Are Webkinz One Year Subscriptions An Unethical Ploy To Sell More Toys?

Reader Christopher bought his daughter a Webkinz stuffed animal — for those of your who are not familiar with these toys — with each animal you receive a code that is good for a one year subscription to a virtual version of the toy. After a year — you need to buy another toy or you lose access to your previous pets. Buying more than one toy per year doesn’t extend your subscription, you have to buy one each year to keep it going. Christopher thinks this is unethical.

Christopher writes:

Recently, my daughter (age 7) and I discovered the strategy employed by the makers of Webkinz to perpetuate their sales, by taking advantage of kids’ desires to maintain their virtual pets by having to purchase more and more Webkinz stuffed animals.

Webkinz, of course, are cute stuffed animals that allow kids to create an online version of their pet, then roam around in a virtual Webkinz world. You buy the stuffed animal in a store, and receive a code to logon to their website and see your pet “come to life” in the virtual Webkinz world.

What is buried in the user’s agreement is that the log on is only good for one year, at which time you have to buy another pet to keep access to your previous pets. Buying 2 pets at the same time only gives you a year, as the time is not additive; it begins when you register your pet.

After my daughter discovered she could not log on, and I looked within the user’s agreement, and found the problem, and their “solution.” Of course, my daughter immediately wanted to go and buy another animal. I emailed the company expressing my dismay at their strategy, and received a standard email back regarding purchasing another toy to log in.

I am hoping that other consumers write you about this unethical strategy.

What do you think? Are Webkinz a form of evil? Or is a year’s subscription fair?

Comments

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  1. pgh9fan1 says:

    You mean as opposed to McDonald’s giving out movie-related toys with Happy Meals? Or cartoons that advertise their action figures? Kids’ shows whose advertisers are cereals with more sugar than anything?

    • Keavy_Rain says:

      @pgh9fan1: Well, when you put it that way…

      Wait a minute. Why are we perfectly reasonable and rational adults allowing corporations to control us, and our finances, through our children?

      Sorry to say, but if that kid wants to get another toy for another year she should do some chores around the house in exchange for money that she uses to buy the toy, thus extending her time with the website.

      Aside from Christmas and my birthday, I had to earn money for and pay for any toy, movie, or video game I wanted as a kid and I turned out allright.

    • Zorantor says:

      @pgh9fan1: There are, in fact, restrictions against advertising something during a related show. It is not allowed, for example, to play a commercial for a Power Rangers toy during an episode of Power Rangers. If I’m not mistaken, that causes the FCC to regard the entire episode as an advertisement for the product, and everybody gets to pay the FCC a fine.

      There was an issue with an advertisement for the Game Boy was played during an episode of Pokémon. During a scene that showed several game cartridges, about half of the Pokémon logo could be seen on one of them, which led to the aforementioned fines.

  2. Raekwon says:

    I think the 1 year subscription is fair but I think that the time should be additive. If you buy a ton of their toys you get all the time associated with each toy.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @Raekwon: It doesn’t have to be additive. But the clock should reset to 0 every time you register a new toy. If it does that, there is nothing wrong with this. It means you do get at least 1 year with each new toy and technically get more time with past toys.

      Plus it looks like you can get these things for about 15 bucks. That seems like a good deal for a year of service and the stuffed animal.

      • NotATool says:

        @Corporate_guy: The clock IS reset to zero each time you add a toy. If you add 2 at the same time, obviously that’s going to give you a year. But, if you add one then wait 6 months and add the second, you will get 18 months total out of the deal.

        Webkinz doesn’t hide this fact at all, so I’m kind of wondering where this guy is coming from, or why he thought he’d get a lifetime subscription to an online service for the purchase of a $10 toy.

        • "I Like Potatoes" says:

          @NotATool: Yes – you explained it perfectly. I have two girls with webkinz and I understand this fact. Most kids want to register them both at the same time (if they get two) just so they can play with them right away, but it’s one year per toy. It sounds fair enough to me. This is an easy gift for Grandma – they are always a hit.

    • Charlotte Rae's Web says:

      @Raekwon: It is additive!

      • bwcbwc says:

        @Charlotte Rae’s Web: Well not quite: Additive would be that if I bought a new toy 6 months into the current registration, it would come out to 24 months (12+12). What you get is 12 months from the most recent registration, which is “rolling” rather than additive (6+12).

  3. calquist says:

    How much are these things? I’m imagining $6.99 or so like beanie babies. I would say the year subscription would be fair if they offered a low-cost renewel of like $1.99 or something. Otherwise I am assuming that most kids log in twice and then never again.

    • mechfluff says:

      @calquist: That’s exactly what I was thinking. Don’t force the customers to buy more crap to maintain the virtual account. A lower maintenance fee would be fair, but forcing the purchase of toys is not.

      • Darrone says:

        @mechfluff: depending on the animal (like beanies, some are “rare”) there 8-20 dollars. But you’re really buying the service and the collectible that goes with it. No one buys the toy to have a stuffed animal.

    • CupcakeKarate says:

      @calquist: My niece is 12 and she’s obsessed with Webkinz. The whole point for her is not the actual toy, but its online counterpart.

    • SacraBos says:

      @calquist: Don’t have a kid with one, do ya? Buy 1 toy/year for continued access isn’t unreasonable to me.

      What I hate about these things is that there’s the impression that if you don’t “play and feed” them, they’ll DIE! And you don’t want your little kid faced with that kind of responsibility…

    • bohemian says:

      @calquist: Oh hell no. They are about $17 each. The mini kinz are about $8 but come with fewer features.

      Webkinz also changed the ability to buy certain things with kinz cash now have to be bought with mom or dad’s credit card.

      It is pure evil because they get kids heavily wrapped up in playing with these stuffed animals and their virtual counterparts then hold their “pets” hostage with extermination if you don’t buy another one. Yea it is virtual extermination but to a kid it is a pretty horrible.

      • the lesser of two weevils says:

        @bohemian: That’s hilarious. I wish I was in the boardroom when they were coming up with this. “No parent will let their kid’s pet die, so the saps will keep paying up over and over. Brilliant.”

      • Charlotte Rae's Web says:

        @bohemian: you are ‘oh hell no’ wrong in everything you said. I don’t work for Ganz but you are so far off the mark I had to post.

        1. No such thing as mini kinz.

        2. Lil’kinz are just PHYSICALLY smaller stuffed animals. They have NO more or LESS options in the game AT ALL.

        3. The Walgreen lil’kinz webkinz cares pets are even cheaper and have MORE features and donate to charity.

        4. The items that can be bought with parent’s cash were never items that could be bought with the in game kinzcash. The items that are now available for purchase are through webkinzestore.com and are OTHER pets or items.

        5. Extermination? it’s pretty fair to ask people to at least spend $5.99 to get the cheapie Walgreen one to extend it another year.

        6. Only the brand new released ones are $17.

  4. Copper says:

    My sister and her friends are into Webkinz.

    I don’t think it’s unethical, but I do think it’s a great business strategy. A Webkin is $10 and that is good for one year of online play and a lifetime of real play (with the critter itself). That’s a pretty fair price, in my opinion.

  5. jscott73 says:

    Luckily my daughter, 5, lost interest in her online pet after a week or so.

    However, now knowing this 1 year limit I would be reticent to buy another webkinz for my kids.

  6. Papercutninja says:

    The service is included in the purchase of the toy. It doesn’t say it’s a lifetime subscription. Sometimes parents just need to say NO to their children. They still have the physical toy anyway.

  7. tedyc03 says:

    I think that there ought to be a renewal opportunity rather than being required to purchase another toy.

    • calquist says:

      @tedyc03: Is each code specific for each animal? Like if I buy a panda, use the code for a year and then want to renew, do I have to buy another panda or can I buy a duck and just decide to use the code towards the panda or the duck?

      • wardawg says:

        @calquist: You buy the duck and you get the duck added to your account plus a year of play time, you get to keep the panda.

        In all honesty this makes buying birthday presents for my little sister a lot easier because she needs a new webkinz every year so I never have to worry about what to buy her.

        • BluePlastic says:

          @wardawg: For about how many years would a kid be interested in a new one until they kind of grew out of it?

          • bwcbwc says:

            @BluePlastic: My daughter is just starting to lose interest after about 2 years (she just turned 10). She’s more into the parody “Dudkinz” site now. At her peak she was saving up allowance and buying a new one every couple of months.

            I think her case is pretty typical (except maybe for the allowance): When the kid is really into it and enough relatives buy the toys, she can stay registered for a year. If a kid is losing interest, they’ll have a year to wind down from the last toy they registered.

            It would’ve been nice if they would extend the current expiration by a minimum of 6 months with each new pet registration, but in general the kid will lose interest before the registration expires. If the kid is still interested, they’ll be harassing the surrounding adults to buy them a new one, which will extend the subscription.

    • magic8ball says:

      @tedyc03: Agreed. If they want to sell online play through a subscription, just sell the subscription – don’t make people buy more stuff so you can pretend that it’s not a subscription service.

  8. Darrone says:

    The OP has got it backwards. The concept is that you get a year of a free service when you buy the toy. You can either pay for another year, or opt to buy another toy, and get both a toy and another year.

    This isn’t deceptive because its very clear on the packaging, and its extremely common knowledge among parents (I only have nieces, and even I know).

    The toy is meant to be viewed more like a beanie baby than a toy. It’s something you collect, you group together. One stuffed animal by itself has no value, the online service is what is truly being sold. How often do you see you’re child play with the stuffed animal? compared to the VAST amounts of time spent playing Goober’s Lab with the webkinz on the computer.

    • El_Fez says:

      @Darrone: How often do you see you’re child play with the stuffed animal? compared to the VAST amounts of time spent playing Goober’s Lab with the webkinz on the computer.

      and that right there makes me sad beyond words. When I was a kid, I’d take a plushie (or action figures) over the Atari any day of the week.

      • Skunky says:

        @El_Fez: I take both. I have a rather large video game collection, and an even larger stuffed animal collection. It’s just not a cozy day of video gaming if I don’t have a big skunk plush in my arms. :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    My wife got my daughte rinto Webkinz probably 3 years ago and since then due to birthdays, holidays and rewards she’s amassed a colelction of more than 60 of these dust collectors. We knew from the first time we bought them that the account was only good for a year but I guess we didn’t realize that it wasn’t expiring because she kept registering new pets. You can’t fault the company for the strategy. They offer a good service and it’s safe for kids to use and far more educational that Club Penguin which is another elementary school age kid mainstay.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Webkinz is not a bad site. My 6 and 11 year old enjoy the activities and there are even a few learning activities and games. The marketing on the site itself is not as intrusive as some other free kid game sites like candystand. Compared to Jumpstart World which is quite pricey, a small stuffed animal per year subscription is pretty reasonable for what you get. The terms are spelled out when you register.

  11. Nick1693 says:

    I bought some Webkinz once, when I had a gift certificate to a toy store. They aren’t evil, just weird. If you’re a parent looking for a virtual world for a kid, Try Whyville ( [www.whyville.net] ) I found it about 4 years ago, completely free, and educational, but they do have a virtual item that needs to be paid for (though not required, adds more features to the website for buyers.)

  12. ThunderSaid says:

    This isn’t unethical in the least. Webkinz has simply discovered the strategy that Blizzard is using to make millions from World of Warcraft – subscription based content. With WOW, your subscription is a monthly fee. With Webkinz, your subscription is one toy purchase per year. Whether or not you allow your child to “subscribe” to the Webkinz service or not is entirely up to you. Webkinz, for their part, disclosed their terms of service in a completely legal way, and seem to have kept up their end of the bargain. That sounds pretty ethical to me.

    • Citron says:

      @ThunderSaid: The thing about WoW is if you buy the service over and over again, it accumulates. If I apply 2 30-day cards to my account, I get two months of play for the future. The subscription doesn’t just disappear, as webkins do.

      The problem isn’t with subscription-based services, it’s with the fact that you can buy a hundred webkins a year and still only have 1 year’s worth of service. Next year, you’ll need to buy another one regardless.

      Furthermore, canceling a WoW subscription doesn’t cause the data you’ve accumulated through playing to simply disappear. They store your account information indefinitely.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I disagree. They’re not in the business of providing your child ongoing, free, entertainment. How do you expect they’d pay for maintaining the website? They could charge you for web access but instead their model is to encourage you to buy another toy and get the access for no additionaly fee. Expecting web access for nothing is silly.

  14. J. Gov says:

    Sheer evil. If it were an adult product I’d call it merely wasteful, but marketing to kids? And parents who are going to have to deal with potentially teary or tantrumy children who’ve just suddenly lost a beloved (if only virtual) toy?

    So very glad I don’t have to experience this myself…

    • Darrone says:

      @J. Gov: Fortunately the odds of you procreating are slim.

    • Yossarian says:

      @J. Gov: I don’t have to experience this myself, either, even though I have two daughters who like Webkinz.

      They learned long ago that teariness and tantruminess doesn’t work and will be counterproductive. If parents have given in to such behavior and rewarded it, they have themselves to blame, not Webkinz.

      My daughters know their options for getting Webkinz: ask for one as a Christmas or birthday gift (which may or may not work and probably isn’t a short term solution) or spend their allowance on one.

      They get a reasonable amount of entertainment during the time they are allowed to use the site. There’s nothing sneaky or, lol, evil about it. It would be nice if each registration extended the subscription by a year, but the situation is fine without that.

  15. Skipweasel says:

    Think of it as a perfect opportunity to educate your child about the ways of marketers – and how to avoid them.

    My daughter noticed some time ago that My Little Ponies are all near enough identical with just a different sticker on their arse, so she stopped buying them and they’re now called “My Little Cash Cow”.

  16. jmndos says:

    Why do you need a virtual version if you already have the physical version ?

  17. Xerloq says:

    It’s not unethical, it’s a business model. Just don’t buy it! Recession, much?

  18. The Gigante says:

    $12.99 to get a year subscription to a safe site online with no ads – AND a stuffed animal?

    Dude – my kids spend hours a week playing this online and more importantly NOT bugging the crap out of me.

    WORTH. EVERY. PENNY.

  19. jimconsumer says:

    Webkinz is a great racket. I wish I’d thought of this simple, but genius, idea. My daughter and her friends love them. Now my wife, of all people, is into them. She has several and plays the online games regularly. I can’t even believe it.

    The 1 year limit doesn’t bother me, but I’d always assumed the online pets could be “reactivated” for a small fee without actually buying another physical one. I don’t mind the small yearly fee, if it’s available, but I won’t be buying more copies of the physical item just so the online game can continue to be played.

    These things are the new Beanie Babies. Ridiculous, if you ask me. One of my daughter’s friends has 70 of them. That’s over a grand worth of stupid stuffed animals (~$15/each). She said she’d like that many – I told her to go find a job because it will never happen as long as I’m footing the bill.

    • Charlotte Rae's Web says:

      @jimconsumer: I’m into them too.

      You can just get a pet code at webkinzestore.com for $10 or you can buy the cheapie webkinz lil’kinz we care at Walgreen for $5.99.

  20. Balder says:

    It’s not unethical at all. What they really sell is a service. you buy the plush toy and it comes with a year of their service. Once it runs out you have to buy it again, plain and simple. It’s like a cable subscription except you actually have to go and buy the service every time to renew it instead of automatically paying them for a subscription every year and then going through endless hassle to cancel

  21. valarmorghulis says:

    This seems quite fair to me. I did a quick search, and the most expensive ones seem to be less than $25. Considered as a yearly subscription charge to the online service, that is exceedingly minimal. You are talking about the cost of opperationg data lines to handle the connections, harddrive space to store the application itself and the database, database maintinance, data center colocation fees if you don’t own the facility, or maintinace on the AC units, water chillers, air handlers, power distribution units, generators, and the list goes on. I’m not saying that they incur all of these cost, just that they exist, and can be quite substantial. Probably most important however is the fact that they are still required to comply to SOX, and maintain Propritary Customer Information (PCI). I don’t mean they are a likly target for identity thieves or stalkers, but they still have to protect that information by law. All said and done, a one-year access period, from date of registration, per actual (non-virtual) purchase seems exceedingly fair to me. Considering the attiont spans of the young, I’d say that it is astounding Christopher was able to both keep her interested in the service for an entire year, and to keep her happy with just the single account/toy.

  22. Andrea Viera says:

    Rant/

    How about this:

    Instead of buying a toy that your kids can play with online…play with your kid!

    I’m not blaming the OP, but what I don’t understand is why a seven year old needs to be online at all, educational or not. Children under 13 have no business being online, they have business playing in dirt outside, lol. Parents need to play with their kids more!

    /rant over

    • Pink Puppet says:

      @Andrea Viera: There’s no harm in structured computer time for a seven year old. As long as it is structured and monitored carefully, it can be a great educational experience.

      It helps raise well-balanced geeks, if you do it right. And the geek shall inherit the Earth, right?

      • Andrea Viera says:

        @Pink Puppet: a webkinz ruled world?

        SAY IT ISN’T SO!!!1!

        /has given up on humanity

        • Pink Puppet says:

          @Andrea Viera: Computer games got me interested in programming, which somehow morphed into a possibly pathological obsession with mathematics, and led to me on a path towards what I’m in college for now–electrical engineering.

          If not for Jazz Jackrabbit (and tons of paternal involvement in fostering my curiosity), I would probably not be a geek today. Give Webkinz a break, man.

    • The Gigante says:

      you obviously do not have children…@Andrea Viera:

      • Andrea Viera says:

        @The Gigante: You’r right, I don’t have any kids.

        However, I work at a daycare and it kills me to see all these children who whine when it’s time to play outside and whine when their Gameboys and such get taken away.

        If a kid is getting on your nerves and you need time to yourself…what is the harm in giving them a bike and telling them to go outside? Childhood only happens once, and surely you don’t want your kids best memory to be the time they got 534,876 points on an online game?

        • Yossarian says:

          @Andrea Viera: I think you are projecting the parenting skills of the parents of your whiners onto all parents.

          It’s quite possible to have kids who play outside, and ride bikes, and play sports, and who play with their parents but who also spend some time on the computer, both to learn and to have fun. It’s not an either/or situation.

        • CyGuy says:

          @Andrea Viera: webkinz are not for kids that are old enough to jump on a bike and go play by themselves. Kids under 8 aren’t allowed outside on the street without an adult (it’s the law here in MD) and as to your earlier comment about playing in the dirt, at least here in February the ‘dirt’ is white fluffy snow. My kids get lots of out door playtime, and reading, and indoor imaginative play and crafts, but there 168 hours in week and I don’t have a problem with them spending 3-4 of those hours playing (mostly) educational computer games, or another 3-4 hours per week watching TV.

          As to the Webkinz user agreement – I too was unaware that the time wasn’t cumulative. I do think the $15 for a one year subscription is well worth it, but multiples of that would not be. each new animal should add a year to the account, or at least some set minimum – maybe 6 months if they are activated together.

          • HogwartsAlum says:

            @CyGuy:

            “Kids under 8 aren’t allowed outside on the street without an adult (it’s the law here in MD)…” Would that it were the law everywhere. I drove by a skanky house on one of the main drags one day last summer and saw a kid that couldn’t have been more than two playing outside in a pool, ALONE.

          • mariospants says:

            @CyGuy: We had a solid MONTH of -20C weather this winter. The rest of the time, the weather was just miserable. I’d love to see how Andrea Viera proposes to devote so much face time to children? It’s impossible. You have to do the laundry, wash dishes, make meals, dust vacuum and clean the house, do renovations, pay bills, ad nauseum. How on EARTH would anyone reconcile that with “Instead of buying a toy that your kids can play with online…play with your kid!

            I’m not blaming the OP, but what I don’t understand is why a seven year old needs to be online at all, educational or not. Children under 13 have no business being online, they have business playing in dirt outside, lol. Parents need to play with their kids more!”

            Andrea, you’re crazy and there are probably 100 million helicopter parents who would strangle you for suggesting they don’t spend enough time taking direct care of their kids.

            • Andrea Viera says:

              @ all: Chill!!

              I’m not saying devote 100% of your every waking minute with your child, just that there is plenty of stuff to do rather then sit your kid in front of the computer screen. If its cold/hot/rainy/cloudy outside, there are books, board games, paper, pens, crayons, music, paint, puzzles, dolls (not bratz lol), a box and a big imagination.

              And my family didn’t have a computer until I was 15, and I adjusted pretty damn quick to all the hot ish that was goin’ on online in high school.

              I know plenty of people who have never had a home computer until they were 18+, and they were never ridiculed at ALL for not having a myspace, facebook, neopets, webkinz, whatever. If you want your child to be social, then play dates are the best :) Indoors, again, if the weather is bad or they are too young. Plus, social time for you and other parents! :)

              I never stated you were a horrible parent and going to hell if you let your child type one word, so chill out y’all. I just stated that in MY opinion, children 13 and under shouldn’t have access to a comp. If you can balance being a good parent, spending time with your kids, and allowing them monitored time online, then good for you. I have just seen too many parents let the TV and computer raise their children, and those kids end up anti-social, inactive, and addicted to those online games. No thanks, I’d rather give my child a book then a keyboard.

              Maybe I’m just old fashioned like that :)

              • Anonymous says:

                @Andrea Viera:

                If a child does not have access to a computer until they are 13, they could have serious problems in school. For example, my second-grader, who’s 7, had to create a PowerPoint presentation that she gave during the parent-teacher conferences. Had she not already been very familiar with computers, this would have been difficult for her to do. Her teacher gave general instructions, but the students all typed everything in and placed all of their elements, clip art and pictures, on the slides themselves. My kids are in public schools by the way, so the majority of the kids in my area have school work like this.

                Please remember that we are in completely different times. When we were kids, it was easier to not have to deal with computers and no one would think it odd if a kid didn’t have any computer experience. In today’s world, no computer experience is a huge deteriment to children and actually puts them behind in school.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      @Andrea Viera: In case you didn’t already know, the world is computerized. I don’t have kids, but its entirely possible to have a balance of computer time plus other activities. In fact I would even argue that keeping your kid off the computer is bad, simply because all their other classmates are on the computer, and not letting them use it would easily cause them to fall behind in school and with their friends as well. In order to have a well socialized kid you do have to modernize somewhat. You definitely don’t want to have the outcast kid who’s parent is the only one who does not allow the home computer to be used by the child.

      This is the equivalent of taking away books from a kid, which I am sure no one would want to do, as reading is heavily encouraged in schools and you need to have reading skills to get through school. Its the same with computers, you have to have knowledge of computers to get through school these days, and being on one is the best way to gain knowledge.

      The problem comes when computer use is not monitored and the parents either allow their kid to spend every penny on webkinz or buy their kid a webkinz whenever they want one.

    • aguacarbonica says:

      @Andrea Viera:

      If you ever have kids, I hope they don’t end up academically stunted because you’re holding them back from computers while other kids are building the skill set that’s necessary to thrive in the modern US.

      This is a perfectly healthy and age appropriate online activity for kids under eleven years old, who also need to be learning how to navigate technology. It’s balance that’s the key.

      And I have known plenty of parents who let dirt and a shovel babysit their kids instead of computers. I am not sure how that’s remotely better.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I find it interesting that people would not look askance at paying $15/month for World of Warcraft, but $15/year for Webkinz makes the company “evil” somehow. Perhaps the point is the lack of disclosure, but it seems to me the uproar is “how dare you make me pay more to continue accessing this virtual world!” And that, my friends of Azeroth, is hypocritical.

  24. GMFish says:

    How is this unethical?! My kids love Webkinz. We know beforehand that the internet service only lasts a year. We know we’ll have to renew or buy again to continue it. I also know that after two years my kids will be bored of it and I’ll be off the hook. (Actually, I doubt if they’ll make it past a year.)

    This is like buying a car and then bitching when it runs out of gas. “Selling cars that need refueling is unethical.”

    Can you guys please stick to real scams instead of made up ones?! We really need this site to fight the good fight. And publishing junk like this only diminishes your impact because it makes you look loopy.

  25. Anonymous says:

    This sounds hardly unethical. They’re offering a service you can choose to take advantage of, or not. Saying that the Webkinz business plan is unethical is like saying you shouldn’t have to pay for a subscription to World of Warcraft because you already bought the game discs.

  26. biikman says:

    Much ado about nothing. The toys range from $6-$14 bucks, for a years worth of online play. I figure its a bargain compared to what I’m paying for WOW per month.

  27. glitterpig says:

    Well, I appreciate the heads-up, at any rate – my daughter just started asking for Webkinz, and I’d have guessed that the subscriptions were additive, so it’s good to know they’re not.

    It’s not really *scammy* – just sort of yuk. On the other hand, the whole reason I give my kid an allowance is so I can teach her about spending money in an informed way, so hey, it’s a toy, a year of online gaming, AND a life lesson, all in one! What a bargain!

  28. Mr-Mr says:

    Unless the codes that come with the toys have an expiration date, I don’t see how this would be unethical. If you want to buy more than one Webkinz a year, then save the code for when your current subscription expires. I don’t see a problem here.

    I think that people forget that it costs a lot of money for a company to provide the kind of services Webkinz provides. It’s no minimum wage salary running on a Pentium 2 with 16MB of RAM.

    Again, if the codes have an expiration date, then that’s bull. If they don’t, then you have absolutely nothing to complain about. At the end of the day, you still have a stuffed animal/toy your kid can play with. Also, I’ve seen them on clearance a few times too.

  29. CardamS says:

    We have real economic problems right now. My daughter is hooked on these things for now but in a month or two this site will be free sign up or renewal cause the kids will move on. Which is exatly what Christopher may consider doing.

    We have like thirty plus Webkins my daughter has acquired. Are you saying WebKins needs to garuntee their URL is up and active in 30 years? Get a grip….

  30. Anonymous says:

    We have learned to delay the “adoptions” of our pets when we receive more than one for birthdays, Christmas, etc. That way you can wait and see if your pet will be pet of the month, and also extend the subscription. Webkinz has been great fun for me, the mom, and our 2 girls…I have had no qualms letting our kids play, and feel that price is worth it. BTW, Walgreen’s has cheap Webkinz, and you can also get them very reasonably on eBay, less than in the stores. Individual gift shops seem to be the very highest priced.

  31. OmniZero says:

    I think that after buying one and the 1 year runs out, people should be able to renew without buying an animal, which would mean a discounted price. That would make the most sense. Subscriptions usually don’t involve buying something physical like that.

    • biikman says:

      @OmniZero:

      As a matter of fact you can renew without actually buying the stuffed toy. The price isn’t discounted, but considering it is a years worth of online time, for 10-15 bucks, I think it’s a good deal.

  32. Outrun1986 says:

    The real problem here is Webkinz is VERY addictive for children. Most children I have seen over here are completely obsessed with it and have something like 30 or 40 pets each. However its up to the parents to control what the child buys and what is bought for them so the addiction is fostered by the parents. The larger picture is that after Webkinz the child will get addicted to another online service in the same way, and you have to decide if that is what you want as a parent or not.

    It may seem like a completely innocent service but children are VERY VERY competitive about getting more Webkinz than their friend, and this can cause problems, and cause children to get very greedy. It can also cause problems with friendships, which I have seen. Its kind of like Pokemon cards all over again.

    I am probably reading into the webkinz fad way too much and it really is a childhood fad like any other toy fad of years past but the problem comes in when the child gets too addicted to it and caught up in it and it begins to affect other parts of their life and their whole attitude, and I have seen this happen from the Webkinz site.

    You also have to decide at 15$ an animal if you want to sink that kind of money into it because yes, the kid will move on to another fad. Also its a website, so the website could technically close at any point, leaving you and your kids money in limbo. Hopefully they would at least stop selling the toys and forbid registrations and renewals before that happens though. Some of the kids I know are already starting to move away from Webkinz, which is a good thing considering how addicted to it they were before.

    I see no problem with buying one animal a year, but these kids are taking every penny they own and using it to buy more Webkinz. The site does encourage you to buy more than one and gives you special privilages if you have over a certain amount of Webkinz. They do completely disclose that when you purchase the stuffed animal you are also buying a subscription to the website for one year and then after that the subscription expires until you buy another animal.

    It would be nice if they included a cheap renewal fee though. You can often find Webkinz on sale these days though since the fad isn’t as crazy as it was last summer, it won’t be the newest animal but you can probably find a Webkinz for about 5$ if you look around, I know I have seen them at that price.

    • BluePlastic says:

      @Outrun1986: Yeah, I don’t see a problem with a kid having a few of these toys and supervised time to make sure they aren’t on the computer during *all* of their free time. But having 30+ of them and having to compete with their friends about how many they have is a little overboard IMO. That’s up to the parents, however, to give their kids a reality check.

      The one thing I would fault Webkinz for is if additional money is required to play the games or whatever is on there. The price of a Webkinz toy should be enough, or else they need to raise the price a couple dollars, rather than having the kids wanting their parents to pay for even MORE functions on the website.

    • Shawn Lockard says:

      @Outrun1986: Having played the site fairly heavily myself, if parents are letting their kids get that addicted that they are putting all their money into Webkinz, its an example of a definitey lack of guidance and supervision.

      I have an account with one Webkinz, and do enough activities with that one character to keep him fed, happy, and in a nicely furnished house. One of the virtues of the site, in my opinion, is that you can get all the “kinzcash” you need for a lot of nice things just by.. playing. Being paid to play. And most of the games are developing skills, and not just physical ones.

      There are a few parts of the site, tied into the small plastic figurines that unlock another part of the site, but it is not a “necessary” or vital part of the site. There are a few web exclusive sets that can only be purchases online with actually money, but again, only really for the completist collector.

      You do get an extra “exclusive” item at certain colleciton breakpoints (5-10, etc). There are other non-monetary chance or competition based ways to get some of the “exclusives”.

      In closing, there are so many ways, while PLAYING, to get so many cool things in the game that they are giving you a more than complete game. This is not old school DisneyWorld charging you for an E-Ticket ride.

  33. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    I think it’s a ripoff, but as with most toys (provided they’re not in some other way harmful), I’d let my daughter have it…if she wanted to pay for it. If she got one as a gift, then she could decide next year if she wanted to pay the renewal fee.

    Pretty simple. Kids don’t tend to waste their *own* money very much, and I’ve got my own expenses. ;)

  34. Julia789 says:

    I don’t think buying a new webkins every year is a big deal. I guess they could offer to charge you to renew the next year instead if you want, but wouldn’t you rather get your kid a cute stuffed animal, for the same price anyway, if you were already going to pay to renew?

    My kid (7 years old) liked Webkins, but the website was kind of lame and the games were kind of baby-ish. He just started “Club Penguin” and he loves it – much more than Webkins. I have to admit, it’s adorable and I’ve played it, too. The Penguins are cute and the games are fun. And I like the “safechat” feature that the kids can only use pre-set phrases instead of typing to each other. That way no creeps can try and get phone numbers, etc. He likes to play it during his after-school program, when they let them have free time on the library computers (with a web filter and supervision, of course.)

  35. Anonymous says:

    it’s fair i think, its like the item shop MMO’s they need money some how to support the web site or it goes down. They said you have to submit a new code every year but you can buy the toys at first lets say 3 of em, and enter each code after the year is up. That is if you like the toys, dong that would give you 3 years easy. enter first code then wait about a year or so enter 2nd then so on

  36. Anonymous says:

    Actually, you can, more or less renew without buying a physical stuffed animal. They offer an on-line only store also. You can buy a virtual pet for $12.50. Not a bad price for another year subscription! My husband pays the monthly fee for WOW.(because he’s the biggest kid in the house ;) That costs WAY more than Webkinz per year.

  37. Justin Linett says:

    the site is ad free and safe ? we dont need that crap for our kids , make them earn thier playtime by chatting with creepy old men , i say 1 hr for every 15 mins of “friendly” chat , 2hrs if its homosexual in nature. Make them give massages for xbox time like i do.

  38. carlosdelvaca says:

    My daughter has been on Webkinz for a couple months ago now. In my reading up on various facets of the site, I am a bit taken aback with the public outcry every time Ganz does something that can make them some money–posting of third-party ads (which you can turn off), the option to buy in-world stuff with real-world cash (which you can ignore), and now the notion that your account basically expires in a year if you don’t buy another pet. I think people are losing sight of the fact that Ganz doesn’t run Webkinz as a public service. I think they have every right to make a buck. If you don’t like that, you are free to not do business with them. And as others have said, the toys really don’t cost that much–in fact, we got our daughter’s Webkinz panda as a giveaway at a baseball game.

  39. adb1158 says:

    My ten year old daughter has a bunch of Webkins and adores them. She also gets online several times a week to feed them, play with them, etc. She also is very involved with sports, straight A’s in school, plays outside almost every day except for inclement weather and also watches some TV every day. Just like anything in life, moderation is key. Do I think she is obsessed with Webkins? Yeah, maybe. But forty years ago I was obsessed with GI Joes, Hot Wheels, Baseball cards and my stamp collection (and watching Speed Racer on TV). Nothing wrong with healthy obsessions that another fad or obsession can’t cure.

  40. courtneywoah says:

    I love Webkinz and think its a great idea. It’s better than paying $6 a month for club penguin that my kids just don’t love as much.The popularity of webkinz has gone down dramatically (much like the decline of beanie babies) and you can pick up a webkinz for like $5-9 now. The games and activities that are available on-line are well worth the money spent.

  41. rallyfanche says:

    I agree with the year. Disclaimer: I don’t have kids, but if you don’t like this policy, then just don’t get your daughter that brand. Surely they aren’t the only ones that make stuffed animals?

  42. blueb says:

    the lil kinz have the exact same benefits as the bigger ones… its just a smaller size pet.

    almost every walgreens has a pile of the lilkinz for 6 bucks… and every few months they go on sale for buy one get one free. (and if you get really into it, they frequently have a 5 bucks off of 20 coupon on fridays.. paired with the sale gets you like 6 of them for 15 bucks)

    considering my mom used to pay 30 a year for pogo membership that my daughter used… 6 bucks for a more kid oriented site is very reasonable.

    and the plush animals tend to be pretty high quality as well. ganz is mainly a stuffed animal company… not a web game company.

  43. Outrun1986 says:

    Another problem I have come across with Webkinz is that you cannot share one. Its true though, you really cannot share one between kids. Its not like a barbie doll that you can pass around between children. This makes buying a webkinz for a gift in a multiple child household very difficult. I really wish they made some way that siblings could share the webkinz, so that when every birthday comes around, we don’t have to buy one for each kid in the family. Because if you have a household with 2 or 3 kids, heaven forbid one kid gets a webkinz and the other doesn’t, even if its birthday or christmas. It causes fights, rampant jealousy and greed between the kids in the family.

    Even if you try to explain that its kid x’s birthday and that kid y will get a Webkinz on their birthday, it does not work, the arguments, crying and fighting still ensue.

  44. BreadBoy says:

    Not an issue. Please move on, nothing to see here

  45. Anonymous says:

    I think many commenters are missing the point of the complaint. Each Webkinz comes with a virtual version of the stuffed toy and a 1 year subscription to the website.

    Basic logic says that if a child has 10 webkinz, she should have 10 years’ worth of subscription to the site. But when you enter a code from mulitple Webkinz, it extends the subscription to 1 year from the date of the last code entered, rather than simply adding a year to the subscription. In essence, it punishes you for buying a new toy by taking away the remainder of your original subscription rather than stacking the two. I agree with the original post that it is unethical.

    Each toy is supposed to come with 1 year’s subscription, but when you redeem the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., toy’s code, it cancels whatever portion remained on the original subscription rather than adding a year.

    Say you had a 12 month apartment lease that ends in December and that you paid in full in advance. In July, you decide you would like to stay in the apartment for another year, so you call your landlord and tell him. He agrees and you write him a check for another year’s lease. However, when your paperwork comes, you see that instead of ending next December, your lease now ends next August. Would you be satisfied with this arrangement?

  46. Shrew2u says:

    I’m glad my children are too old (13, and unless Webkinz joins forces with the Twilight universe it’s all good) or too young (19 mo, and one more who’ll be here in May) for this particular marketing ploy.

    If I were in Christopher’s shoes, though, I can’t say I’d complain one bit. I’ve plunked down more than $15 for computer games that my daughter got bored with after less than a year, so buying a $15 toy each year as a subscription fee would be no skin off my nose. Being able to find a cheapo source of annual renewal through Walgreen’s and other discount retailers would be an added bonus!

    Christopher needs to remember the great Heinlein adage TANSTAAFL – “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”. That Webkinz website needs to, at minimum, pay for its own upkeep. Since this isn’t some commie paradise and the makers of Webkinz are not a nonprofit organization, that website had better be turning a profit, to boot. And that means making sure that those who are sucking down the site’s bandwidth and engaging in the activities they have paid to develop/license are paying for access to that content.

    Christopher can find a bunch of parents with similar complaints and show up on Ganz’s doorstep with pitchforks and torches in hand, that’s fine. I just hope he’s got his speech prepared for his daughter, the day Ganz shuts down the website because they can no longer break even on the venture, much less turn a profit.

  47. Jeff the Riffer says:

    Unethical?? Hardly. Somewhat deceptive? Yeah, but the packaging makes it pretty clear what the limitation is.

    Basically, you pay for a subscription to the website for a year. When you buy another webkin, it doesn’t extend the subscription, but it DOES add the webkin to the account and also increases the accounts “kinzcash” balance.

    Since the website is free of advertisements (other than for the virtual services such playing games), is tightly controlled and monitored more intensely than NORAD, it seems like a fair trade-off.

    Webkinz aren’t that expensive, maybe $20 for a year? And you can buy them discounted/on sale.

    But I will agree they should be more upfront about it to the parents. And probably offer ways to extend the subscription without having to buy another webkin…

  48. RogueSophist says:

    @Outrun1986: Exactly. The last thing I need is for my kids to enter young adulthood with the computer “skills” of my parents, who become disoriented after a simple Google search.

  49. jook says:

    So, uh… Get a neopet instead?

  50. dahlink_natasha says:

    well…I know plenty of people who are successful adults and they didn’t have home computers, hand held game systems, and the like when they were growing up. It CAN happen, believe it or not!!

  51. Anonymous says:

    My cousin’s daughter is really into Webkinz and she has quite a collection of them. She knows all about the Webkinz rules and extending the service and needing another toy. Since she has so many, she just doesn’t register some until her subscription is up for renewal and then she registers one.

    I think she explained that there are other ways to get either tokens or earn points so you can extend your service but she’s got a stash of Webkinz on hand so she can keep renewing her account.

    I think she told me at Chrsitmas that even if she never got another Webkinz she could keep it going for another 10 years or so.

    If an elementary age kid can figure that out on her own you think an adult would be able to.

  52. Illiterati says:

    Clever, but not unethical. Think of the toy as a kind of “gift with subscription,” like getting a cheapo tote bag with your year of Allure or a little stuffed polar bear with your Ranger Rick subscription. I do agree with previous posters that it should be additive. You can subscribe to a magazine for more than one year at a time. Don’t see why this would be any different.

  53. TechnoDestructo says:

    Sounds more like an unethical ploy to sell FEWER toys. I mean if buying another one a month later doesn’t extend anything, why buy more than one per year?

  54. mariospants says:

    My kids have roughly 30 webkinz each and most of their friends also have a similar number. At this point, rich old Ganz should just do the right thing and open the service up to lifetime usage and only kill accounts that haven’t been used for over a year.

  55. mariospants says:

    The biggest part of the scam is that they know they know that the kids will not wait a whole year to renew their tags. They’ll do it the minute they buy the toy, and they’ll open a brand new account, too. They’re weird that way.

    • CyGuy says:

      @mariospants: “kids will not wait a whole year to renew their tags. They’ll do it the minute they buy the toy,”

      Exactly, in fact I think that should be the basis of the OP’s complaint, that expecting a parent of a child that just received a new Webkinz toy would patiently and carefully read the extensive (6,288 word) user agreement [www.webkinz.com] is ludicrous, and should certainly meet any court’s definition of duress.

      btw, here is the specific text (from the 18th paragraph) on the terms of the subscription:
      Each time you purchase an additional Webkinz pet, your Registration Period will be reset at twelve (12) months from the date that you register the new pet on this Website. Registration Periods are not cumulative – for example, if you register two new Webkinz pets at the same time, your new Registration Period would be twelve (12) months from the date of activation of the new pets, not twenty-four (24) months.

  56. Joedel263 says:

    what you are getting is one year of use of the character associated with the specific code you’re redeeming, when you look at it that way, it’s not really a scam.. Granted, there are sites who offer the same for free (though plastered with advertising) but what you get is worth it..

    and you CAN renew your account without buying a new plush (why would anyone want to?) [www.webkinzestore.com]

    the fine print…
    Registration Period

    Your Account on this Website is valid for twelve (12) months following the date that you register your pet on this Website, unless terminated earlier in accordance with this User Agreement. You may extend or renew this period and any period which results from such extension or renewal as described below. Whichever period is then current shall be referred to as the “Registration Period”.

    Each time you purchase an additional Webkinz pet, your Registration Period will be reset at twelve (12) months from the date that you register the new pet on this Website. Registration Periods are not cumulative – for example, if you register two new Webkinz pets at the same time, your new Registration Period would be twelve (12) months from the date of activation of the new pets, not twenty-four (24) months.

    Alternatively, you may renew your Registration Period for additional periods of time as may be offered from time to time upon payment of the then-current and applicable renewal fee. If you renew your Registration Period in this way at any time during the existing Registration Period, then your new Registration Period will commence upon the expiration of your existing Registration Period. Renewal periods and renewal fees are set by Ganz in its discretion and are subject to change.

    If you let your Account lapse without renewing it prior to the end of your then-current Registration Period as discussed above, you may reactivate your Account within the next six months: (i) for a further period of twelve (12) months from the date of reactivation by registering a new Webkinz pet; or (ii) for a further period equal to the length of the renewal period selected by you upon payment of the then current and applicable renewal fee, if available. Further details regarding renewal periods, fees and methods of payment will be provided as those features become available on this Website.

    This Website is designed for you to register all of your pets using your original username and password. We strongly recommend that you do register all of your pets using your original username and password so that you can take full advantage of all of the features that we have on this Website. If, by mistake, you register a new pet using a different username and password, a new Account will be created. Accounts are separate. This means that you can only play with pets, earn and spend KinzCash, and use other features of this Website on an account-by-account basis. Renewing, extending or resetting one Account does not renew, extend or reset any other Account that you may have on this Website.

    User Accounts, usernames and passwords are not transferable, even between your own Accounts, and similar to digital items and KinzCash, have no retail value and are not redeemable for cash. You may be able to gift pet access codes and any points, KinzCash or other digital items or rewards that you may earn on this Website through the KinzPost function except as otherwise prohibited by KinzPost rules and functions.

  57. unpolloloco says:

    So, why can’t OP just register one toy at a time if he buys two???

  58. Erika Price says:

    If you accept that toy marketing always involves taking slight advantage of the children, and have no major qualms with that, then I see nothing textbook-unethical with this program. Parents facilitate the process of buying the toy and signing up for the online subscription, and they have full competency to give informed consent on the nature of the program.

    Many adult online games charge subscriptions, and almost any online subscription costs more than a meager 6.99 a year. The fee does not strike me as exorbitant or “hidden” in any way. I’ll agree that purchasing extra Webkinz before the year subscription ends should allow the account to accrue more time. But can’t a consumer hold on the the code for their new Webkinz until after the initial one-year period ends?

  59. Shawn Lockard says:

    1. The year from the “adoption” (purchase) of your last pet is not a hidden part of the agreement. It wasn’t even buried in an EULA, and can be seen any time you look at the pet in the “my pets” area of the site.
    2. If your kid likes Webkinz, getting one every b-day and/or Christmas would take care of that part.
    3. Ad free, safe, educational content disguised as fun.
    4. If you want to extend your play and not clutter things up with another toy (or don’t get Webkinz in your neck of the woods) you can buy an “exclusive” virtual Webkinz that extends your subscription period.

    This, nor the other toys that do a similiar thing, are in no way unethical. And I know for sure (as a parent of a daughter with one, and someone who plays on the site with his daughter) they are up front about the terms.

    Anyone, including the author of this post, that didn’t know that ahead of time didn’t read the screens. Nor the packaging, nor the displays in the store. And I’m sorry if $9.99 retail for a toy and a year’s worth of online service is to much for the original poster, but its just unfair to call that unethical.

  60. Alger says:

    Actually, I think expecting something for nothing is unethical.

    The Webkinz site is wonderful. It’s child-friendly, and is not an advertisement for anything except Webkinz.

    Perhaps Christopher would prefer to pay an annual subscription fee? Is $1.00/month too much for hours of entertainment for his daughter? That’s only $12/year.

    Oh, wait … a new Webkinz would cost less than that. But the company would make more by charging $12/year. What to do, what to do?

    • Charlotte Rae's Web says:

      @Alger: And considering their lil’kinz at walgreen’s are $5.99 and give a $1 to charity, that’s .50 a month for access.

  61. tempfoot says:

    What a terrible post.

    The other big player in kids on-line words is Club Penguin – now a Disney property. It’s free to sign up and wander around and try out all the games – BUT a paid membership is *required* for virtually all of the more interesting personalization (decorating and changing your ‘Igloo’, actually spending the virtual currency earned from games, etc.)

    Guess what? It’s $5.96 a month or the bargain plan at $57.95 for a full year for the online portion ONLY. If you want a stuffed animal that resembles one of the pet characters from the site they range from $6 to $10 at retail.

    In addition – having spent many hours playing with my two kids on both sites – Webkinz is constantly expanded and improved, much more interactive and vastly superior. The way the Webkinz subscription works is obvious at first sign on. If a subscription ‘lapses’ the pets don’t go away online – they are still there when access is renewed.

    As with anything – kids can get carried away and overindulgent parents can get soaked. There is a Webkins podcast called the Webkinz Webcast done by a dad and his two daughters that each have over 70 of the things. Nicely Ganz hasn’t hit them with its trademark club.

    All in all – a $15 USD Webkinz (or a $10 USD LilKinz) with a year of access to a very well done and kid safe virtual world and a cute stuffed animal may be one of the very best values in kids entertainment period. Parents that indulge the desire for more than one of the things a year (including me) have only ourselves to blame.

  62. Rob Mattheu says:

    This isn’t a big deal, especially since the website does have a lot of enjoyable games for kids.

    However, they have absolutely dreadful service and were incredibly rude when I tried to see about correcting a mistake my daughter made in naming one of her umpteen webkins.

  63. Anonymous says:

    I just had this same conversation with my 7 year old son a few days ago. While it may be unethical to pitch things to kids, Webkins is hardly the first. This same child has been scanning the grocery aisles recently for special boxes of Cheerios because of some toy they have inside. This from a child who doesn’t eat cereal.

    Having said that, Webkins is a crappy site among the sites that cater to kids in this way My kids are routinely frustrated with the games on the site. They have rules about how many times you can play a game in a day. For example, there is a game where your animal can perform a “job” and earn coins. You get one chance (that is to say, one complete game that lasts about 1 minute) to complete the job and if you don’t succeed, you can try again in 8 HOURS! That’s real time, not some Webkins space time continuum.

    There are many games like this, some where you have to wait a whole 24 hour human day to play again. It seems that they don’t want the kids to earn their coins, which can only be spent in the little Webkins universe anyway.

    So, your kid gets to play for a little while to try to earn “coins” and then look at a catalog wistfully at all the stuff he can’t get for his pet. This translates into less time on the site, as anyone who knows anything about kids and their ability to wait 8 hours to play a game, which is probably what these people want anyway. And there goes 15 bucks out the window.

    Club Penguin is a much better site. First of all, it’s just as safe as webkins. Second, the kids can play for free. They can have as many little penguins as they like and can play as many games as they like. Basically, they can rot their brains on the internet for hours, for FREE! My kind of site. They can’t earn coins to buy things. For that, you pay do a membership fee.

    Yes, your kid gets an actual stuffed animal when they get the Webkins one year membership, but we all know that’s not why they want Webkins. My kids have literally hundreds of stuffed animals between the three of them (stupid beenie babies) and the vast majority spend their furry lives in baskets in the closet, collecting dust and waiting for the day I send them to Goodwill.

    Stuffed animals don’t hold much appeal. It’s the computer angle that gets them and that’s what gets Grandma to shell out 15 bucks a birthday for them. At least it’s Grandma in our family because it certainly won’t be Mom.

  64. strathmeyer says:

    Ugh, since when was making money evil? Yes, the government should stop this practice immediately. Sheesh.

  65. Ramzilla says:

    Here’s a novel concept: spend time with your kids instead of letting them gel their brains playing on the effing computer! I doubt seriously there is anything on that website that is as beneficial to a childs wellbeing than interaction with their parent’s. Lazy parents suck ass.