INSIDER TRADER: Virtual worlds

ToyNews? Inside Trader, Steve Reece, is exploring virtual worlds this month and asks if they are likely to continue taking the world of toy licensing by storm?
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Massive movie releases and entertaining TV programming with strong placement on the right channels often shift massive quantities of toys.

 However, the major new development in the way kids engage and immerse themselves in brands over the last decade has been the emergence of online virtual worlds.

As we know, kids have very lively imaginations, so the deeper the level of interaction a kid-targeted brand can forge with its target audience, the more the imagination of the audience expands into the brand. The critical point here is that a movie deeply engrosses the consumer only for the time they are in the cinema in an albeit wholly immersive environment, and even the DVD or TV programme competes with the next programme on, the next ad break and the next activity within the home. 

Moreover, interest in the programming content often wanes as the child has an initial phase of fascination, before moving onto the next hot property. And so, despite the fact that entertainment events and continuity exposure via TV can drive high peaks of interest, and high peaks of toy sales, they are limited in the scope and span of the engagement they can produce.

Virtual worlds on the other hand capture the child’s attention and imagination to a much deeper degree, creating an open-ended experience that is different (to some degree) every time, and as such has greater continuity, meaning a steady and normally growing following and more potential longevity for toy ranges.

The success of Moshi Monsters is not all that surprising bearing in mind it’s in the top 400 websites in the UK in terms of traffic at the time of writing, and in the top 200 in Ireland (source: But in my opinion, one of the most paradigm breaking features of that brand will be its longevity, and ability to keep driving hero levels of sales as its online footprint grows.

Another benefit for those hardy souls riding the roller coaster of tech start-ups, and for those seeking multi-territory licensing opportunities is that in general terms, the methods that build you an online following in one country, will apply to other countries, and automatically build your presence there whether you plan for it or not. Hence the fact Moshi Monsters has a significant online membership in countries as far flung as the US and Canada, South Africa, Australia, Egypt, Pakistan and more. While there are some localisation challenges for online virtual worlds in terms of language etc, once the outlay for the engine is done, localisation is small change.

The usual challenge for virtual world brands after they create a compelling offering is reaching critical mass before the money runs out. However, for toy firms, the reality is for every venture established and actively licensing today, there will be hundreds of up and comers fighting their way to be the next online virtual world to make it big.

The future really is bright for the toy firms that trawl the net, and sign the right licences from online virtual worlds at the right time in their growth curve. Online brands are going to be a third powerful platform to launch toys from for years to come.


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