Giant Leap Forward with Kids’ Virtual Worlds

Irwin Toy creates the ME2, a handheld product that collects “motion points” in the real world and converts those points into online currency.

This ME2 handheld device by Irwin Toy is a gaming unit, a pedometer, and a currency collector to be used in an online worldEvery year when I attend the New York Toy Fair I may see a few thousand toys in the course of four days. I was recently speaking with another toy reviewer who said, “Did you ever notice that even though you see thousands of new toys, you will only remember maybe five of the best products?” This observation has served me well. What stands out in a Toy Fair attendee’s memory after seeing so many products will usually go on to be the breakthrough later in the year. I believe the ME2 by Irwin Toy will be one of those breakthrough products, not just in the toy space, but also in the virtual worlds and social networking space as well.

Let me start with some background information. The ME2 is a handheld device that has a small 8-bit color screen that measures about 2 by 1.5 inches. Each ME2 comes with one onboard game. The ME2 can also be docked to your computer via a USB port. When the ME2 is connected to your computer, access to an online 3D virtual world is granted. The website which is being developed will be www.me2universe.com, but currently this part of the product offering is not available to the public. (More information about the ME2 will become available at this link within the next few weeks.) Additional games can be loaded onto the ME2 after connecting to and exploring the online ME2 world.

Once you create and customize your own avatar, you can begin to explore this fully immersive 3D world. Within this world there are many different “islands” to explore, but you can’t visit another island until you successfully complete challenges that are on each island. To complete a challenge, you may need to purchase “in world” items to help solve puzzles. And here’s the amazing part of this entire product offering; To purchase items in this virtual word, you don’t use a credit card or real dollars. Your own activity level in the physical world earns points and therefore purchasing power online.

Screen capture from one of the many virtual worlds within www.me2universe.com

While the ME2 is a handheld gaming device, it also acts as a pedometer, a tool used to measure the distance or energy people exerted when they go for a walk or a jog. When the ME2 is attached to a child’s belt or is in his pocket, the device collects “action points”. When the ME2 is later connected to a computer, these points are then uploaded to an online account, and then become the currency used to purchase items in the online world. Do you need to buy a boat to cross a virtual river in the online world to solve a challenge but don’t have enough points to buy it? Well, go outside and walk around the block to gain more points. Do you need to purchase a virtual flashlight to see inside a cave but don’t have the currency? Take a ride on your bike across town in the real world, collect points on your ME2, and you’ll have enough credits online to purchase that item! The ME2 is a brilliant solution for online engagement as well as promoting physical activity in the offline world.

In addition to the release of the product, there will be a social networking component. Members will be able to communicate with other avatars in an open chat manner. Communication will be filtered as well as monitored in real time by people looking to ensure that text exchanges between members are appropriate and safe.

The target audience of this product is primarily 8 – 12 year olds, but looks like it could extend nicely out to 6 – 14. The ME2 should be available for purchase in August 2008 and is anticipated to cost between $34.99 and $39.99. This is a one-time purchase and there is no monthly subscription fee to gain access to the online world. This online access model makes it easy to give the ME2 as a gift when compared to sites that require a monthly subscription fee. I also noticed that this product may have a very strong boy appeal, which is something not commonly found in online destinations for children in the 8 – 12 age range.

The ME2 stands above the many other virtual world and social networking “me too” offerings available to kids. Irwin Toy has carefully picked the right combination of online and offline components to make this the innovative product to watch in the months ahead. What a great job for all involved at Irwin Toy. Thank you for sharing your announcement with me!

To see a videotaped demo of ME2 from Toy Fair, click the window below.