CNN Money has up a piece looking at the next defining force in online games
; neither Blizzard nor Lord of the Rings Online
has their attention: it's all about stuffed animals. 'Tweens', as they're called, are a hugely influential market and game-makers are finally responding with online spaces keyed to their interests. Titles like Club Penguin
allow older kids their freedom while still providing a safe place to play. Outfits like Disney and Nickelodeon are getting into the fray, and with good reason. Tweens, the article estimates, are a $40 billion demographic. "Club Penguin and Webkinz trumpet their sites as safe, ad-free environments. Disney and Nickelodeon are more frankly commercial and--in a big shift--ad-supported. Marketing to kids is always tricky; no one wants to be seen shilling to children. And whether the kids will buy the branded content, or the products advertised, remains to be seen. But the biggest question hovering over this whole market is what the kids will want in the future--like next week. The most carefully crafted strategies can be blown up by an overnight shift in whatever adolescents deem cool. "