Give Me Your Lunch Money...For Webkinz

I'm beginning to think all of the world's industry is geared solely to part parents from their money by amusing their children. Now toy makers are getting wise to the fact that even very young children will spend lots of time online if you give them something soft and fuzzy to clutch while they're doing it. That's why toymaker Ganz won the Specialty Toy of the Year award for 2007 for their Webkinz stuffed toy/online game combo.

"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."

Sounds fun, and benign, as long as parents are wise enough to limit the tots' time in their virtual world. Introduce them to the real one once in a while. Oh, and maybe you might want to keep them out of Second Life for a while; it's hard to explain a flying penis to a kindergartener without ending up on a Police Registry.
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