Webkinz Friends is a new Facebook game from Ganz. It is the second online game to make use of the company’s “Internet-connected” toys, and the first to appear on Facebook.
Webkinz is a range of plush animal toys that each carry a unique code. Until now, these codes were only redeemable on the official Webkinz site to play the Webkinz World game that was located there. Now, these codes may also be used in Webkinz Friends on Facebook to bring new characters into the game — though there is no requirement for players to do so, and the game can be played with no problems for free.
Webkinz Friends is a fairly conventional citybuilding game at heart. Players must build housing for their animals, commercial buildings to make money and decorations to increase the community’s “happiness” level. An element of light resource management is included — rather than a generic “goods” supply that is used to power the commercial buildings, specialist resources are required to power particular structures. “Materials,” harvested from trees, are required to build structures. “Food,” harvested from crops, is required to power commercial premises such as bakeries. And “clothing,” harvested from certain plants and trees, is required to power other commercial buildings which do not focus on food. The player is introduced to all of these concepts through a brief tutorial at the beginning of the game, and subsequently through a series of quests. A reasonable level of reading comprehension is required to understand the game, making the title probably inaccessible to younger children.
In a twist on the usual citybuilding formula, players are also able to construct the inside of their pet’s house. As they progress through the levels, a larger variety of furniture is unlocked, allowing players to improve their pet’s home and express themselves through interior design.
The game monetizes through sales of energy and bypassing certain requirements — quests can be skipped and commercial structures can be forced to immediately start producing without having sufficient resources in stock by spending Facebook Credits. It’s also possible to hurry production of crops and income from commercial buildings by spending Facebook Credits. There do not appear to be any premium items for players to purchase, however — everything that it is possible to build in the game is unlockable, though much of it is level-gated. While the game’s monetization may seem quite modest in comparison to some titles, it’s worth bearing in mind that sales of the Webkinz plush toys also provides a source of income for Ganz, which could in turn be used to improve the game.
The game is of a reasonable quality overall but there are a few issues worth taking into consideration when looking at its potential for success. In the short-term, some bugs need to be fixed, the most major of these being that when attempting to purchase something from the in-game store and build it, the game often selects the previously-purchased item rather than the actual one the player clicked on.
Perhaps a slightly bigger concern is the question of exactly who this game is aimed at. Webkinz toys are aimed at young children, but Webkinz Friends is a surprisingly complex game with its resource management features, and a good level of reading skill is required to get the most out of the experience. Children may also become frustrated at how quickly the game’s limited energy resource runs out. It’s also worth noting that Facebook’s lowest age limit is well above the age group these toys are aimed at, meaning most children who want to play will have to either do so on a parent’s account or break Facebook’s terms and conditions to do so. This is a blow to a key part of the Webkinz experience — a feeling of “ownership” over these cute animals. Parents who have payment information on file with Facebook will also need to supervise their children to ensure they don’t end up spending lots of Facebook Credits.
While it’s understandable for Webkinz to want to take advantage of the social game craze, the intended market for the toys themselves means that a game like this is far better off in a more tightly-controlled, child-safe “walled garden” such as that which the official Webkinz site already offers. The business model for the toys and their core demographic is not a good fit for Facebook, and as such this title does not come recommended.
The incorporation of collectible physical toys into a Facebook game is a good idea that should be explored further, but in this case the toys’ core demographic does not fit well with the social network’s audience.