Manufactured by Canadian gift wholesaler Ganz and available largely through card and specialty stores, Webkinz are small stuffed animals that sell for $12.95 each. They’re rather unremarkable, except each Webkinz comes with a unique security code that allows you to register it, providing access to the “Webkinz World” portal. The portal itself includes a number of games, quizzes and related areas, each of which earn you points (“KinzCash”). KinzCash can be used to by virtual items for use by your virtual Webkinz in this virtual world.
Part of the user’s “job” is to keep each of their Webkinz satisfied in three areas: happiness, health and hunger. By “playing” with your virtual Webkinz, feeding them (using KinzCash to buy food and drinks) and providing exercise, you keep their scores high on all three counts.
There’s a modest social networking aspect to Webkinz, where users can “friend” each other or IM one another to invite them to compete at one of the games. All of this happens between anonymous users and there is no identifying information shared for safety reasons. You don't have to worry about running into naked avatars in Webkinz World.
My eight-year old has five Webkinz, and colleagues tell me their children have ten or even twenty. The manufacturer has leveraged the high demand for Webkinz by requiring that Webkinz sellers also buy inventory of their other products. Much like the Beanie Baby craze of a few years ago, supply is kept fairly low, increasing demand.
Ganz has employed no advertising, relying solely on word-of-mouth marketing for their promotion. Launched in April, 2005, more than 1.5 million Webkinz pets have been sold, with over 700,000 registered users. And a quick search of eBay found more than 10,000 Webkinz for sale, with 93 of them (rare or “retired”) selling for $250 or more each.
What’s interesting to me is how easily even the youngest Webkinz users pick up the system. While I’m still not a big believer in the concept of Second Life for the business community, it’s clear that virtual worlds are a big play in the gaming world And Webkinz, along with sites like ClubPenguin and Tweenland have shown that the market entry point for these types of products has quickly moved to the “tween” and elementary school market.