Zibbie Zone gives kids a place to play online
The latest Internet venture to launch in Seattle isn't about Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com or Google. It is about Zibbies.
On Monday morning, veteran children's author Stephen Cosgrove opened Zibbie Zone, a virtual world that blends literature, the Internet and toys, at Seattle's Magic Mouse Toys.
The zone is a joint venture of Cosgrove and Woodinville-based Play Visions. Essentially, Cosgrove built an interactive online world for the privately held company's plush toys, Zibbies, complete with a city hall, fire department and mall.
Citizenship is simple. Children enter this virtual world by buying a stuffed creature for $5 to $7, then enter the bar code at the Web site.
There are already more than 1 million potential citizens because Play Visions has sold that many of the toys. (By 3 p.m. Monday, 766 players had joined the new virtual world.)
Zibbie Zone is the latest interactive Web site for children, joining Disney's Club Penguin and Webkinz. Creators of the newest world, though, say it's different, and not just because Zibbies have stretchy rubber hair.
"What we have and what we are based on is the theory of 'virtual literature,' " Cosgrove said. "It is just bringing the story alive."
To bring it alive, Cosgrove wrote an elaborate history for Zibbie Zone, which begins when plush toys start disappearing into the Internet. He also is writing a novel for young people based on the story.
For various reasons, the toys land in Zibbie Zone.
"I just wanted to create a mythology that really embraces the Internet," Cosgrove said.
In the Zibbie Zone, children play games to earn stamps that they can use to adopt and care for virtual characters. Currently, players engage virtual characters only in this "liquid," or evolving, world, where they can send instant messages and e-mails to characters and receive a wide range of tailored answers.
But Cosgrove, who says he's sold more than 80 million books during his 34-year writing career, has a broader goal. The Zibbie project is just his latest product that relies on literature and the Internet.
Cosgrove envisions a far wider application, where children can have a conversation using text messages with Mark Twain's "Huck Finn," Alice of "Alice in Wonderland" and other characters from classic literature.
Plus, Cosgrove and Play Visions are working with a production company on a television show and already run an online comic strip.
By PAUL NYHAN