Will Parents Pay $72 a Year for Virtual Barbies?

Starting now, Mattel (MAT) is offering a premium subscription option to its phenomenally popular Barbie Girls web-based virtual world. Since beta launch April 2007, it’s amassed a record-breaking 13 million registered users, with over 2.3 million of those monthly active users.

At $5.99 a month, the new “Barbie Girls V.I.P” account gives girls a wealth of additional perks for their avatars, like a virtual pet, exclusive access to a “Extreme DreamPark,” and, of course, “a special virtual tiara.” Which that means starting this week, millions of parents will face a uniquely 21st century dilemma: Should they pay $72 a year so their little girls can enjoy playing with Barbies that don’t, in the strictest sense, exist?

That’s also a challenge for the virtual world industry, which often depends on low-cost virtual item sales (ala Gaia Online and Habbo Hotel) or pre-paid physical toys (ala Webkinz) for its revenue.

Mattel’s subscription plan is an aggressively priced alternative, and many will be watching to see if this name-brand toy company can attract a decent number of upgrades. That’s far from certain, for while millions of teens and adults happily pay $15 a month to play World of Warcraft, $5.99/month seems like a high price point for pre-teens. Then again, a Barbie 3-Story Dream House Playset will set parents back $275, so maybe they won’t mind paying a lot less for the virtual version.

Image credit: barbiegirls.com.