Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Interview: BarbieGirls Drops Physical Toys for Virtual Content

When BarbieGirls.com launched, it came
with a free-to-play section and a premium section unlocked by the
purchase of a Barbie-shaped MP3 player. The hope at the time is that
older girls who were transitioning away from dolls and into consumer
electronics would find it a happy medium. As Charles Scothon, General
Manager & SVP Girls Mattel Brands, and Rosie O’Neill, Senior Brand
Manager, Barbie Tech, explained in their Virtual Worlds 2008 keynote
it became one of the fastest growing virtual worlds ever, but now it's
time for a change: "You know, it did well, but we found in a lot of our
dialogue and our conversations and our research with girls is that it
was really about the content first and the stuff or the MP3 second,"
Scothon told Virtual Worlds News in a follow-up interview. "They liked
it, but at the end of the day it was about unlocking that content."

of what we found is that as our virtual world grew, 85% of the girls on
the site are 8-15," Scothon continued. "They’re more likely to have an
MP3 player already. That led us to the point that it became about the
content conversation. You’ll see the MP3 player out there for about a
year probably, but we’ll be more aggressive with the content and the

The model of selling toys to unlock content has been successfully
practiced by plenty of other virtual worlds—notably Webkinz—and, in
fact, there’s almost a backlash against subscription-based models in the current climate. More developers see microtransactions, toys, or advertising as appealing.

For Barbie, though, the girls liked the electronics, but the driving force was the content.

“They wanted the pets, but they weren’t necessarily playing through
the fashion plates,” said Scothon. “They were really playing online.
Where we were saying ‘Hey, it’s about music, fashion, and online
community,” what we really found is that it’s about online with the supporting sides of fashion, socialization, and creativity. Those are the three pillars that drive the experience.”

The play patterns remain fairly similar to when children pick up
dolls and dress them, not Mattel is just trying to focus on re-creating
that in a new medium.

“We look at how a girl likes to play and then translate that to
online,” said O’Neill. “We talked to a lot of girls and there were a
few things that really emerged. Social play is obviously very
important, so the way we translated that online was allowing girls to
make friends throughout the site, but also to have a really deep
experience, sending gifts and messages, and we give two ways to chat.”

those lines, one of girls’ favorite activities, says O’Neill, is the
makeover. It’s a social, creative effort. The new BarbieGirls allows
users to click on other avatars, give them head-to-toe makeovers and
exchange feedback.

“It’s a great example of how we merged that
social play and fashion play with the online world,” said O’Neill.
“From a topline perspective it is one of the most popular areas of the
site. We’re seeing a lot of repeat play with the elements of creativity
and surprise. It’s a new makeover every time.”

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