Companies rushing to build online virtual worlds for kids

December 31st, 2007

Today’s New York Times has a story, Web Playgrounds of the Very Young, on the growth of online virtual worlds for young children. Our children live in the same environment as we do and learn mostly by watching what we do. So it’s not surprising that any significant new uses for the Internet and Web can be adapted to a form that kids will take to.

“Trying to duplicate the success of blockbuster Web sites like Club Penguin and Webkinz, children’s entertainment companies are greatly accelerating efforts to build virtual worlds for children. Media conglomerates in particular think these sites — part online role-playing game and part social scene — can deliver quick growth, help keep movie franchises alive and instill brand loyalty in a generation of new customers.

“Get ready for total inundation,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at the research firm eMarketer, who estimates that 20 million children will be members of a virtual world by 2011, up from 8.2 million today. (src)

The story gives an example, Disney’s Pixie Hollow, that is online in a rudimentary form and set to launch next summer.

“Behind the virtual world gravy train are fraying traditional business models. As growth engines like television syndication and movie DVD sales sputter or plateau — and the Internet disrupts entertainment distribution in general — Disney, Warner Brothers and Viacom see online games and social networking as a way to keep profits growing.

Still, the long-term appetite for the youth-oriented sites is unclear. Fads have always whipsawed the children’s toy market, and Web sites are no different, analysts warn. Parents could tire of paying the fees, while intense competition threatens to undercut the novelty. There are now at least 10 virtual worlds that involve caring for virtual pets. (src)

There are many concerns, of course — privacy and safety, exploitation of our children, promoting consumerism, raising couch potatoes, etc.