retail/online mashups -- Webkinz, Bratz, and Barbie. Now, Red Mushroom, a Chinese game developer is attempting to launch a Webkinz/Neopets inspired kids brand, BaoBao BengBeng,
that will integrate a virtual world with a plush doll sold in retail
stores. In an Asian business model twist on the theme, the world will
be free to play, but users will have the opportunity to acquire virtual goods and services via "point cards" purchased in the real world.
Internet penetration in China has seen incredible growth. From a mere 23 million Internet users in 2000, a June report from the Chinese Internet research agency (CNNIC)
projected that the country has over 162 million Internet users. Though
they haven't released an age breakout for the most recent numbers, over
the past few years, the under-18 population has run about 16-18%. We
can estimate that there are about 28 million Internet-connected Chinese
Unsurprisingly, some real problems and a healthy dose of fear have
accompanied this massive change in youth behavior. Game/Internet
addiction and its rehabilitation have sparked many a journalist's
imagination in both China and the West. China's government has actually instituted a unique fatigue system,
which aims to reduce the legendary stickiness of online games by
reducing the amount of credit young gamers receive after three hours of
play. It has also provided a branding opportunity for companies like
Red Mushroom who can market their products as parent-friendly by
declaring them "Fatigue System Compliant!"
Red Mushroom plans a "city by city" rollout of the dolls starting in
Beijing and pushing out to other first-tier cities like Shanghai and
Shenzhen. They are partnering with an education company and will be
targeting all the online and mom-and-pop toy retailers they can find.
Of course, the hope with these offline/online hybrids is to create a
self-reinforcing system where real world retail sales drive the online
world as the online world drives retail sales.
If BaoBao BengBeng succeeds, it obviously wouldn't be the first time
that a Western media meme took off in China. Chinese media blog Danwei
had great coverage on the Super Voice Girls "frenzy" of 2006 when the so-called American Idol for China swept the country.