So you think you know Webkinz, huh?

Sometimes the coolest insights come when you least expect them. Allow me to share a tale of some impromptu audience research I experienced recently, which for me, was both eye opening and humbling in equal measure.Webkinz.com

Like everyone else on the planet, judging by the amount of people at LAX, I traveled back to the folks for Christmas for some rest and relaxation. It’s the last place I usually expect to put on my curiosity cap. Until, that is, one of my parents’ friends paid a visit, nine-year-old daughter in tow, along with a brand new Webkinz – a platypus to be exact.

“Do you guys have a computer?” Bella, the little girl asked, “I need to register Gabriel here”, waving the fuzzy creature, and confirming my belief that the box of my old toys which gets dragged out when kids come around, just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

So we went to the Webkinz site, and registered Gabriel, and this is where the magic started to happen for me. See, I know a lot about toys, and I thought I knew everything I needed to about Webkinz – you buy one, register it online and there are a bunch of rather basic games you can play with it.

No. There’s way more to it than that.

We started off playing the Webkinz Chef Challenge, a cooking game where you and an opponent must guess the right ingredients to include in such fantastical recipes as Knotty Numnums and Sorcusorbet. I figured it was a random scissors-paper-stone game mechanic, but again, I was to be mistaken.Webkinz

Narrowly impressing the chef judges more than the other player, we were awarded a bunch of KinzCash to spend on virtual clothes and accessories. Not just any old bits and pieces though, Gabriel has specific needs. According to his bio, he likes skateboarding and painting, so that’s what Bella bought to keep the virtual version of Gabriel happy, along with food, drinks and a range of décor for his new room.

As if this buying frenzy was entertaining enough, it dawned on me that the shopping experience we were enjoying was almost exactly the same as a if you were buying something for real on Amazon or eBay. This kid was confidently clicking away at the same kind of thing I remember nervously doing for the first time myself, only I was twice her age at the time!

We played some more games, earned some more points and went back to the store for more accessories, including some furniture for the fluffy little creatures’ virtual room.

One of the items Bella picked was a television, and this is what blew me away – you can watch the TV and learn the ingredients needed to win in the Chef Challenge game we’d played earlier! The recipes weren’t random, there’s just more of the Webkinz world to explore and discover in one interlocking package.Webkinz.com

This sums up my experience in two ways. Firstly I got a real kick out of the seamless experience involved in finding my way around the Webkinz site, it really is a deeply layered world offering a complete content package.

Secondly, and more importantly was a more introspective lesson. As a children’s media professional, there is so much content constantly being released, that in an effort to stay on top of it all, you’re often forced to get by with the basic concept of something really special, without fully appreciating it. I’m very happy to say this is one instance where I got to slow down and enjoy a great concept, and I encourage everyone to do the same thing.

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Copyright © 2016 Shane Lindley