"Kids are on the internet at a younger and younger age," said Ganz communications director Susan McVeigh. "They are comfortable in an online environment, more so than their parents. It just feels natural to them."
Webkinz kick-started a trend in children's gaming that ties virtual environments to real-world merchandise. Online games for kids aren't new. Sierra Online had tot-focused games in the early '90s, and Neopets proved a hot product six years ago with a similar concept. But the unprecedented success of Webkinz is inspiring everyone from Barbie to Disney to get children invested in both the digital and the physical.
"This is now a very hot area," said Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of Toy Wishes magazine. "We will see more and more toys which have codes that interact with websites."