Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Webkinz: Ceti Eels for Kids

In the Star Trek movie "The Wrath of Khan", the bad guy Khan uses something called a Ceti eel to control the Captain and First Officer of a starship. A horrid looking thing, it crawls in through the ear, wraps around your brain stem, and takes control of your mind. Lovely. The fine marketeers of the toy company Ganz have created the kids equivalent of this mind controlling horror and have called it a Webkinz.

On the surface, a Webkinz looks pretty harmless. It is a stuffed animal. As a stuffed animal, it does what all stuffed animals do - it lays there waiting to be picked up and hugged. Pretty benign so far. Do not be fooled. A Webkinz is an insidious creature, lurking about, waiting to strike.

And strike it does. When your kid gets their Webkinz, they are instructed to go to a website where they can create an online version of their cuddly little friend. The online version, unlike the stuffed one, is a more demanding master. You have to feed it and take care of it or, to quote my daughter, "IT WILL DIE DADDY!" Feeding it is not free.

They give you some of whatever currency you need to buy things for your Webkinz. As is the case in real life, when that runs out you have to use real money to get more of the local currency so that you can continue to care for your online pet. Or "IT WILL DIE".

Simply feeding the damn thing is not enough. You have to buy things to make it happy. Since, all of your kids' friends have these, yours cannot be the only Webkinz who doesn't get the right trinkets. There's a lot of tween jonesin going on here.

What I especially hate is that they draw kids into this by playing on emotions that are especially heightened at this age. The need to belong and to nurture. The need to have nice things and, like all kids, the desire for pets. Webkinz plays off of these primal needs to draw kids in and then make their unsuspecting parents pay. Otherwise, your kid is humiliated and their little online friend "WILL DIE DADDY
!" Did I mention that the Webkinz will "DIE!"

This type of bald faced manipulation is one of the least desirable aspects of marketing. When you do it to kids, it's truly awful. It is a misuse of technology and one of the worst aspects of capitalism. To make a child care about something that is not real and is designed solely to separate parents from their hard earned dollars (money better saved on college) is inexcusable.

So, with all the other challenges of parenthood, we now have to deal with these greedy bastards using the Internet to manipulate our own kids to get at our wallet. In the meantime, my child will just have to learn that on the Internet, as in real life, things die. That's the fate of this Webkinz, harsh as it is. At least I don't have to pay the vet to do it or bury something in the backyard afterwards.

Thanks a bunch Ganz. I hope your kids put you in a home someday and refuse to visit.


Anonymous said...

for $10, a kid can have a year's full of fun and games on webkinz. that is not exactly the worst capitalism has to offer, is it?

You earn money to pay for food and clothes and furniture by playing simple games. You do not have to shell out anything other than one webkinz per year.

even my wife and I have had a blast playing some of the games on there.

Tom Petrocelli said...

That's my point. It's insidious. At the end of that full year of fun, you have to pay for it again. My hope is that kids outgrow this but if even adults like it, it's unlikely.

Look, as an adult, you can choose to get sucked into sites like this or Second Life. This is like kiddie crack. Get them hooked through a reasonably priced birthday gift and then you have them.

P.S. Make sure they understand not to respond to chats from people they don't know. Webkinz has some social networking capabilities and there are some creepy crawlers out there.

Anonymous said...

"At the end of that full year of fun, you have to pay for it again."

that is not capitalism at it's worst. That is a very low yearly subscription. That is a lot of entertainment for very little money.

i haven't noticed a whole lot of social networking capabilities other than playing games and inviting little webkinz to your house.

Let me know if you find anything else.