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Will Parents Pay $72 a Year for Virtual Barbies?

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Starting now, Mattel (MAT) is offering a premium subscription option to its phenomenally popular Barbie Girls web-based virtual world. Since beta launch April 2007, it’s amassed a record-breaking 13 million registered users, with over 2.3 million of those monthly active users.

At $5.99 a month, the new “Barbie Girls V.I.P” account gives girls a wealth of additional perks for their avatars, like a virtual pet, exclusive access to a “Extreme DreamPark,” and, of course, “a special virtual tiara.” Which that means starting this week, millions of parents will face a uniquely 21st century dilemma: Should they pay $72 a year so their little girls can enjoy playing with Barbies that don’t, in the strictest sense, exist?

That’s also a challenge for the virtual world industry, which often depends on low-cost virtual item sales (ala Gaia Online and Habbo Hotel) or pre-paid physical toys (ala Webkinz) for its revenue.

Mattel’s subscription plan is an aggressively priced alternative, and many will be watching to see if this name-brand toy company can attract a decent number of upgrades. That’s far from certain, for while millions of teens and adults happily pay $15 a month to play World of Warcraft, $5.99/month seems like a high price point for pre-teens. Then again, a Barbie 3-Story Dream House Playset will set parents back $275, so maybe they won’t mind paying a lot less for the virtual version.

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15 Responses to “Will Parents Pay $72 a Year for Virtual Barbies?”

  1. It’s all about making money, I think it should be illegal to pay for a subscription for an under 15 year old, no matter how cheap it is. Parents should not pay when Barbie makes millions already.

  2. It actually seems like a pretty average price point for subscription-based kids virtual worlds. So I’d guess yes. It’s not much more than Club Penguin charges, and 700,000 penguins can’t all be wrong. What I find interesting, and talk more about at Virtual Worlds News, is that it’s more expensive to get access to the purely virtual V.I.P. experience than it was to buy the MP3 player + 1 physical accessory to unlock exclusive content.

  3. I really hope that they won’t. As much as I love the internet and computers and all things geek, I also think kids need more real play and less virtual play.

    Tell your kids to get off the computer and go outside to play.

  4. The more general question is: Hw far can Mattel push parents on this? Once they start getting $6/month for VIP, Mattel will just use this world to push live event tix, physical goods and more virtual purchases not covered by VIP subscriptions. Like drug dealers, the first taste was free, but now…

  5. I think absolutely parents will pay. Barbie is huge for a reason. It resonates across generations and parents immediately know what it is. With that level of install base and there is almost no way it won’t print cash.

  6. Stacey Higginbotham

    If your kid wants it and uses it, parents will pay. I’d rather spend $6 a month on a virtual toy than the $10 to $20 on plastic crap that clutters up the house. Plus, it’s something a tween could pay for using her allowance if she wanted it so badly. Although I wonder how many subscriptions a kid or parent would be willing to bankroll.

  7. My guess is no. I have an eight-year-old, and she’s far more interested in Webkinz and the Disney properties. These kids are growing up much faster, and neither she nor her friends are still playing with Barbies. They call them “baby toys.”