World of Barbie-craft: 3 Million Sign-Ups in 2 Months!

This week, the biggest bit of news in the online world industry didn’t come from E3 in Los Angeles (though we’ve got an on-the-scene wrap-up coming soon); no, it emanated from the DigitalLife conference in New York City, as reported on the blog of Scientific American, of all things.

…… in the first 60 days of its existence, the new online virtual world Barbie Girls has signed up three million members, and they’re adding new ones at the rate of 50,000 a day.

This is staggering growth by any standard, but even more so because Mattel’s MMO is still in Beta.

(“Hey, girl!,” the site helpfully explains to a horde of pre-teens just getting introduced to the concept, “‘beta’… means we’re still working on the site to make it even better.”) By contrast, it took World of Warcraft four months to reach just half that amount. (Yes, largely an apples-to-Orcs comparison, but in terms of eyeballs, attention, and enthusiasm, still a fair one.)

The overarching point is how much online worlds have come to be dominated by pre-adults. The GigaOM Top Ten MMO list is roughly half kid-oriented virtual worlds (Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, Webkinz, Gaia Online, and arguably RuneScape), and doesn’t even include sites like Zwinky, NeoPets, and other child-centric social networks with MMO/avatar-based elements.

Almost all of them, it’s worth noting, are not subscription-based, but leverage other revenue streams, primarily outside advertising/sponsorship deals and virtual item sales. (Barbie Girls employs these, as well.) In terms of huge MMOs, then, the classic subscription model of World of Warcraft is now in a distinct minority, and surely in its waning days. (What happens when the fans of all these worlds grow out of adolescence, and start looking for new online worlds to play in? Doubt they’re going to find much appeal in paying a monthly fee.)

Speaking of which, that has to be the biggest opportunity in this space right now: not adult-oriented MMOs like World of Warcraft or Second Life, not adolescent hang-outs like Habbo or Gaia, and not even child-centric sites like Club Penguin and Webkinz. No, the real untapped potential is in cusp MMOs, for kids in transition. The online world which can figure out how to steer customers from the 16-18 age bracket into young adulthood, while managing to maintain their loyalty, will make anything out there now seem sparse.