Monday, June 9, 2008

Will Parents Pay $72-a-Year for Virtual Barbies?

Starting now, Mattel (MAT) is offering a premium subscription option to its phenomenally popular Barbie Girls web-based virtual world. Since Beta launch April 2007, it’s amassed a record-breaking 13 million registered users, with over 2.3 million of those monthly active users.

At $5.99 a month, the new “Barbie Girls V.I.P” account gives girls a
wealth of additional perks for their avatars, like a virtual pet,
exclusive access to a “Extreme DreamPark”, and, of course, “a special
virtual tiara”. Which means starting this week, millions of parents
will face a uniquely 21st century dilemma: should they pay 72 bucks a
year so their little girls can enjoy playing with Barbies that don’t,
in the strictest sense, exist?

That’s also a challenge for the virtual world industry, which often depends on low cost virtual item sales (ala Gaia Online and Habbo Hotel) or pre-paid physical toys (ala Webkinz) for its revenue.

Mattel’s subscription plan is an aggressively priced alternative,
and many will be watching to see if this name brand toy company can
attract a decent number of upgrades. That’s far from certain, for while
millions of teens and adults happily pay $15 a month to play World of
Warcraft, $5.99/month seems like a high price point for pre-teens. Then
again, a Barbie 3-Story Dream House Playset will set parents back $275.00, so maybe they won’t mind paying a lot less for the virtual version.

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