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  Kiddie-World ‘Whyville’ Expands  
Posted 2006-12-06 by Tony Walsh
Whyville, a 2D virtual world aimed at kids aged 8-15, now boasts over 2 million registered users, after hitting 1.5M (mostly female) total registrants as of March, 2006 and 1M total registrants in December, 2004. According to Whyville's PR agency, the world was originally developed to explore the educational applications of technology as part of a Caltech project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, and has partnered with NASA as well as the J.Paul Getty Trust. Since welcoming its first user in 2000, Whyville has expanded from "edutainment" to include brand engagement ("advertainment"?), exposing youngsters the Toyota Scion in the form of "carvatars" (car avatars) and kid-friendly major-label recording artist.

Whyville's latest foray into branded entertainment involves a 45-minute virtual concert given by Virgin Records' Stacie Orrico. Numedeon expects over 6,000 Whyville citizens to attend the event, which takes place Saturday, December 9 at 2pm "Whyville time." For the first time in Whyville history, citizens will be offered both virtual and actual merchandise. Children as young as 8 years may flex their underdeveloped consumer muscles to purchase Orrico-branded souvenirs, MP3 tracks, and ringtones with virtual currency. In a Machiavellian move, a Whyville "after party" exclusive to virtual Scion owners will be held following Orrico's concert--thus increasing exposure to the Scion brand.

In a panel on "Serious Games For Learning" at this year's SXSW conference, I asked Numedeon CEO Jim Bower about the ethics of targeting kids with branded content. He said that he doesn't have a problem advertising to kids, provided they are "learning" about the brand's facts rather than getting an overt marketing message. Numedeon COO Jay Goss said in Whyville's latest press release that "This concert is spot-on with Whyville's goal of edu-taining boys and girls." Whyville's PR agency tells me Whyville believes kids "benefit when they interact with others," and that those attending Stacie Orrico's virtual concert "will have a Q&A session with Stacie after her performance and have the opportunity to ask her about her career and how she got started, etc." Having worked in the edutainment field off and on for about 12 years, I'm of the opinion that the Whyville event seems skewed too heavily towards branded entertainment to provide any meaningful educational value. But, hey, at least it's not Neopets.
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Comment posted by Ordinal Malaprop
December 6, 2006 @ 9:46 pm
I see they have Scions in Whyville, too.

Will there be an after-party?

Yes. Scion is sponsoring an "Owners' Event" after party at 3:30 PM. You'll need to arrive in a Scion. If you don't have one, get a ride from a friend.

Quite how that is educational, I'm not sure. They're not free in Whyville either, and I was tickled to hear that...

in a move of economic implications that may eventually prove problematic in the real world (given today's increasingly debt-addled America), kids without enough clams will be able to finance their cars with the forthcoming Scion Solutions program.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
December 7, 2006 @ 2:51 pm
Ugh, thanks for the additional info, Ordinal.
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