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Fun & Games (April 27, 2007)

Barbie is Going Digital
by John R. Quain
A virtual world for little girls with a forthcoming music player

Barbie CafeDo you remember when the toy every girl wanted was the Easy Bake oven? These days, girls are into IMing, avatars, and digital music. So Barbie is changing with the times.

At a black and pink event in Manhattan,  Mattel  announced a new generation of Barbie Girls for tiny digital divas. The launch includes two main components, a Web site and an MP3 music player with a replaceable Barbie Girl doll façade.

The Web site is sheathed in pink (of course) and is a virtual world containing avatars girls design and dress themselves. There’s a café to visit, a mall, a park, a pet store, a cinema featuring behind-the-scenes Barbie documentaries, and girls can furnish their own apartments. Naturally, there’s a chat component that takes place in bubbles over the avatars’ heads. For security, certain words are not permitted (such as giving someone your specific physical address). Items, such as clothes, are purchased with B dollars, but rather than buying the online currency, girls “earn” dollars by playing games and watching videos (if life were only that easy).

Barbie PlayerThe Barbie Girl music player won’t be available until August, but I tried out an advanced prototype. The player will retail for $60 and comes with enough built-in memory to hold about 120 songs. There’s also a slot for a mini SD memory card, so the device can be expanded to hold thousands of songs on a 2 gigabyte card (but you’ll have to purchase the card separately). The included Barbie Girl headphones can be accessorized with earring-like bobbles, and there are beads for the headphone wires and charms for the player (the first is a baby penguin).

The most inventive feature of the new player is that when it is connected to a Windows PC it will unlock new features on the Barbie Girls site. For example, girls can pick a pet to take care of and even make the poor little beast pink, if they so choose. So far, there are no announced plans for special music downloads, but you can be sure that’s coming.

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