that it was quite small, but was teeming with potential. With a dedicated team, we were able to refine, expand and improve the game into what it is today. We have a team that is just as dedicated to Amazing World and I am confident that players who get into Amazing World will stay on board for a very wild and exciting ride.

ST: How challenging is it to manage the needs of a toy product with that of a related virtual world?

KB: Ganz started out as a toy company, so when it comes to creating the products themselves, we’ve got a great system. The challenge comes with creating unique, engaging online play for specific products under a single brand. If you look at any popular toy line, take Polly Pocket as an example, you’ve got small $5 figure packs and large houses for $50 with multiple figures, and special packs with animals, etc. When those are the toys by themselves, the value is right before your eyes and you either like what you’re about to open or not. When you have a connected virtual world, you have to make a decision. What does each item give you? What should a $50 toy get compared to a $5 toy? Despite the fact that the customer can see the value of the $50 toy, there is still an assumption that the online play value will be greater than a $5 toy. Do I think that we nailed it with Webkinz every time? No. We had some real knock out successes with our ancillary products and some real flubs. It was bound to happen as we felt out this uncharted territory. That said, what we did perfectly well was the initial toy purchase itself. The value that we give with a single Webkinz plush toy is exceptional, and has clearly driven our thinking for our new sites.

ST: What do you think of the virtual world space today? How about the toy industry? Any thoughts on where you see either industry going?

KB: Overall I feel that virtual worlds have an inherent challenge to their definition. Virtual Worlds aren’t MMOs in the classic sense, though they have many of the social, multi-player experiences that make MMOs great. They also aren’t game depots, like Miniclip, but are expected to have many, quick-play games to engage players while they work up the virtual currency to expand their homes and dress their avatars. Finally, they aren’t “games” per se. They need to be a sandbox of interactive systems that allow the players to choose the experience that they wish to make, while remaining a cohesive world that isn’t confusing to a new player. It is important to integrate casual games into the world experience itself, making social interaction and cooperation a core part of the player’s day-to-day activities and bringing the player more fully into the world through story and guided play. The future of virtual worlds — including Amazing World — is in bringing these components closer together.

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