Mattel announced Tuesday that it is taking its signature Barbie dolls a step beyond plastic with an entire “online virtual world” for girls to adopt Barbie characters in and interact with other girls. To correspond with the site, the company also announced a doll-shaped MP3 player that will unlock additional content for the site.
At BarbieGirls.com, girls can log in, create their own virtual characters, design their own rooms, shop at the mall, play games, watch videos, and chat with others. They can even shop with B Bucks, a form of virtual currency that they can earn, and an e-mail messaging system that allows them to exchange messages of 500 words.
The most obvious hurdle for Mattel will be convincing parents that their online portal is safe for kids, and they’ve built in a number of features to minds at ease. A sophisticated messaging filter will not only block obscene and offensive language, but also prevent disclosure of personal information. Real-world locations and even numbers and spelled-out numbers are blocked from the system to prevent girls from revealing where they live. The system will also be heavily moderated by administrators who can view chats, track and monitor users, and ban problematic users. Girls can also “lock” their rooms to prevent anyone from contacting them, and report inappropriate behavior.
Mattel’s doll tie-in will be launched in July: a 512MB Mp3 player built into a 4.5-inch-tall doll. Besides functioning as a doll and playing music, the Barbie Girl device will unlock additional content on BarbieGirls.com, such as pets, games, hangout spots, fashions, and furniture. The dolls also serve as a creative safety device – two girls with dolls and accounts on BarbieGirls.com can physically connect the dolls to each others’ computers as a sort of proof that they are real-life acquaintances. Once the system recognizes this, it will allow the girls access to a “Secret B Chat” where the strictest features of the site’s filtering are turned off, but obscene language is still filtered.