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Webkinz® are real-world stuffed animals that integrate into an online virtual environment by use of a unique ID included with each animal. The owner of the toy logs in to their account on the Webkinz® website, and enters the new animal code. This brings a virtual version of their toy into their Webkinz® World, where they can then interact with it dynamically.
Webkinz® are targeted to young children, generally from the age of about 5 to pre-teens. Like many toys aimed at this market, there has been some concern over the amount of energy focused on them. Demand for new Webkinz® when they are released is incredibly high, and many parents and children become distraught if they are unable to get the Webkinz® they were looking for. Additionally, some have raised concerns that the Webkinz® phenomenon can be very addictive for children. Generally, however, Webkinz® receives positive reviews from parents and children alike.
The first Webkinz® were released in April of 2005, and there have been more than a hundred new Webkinz® released since then. The animals released range from simple animal names such as Pig or Frog to more ornate creatures such as Whimsy Dragon or Bubblegumasaurus. Each Webkinz® is also released with its own special item and its own special food. For example, the Webkinz® Brown Arabian comes with a virtual Horse Show Victory Photo, and is fed Horse’s D’oeuvres.
Some Webkinz® are also released seasonally for a limited time, making them more collectible. Duck, for example, with its Wetlands Pond Bathtub and Cheese and Quackers, is released only around Easter time. Some Webkinz® are also only available in a virtual form, such as the Magical Retriever or Floral Fox. In addition to the full-sized Webkinz® , there are also smaller, cheaper versions available, known as Lil’Kinz®. Most Webkinz® have a Lil’Kinz® version available, and some animals, such as White Mouse, are available only as a Lil’Kinz®.
Once inside the virtual world, children are faced with any number of games they can play, as well as the choice to interact freely with their creatures or their environment. The world has its own economy, based on KinzCash®, which is earned through purchasing real-world Webkinz®, finishing “jobs” in the game, or playing games or trivia contests. KinzCash® is used to feed the Webkinz®, as well as to expand their house and buy furniture and decorations for it.
Some items in the Webkinz® world are available only through completing certain tasks, or by purchasing additional real-world accessories. These include things such as clothing for the pets, bookmarks, school supplies, lip gloss, and collectible trading cards.
Most of the games played inside the Webkinz® world are of a simple explore and collect variety. Players are encouraged to search through the world for various items, which are then combined to win the game and unlock a new item or earn KinzCash®. Webkinz® is also a social environment, where kids can interact with one another through a tightly regulated system meant to stop potential online predators. Children can visit each other’s virtual houses to see their pets, play with them, play board games, and chat with one another using a system filled with prescribed phrases.