Webkinz.com: How much is that doggy in the virtual window?

Is Webkinz like Myspace for kids?

Throw away those beanie babies; they are old news. There is a new sheriff in munchkin town.

Webkinz.com is a Web site children can join and interact in an online society while adopting a physical representation of the pet. The catch is that a Webkinz stuffed animal must be purchased first, followed by entering the "secret code" found on an attached tag. The cute plush toys have been quite popular, grossing over $45 million last year for Canadian gift company Ganz, the creators of Webkinz. Like its TY Beanie-Baby predecessor, Webkinz also has a high collection value, with each one selling from $12 to thousands of dollars at online retailers.

What makes Webkinz different from any other toy is its relation to the online universe. Here are the top five features that differentiate this virtual toy from the typical Mr. Potato Head:

1. Love is for sale: Turns out what mom said was bogus. On Webkinz, the user can buy love. Every time the Webkinz owner logs in, the pet communicates by using thought bubbles, most often loaded with positive comments. If you feed or nurture the pet in some way, it will most likely send a virtual heart or utter something sweet.

2. "Kinz cash": Each Webkinz account starts with 2000 "Kinz cash." This can go fast since the Webkinz and Curio shop offer fantastic virtual retail therapy, from marshmallows to cute furniture for the pets room. Kinz cash can be acquired by playing enjoyable arcade games.

3. Will work for food: Another way to bring home the bacon is by getting a job. Players can flip burgers at the Webkinz burger joint, paint a fence, sell shoes, or be a health assistant to Dr. Quack. These interactive games are fun and require exercise.

4. Free health care: In this country's administration, universal health care is unlikely. Lucky for Webkinz users, Dr. Quack's clinic has free office visits and all Kinz are welcome. He does a pretty good job of assessing what may be wrong with any under-the-weather pet.

5. Cautious chatting: Ganz ensures a safe environment for children by setting a few parameters--all safety measures, according the Webkinz.com. First, kids can chat only with designated friends and cannot add someone who is unknown. Second, a number of the chat forms are premade templates. Finally, children cannot type any numbers, preventing the exchange of personal information.

For more about the personal experience with Webkinz.com, read the CNET News.com Reporter's Notebook on Webkinz.com.

 

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