BuildABearville.com, the virtual world for the Build-A-Bear Workshop, is set to hit one million unique monthly visitors by the end of January, according to the company. “We are thrilled that so many Guests have visited buildabearville.com,” said Maxine Clark, founder and chief executive bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop. “Our virtual world experience extends the emotional bond that is created when a Guest makes a new furry friend. Guests are able to bring their new friend to life online and continue to play and grow the friendship that begins in our store.”
The site launched only last month, on December 11, but the company is already planning new additions and features. After children make a bear (the company prefers to avoid the verb “build”), they can take their furry friend online and earn Bear Bills to purchase new items for their Cub Condos. Beginning in February, members of the Stuff Fur Stuff will also earn Bear Bills for in-store purchases.
The company is also planning themed months, for example, dedicating March to good citizenship and April to the environment.
“During the upcoming months we will be adding new features, planning community events to support causes encouraged by our Guests and cele-bear-ating holidays in our virtual world,” said Melanie McClure, interactive community event bear for buildabearville.com.
Buildabearville? Yeah. It’s pretty cool.
I sigh when I say that, because honestly– I’m not that big of a fan for the stuffed animal/VW set (simply due to the flooded market and that lack of ingenuity and originality). HOWEVER, Buildabearville? Yeah, well done.
When your only valid complaint is that the music makes you want to poke your eyeballs out with a pencil, that’s not bad (music is so particular between varieties of people, hard to make everyone happy). Although, it’s nice they give you a music player of set songs, I just can’t help twitching at the choices– the music is like a horrible bi-product of 80’s ballad cartoon theme songs (think Rainbow Brite mixed with Huggabunch theme with a dash of Care Bears) and the Bratz craptastic music… oh yes, and there are several Spanish-speaking songs as well (which is great for the multiculturalism, but not great for actual selection).
However, for as much as I was distracted and ultimately irritated by the music… man, they are some wretchedly catchy songs. I found myself singing the name of the site (smart marketing) later that day, like that darn ‘song that doesn’t end’ from Lamb Chop. If I were a paranoid pessimist (which we know I’m not, heh heh), I’d think they were specifically pinpointed for their subversive marketing geniosity.
I don’t have a bear YET (although I’m going to grab one this afternoon), I do have my av, and my av has a skateboard, and that’s pretty cool. The animation of the walking is well done considering its a human av walking– and if you know anything about human avs & currently virtual worlds, they all look stiff & lego like (not to rag on lego, Lego is awesome lego. If someone else looks like lego? Tch Tch)– don’t believe me? Check out Habbo, Nicktropolis, etc. Although, MiniMatch does a nice job with the animations too. There seems to be a wee bounce in my av’s step that I find particularly appealing. Probably because I walk like that. Ha.
The site is safe. The user names are pre-arranged (picking from two lists to make a ‘unique’ name). They ask for DOB (date of birth) and your parents’ email (goooood). The chat feature is strictly pre-text (choosing from lists of arranged words/sentences) for uber safety. Once you buy a bear, it will unlock the filtered word chat, allowing kids to actually type messages instead of pick and choose. I haven’t seen much information about who moderators or staffing, but it’s gotta be there. this isn’t anything unusual, there aren’t many sites that actual tip a hat to parents and moderators, which is a shame. As a parent, I’d want to know who is virtually babysitting my child. Some day, some day….
The colors of the site are warm and bright, and comforting– just like a snuggly bear (and kinda reminds me of Boston, for some weird reason). The games are rich… although they have occasional glitches (meh, that’s just the way of things with youngin’ betas & quickly growing user numbers). It’s not difficult to attain points to buy things (which brings me back to my skateboard– I like the fact it didn’t take me two weeks to attain, yay!).
The games are at times educational (but not overly lame. I’ll always love a good memory game), and also pure entertainment (racing & bouncing balls, etc). It’s not overly “girly” which it could have very well gone– and lays low on the fashion aspect (FINALLY!). I mean, fashion is there… but this is NO barbiegirl/be-bratz site, and thank “dog” as one of my old community kids used to say. There seems to be a nice balance between all play patterns– chatting, dress up, games, wandering, etc… which is great.
I CANNOT get into the ‘condos’, which is sad. If you don’t have a BB, you are restricted from condo’s (or ‘rooms’) in general. Can’t see others, can’t see your own, etc. There’s a few stores like that too– can’t get in without a bear. Makes me want a buildabear more. So I guess that’s a positive kickback. Like Pirates of the Caribbean Online & Club Penguin, it’s easy to locate your friends and teleport to the server/place they’re hanging out. I dig the fact they called the ‘school’ a university. School is such a bum-factor for kids. A bleak reality, and sometimes feels babyish. To call a school a ‘university’ gives kids a little nod of respect, not to mention changes up their daily language a bit. University is something that seems illusive, older, cooler, a dash of freedom. It’s nice to see a site for kids changing up the language to nod at what kids look toward, instead of what they’re stuck with. I’m not baggin on school or saying kids hate school… I’m just saying that– day to day? They’re online to escape that, and maybe try something new, something unattainable in real life, but they can safely and confidently attain online.
The usability is straight forward and well organized. I’d like to see more community events and interactions beyond just the chat function, but I think those will grow with time.
Over all, the buildabear environment is rich, warm, chill, and nice– a bit like a bear club house. When I was 10, my best friend Jill had this strange closet that felt more like a club house, and that’s what we made of it– a “bear” club house. We had those bear calendars, bear-blankets, etc. And we’d buy cheap baby clothing at the charity shop for our various bears. It was supposed to be set up like a babysitter’s club for bears, but never really achieved the type of club with a purpose more than just the word ‘bears’. Years later when I saw the opening of Build-a-Bear store opening up, and their clothing assortments, and the empowerment kids were given by “building/creating/giving life” to their bear? Cool. Makes the imagination process a little more valid– like how the old school Cabbage Patch Kids were unique and you had to mail in the “birth certificate” of your doll. It’s the brand playing along with the kids. And if an adult plays along in the imagination/dream with the kid? It achieves this extra layer of value. < and that’s it. Kids feeling value. Can’t get much more empowerment than that, right?
So, bravo, Buildabearville, for doing something uniquely your own in a market that’s not very unique. I salute ya, and look forward to the progression you will hopefully take– offering new opportunities for value and ownership and awesomeness on your site.
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