My last Wacky Business Idea was quickly debunked as someone is already doing it, so I decided to make it a “two-fer-the-price-of-one” this week and post another.
Webkinz is an incredibly popular toy for kids (at least it was incredibly popular last year) created by a Canadian company. I thought the whole idea was great, so I bought one for my girlfriend at the time to check it out. The basic idea is you buy an overpriced stuffed animal that comes with a “secret code”. You enter this in their website, and it creates a virtual version of the stuffed animal. You can then buy things for your virtual pet (toys and home furnishings), name it, play games with it and whatnot. Each new webkinz you buy gives you another “friend” to play with. Eventually they introduced “trading cards” that you can use to add new items for your pets (or sometimes new pets).
The actual “world” they created was kinda lame (the games weren’t much fun and the production quality wasn’t so good). Apparently kids ate it up though, and would quickly discard the stuffed animals (but were happy to be paying $12 for the next virtual pet it represented).
It seemed to me that there were all sorts of ways this idea of tying virtual objects to real objects could be executed. One possibility might be action figures (think GI Joe) that come with a code. On-line, you can send your men into battle accomplishing missions using the skills at their disposal (so if you buy a figure with a flame thrower, you can use this to overcome obstacles in the on-line game). You could buy different equipment, that would then be used in the virtual missions or battles with friends on-line (maybe a plastic med-kit could be bought for a buck, then given to one of your figures to save him if he gets injured).
Another idea might be lead miniatures, like those used in Warhammer. Hobbyists could purchase figures and units and paint them and do battle in real life. Each would also come with a code which would let you have an identical virtual army, that you could fight with using the same rules on-line (against a computer opponent or against other people). Perhaps your virtual soldiers could even improve as they fought battles, getting better as time goes on (so your regiment of high-elf archers might become veterans after a number of battles and get some sort of bonus).
World of Warcraft did something SORT OF along these lines, when they had special rare cards in their trading card game that would “unlock” special items for your on-line characters, but it wasn’t an integral part of either game. I think an important part of making something like this work is to strong tie the real world object to the on-line version.
One of the challenges with computer games is their isn’t usually any sort of scarcity. If I’m playing a computer wargame, I can build an army of any size I want, and switch to a different sort of army if I get bored with the first. This makes a large, well-constructed army unimpressive, since anyone can quickly and easily make one. Limiting players’ options to only the pieces they’ve purchased, while being profitable for the company, would also have the effect of making an army more impressive. In real life, its always impressive when someone has a big army they’ve assembled themselves, and typically if you don’t own certain figures, you can’t use them in a battle. Newer players wouldn’t be able to participate in larger battles (or would have to play a smaller role), just because they don’t have enough soldiers. Players would also become more invested in the army that’s theirs, because its theirs (and isn’t just something they created 10 minutes earlier in the software program).
I’m not so sure either of these ideas is a amazing, but I really think that Webkinz will just be the first of many toys / hobbies entering this space. Any other ideas for something along the same lines?