2008: Year of the virtual world for kids?

Move over Second Life. Kid-focused virtual worlds such as Club Penguin, Webkinz, and a string of site start-ups loom as the new and hot Web playgrounds for 2008. image

As reported in today’s New York Times, there’s a gold-rush of sorts as businesses flock to the Web with new virtual-world sites targeted at children. And no wonder.

As reported on nytimes.com, sites like Webkinz drew six million unique visitors in November, up 342 percent from a year ago. 

Disney’s Club Penguin ($5.95/month) attracts seven times more traffic than Second Life.

And other media, entertainment and toy companies like Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, Lego and Mattel all are poised to launch kid-friendly online worlds, worlds with “low overhead and fat profit margins once they are up and running,” according to the nytimes.com article.

In part, this move is not only being done as a way to generate new and profitable growth streams, but to build brands online and to get eyeballs where kids are going first, the Internet, not TV.

That reality is causing old business models to be swept up and trashed faster than day-old New Year’s confetti as marketers rethink how to reach kids and teens.

Illustrating the marketing machine that it is, the nytimes.com article cites how Disney is taking a portfolio approach to virtual world creation, investing $5 million to $10 million per world for up to ten new virtual worlds, to reach browsers at various stages, pre-school to teen to young adults and beyond.

And that means it is time to strap in. “Get ready for total inundation,” said an analyst quoted in the nytimes.com article.

2008 is shaping up to be the year of virtual worlds – for kids.

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