It's not entirely new; Kid-oriented web sites such as Webkinz and Neopets have offered dolls with codes for use on their website for some years now, but they were real dolls, and the special perks on the website were theirs forever. They had something to keep when the computer was off. Now, your daughter's tenuous reign as VIP lasts only so long as you keep paying for a VIP membership. (Barbie Girls Online also requires a Barbie-shaped dongle/MP3 player to be plugged into the computer for full access but is not required for most of the site).
Marketing to parents through their children is nothing new. Any casual trip through the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon will show a hundred dubious things you'll be asked to buy. Online worlds for kids are full of virtual goods you can purchase. But at least once you BUY it for them, they HAVE it. In Barbie Girls Online, you're only special so long as you keep paying. And should they be spending their free time on the computer? Childhood is special and comes only once. Should their memories really be of sitting alone in their room selecting items to dress their online paper doll in? Barbie dolls have always been overtly commercial, but at least with the real things, you can tell your own stories. The 11 million girls in Barbie Girls Online can only tell the sorts of stories the devs let you tell. You can be certain those stories will involve a lot of shopping.
[Via Virtual Worlds News]