Next Tickle Me Elmo? Fair Showcases Hot Toy Trends

At last week's American International Toy Fair, many companies unveiled new tech toys scheduled to hit stores later in the year. We weeded through football fields of toys to find the ones that stood out from the rest.

Virtual Worlds

With the popularity of Club Penguin and Webkinz, other toy makers are trying to tap into the virtual world craze. Here are two virtual worlds that are planning something different from those already playing in the virtual sandbox.

ME2
From iToys, $34.99, for ages 8-14, coming in August 2008

While ME2 (pronounced "Me Too" which stands for "My Electronic Double") shares the popular Webkinz model of a physical toy providing you a presence in a virtual world, this toy/virtual world is refreshingly different because it is all about motivating children to exercise.

The ME2 handheld gaming device looks like an outsized pedometer and it operates in a similar manner. While kids can play simple arcade-style games on it using its full color LCD screen, the device's main purpose is to track children's physical activity and translate that activity into Power Points that are used in a virtual world. While carrying the device, any movement on a kid's part converts to Power Points stored in the device.

By plugging the ME2 into your computer via a USB connection, you transfer your stored points and enter a rich and vibrant 3-D virtual world. Developed, in part, with an advisory panel of 60 children ages 8 to 13, this world beckons you to explore different lush islands.

To play you create an avatar and then use your Power Points to make your avatar more powerful in areas of agility, jumping, speed, luck, and intelligence. The Power Points can also be used to buy currency in this world. For example, you may find you need a flashlight to explore a dark cave in the online world. To purchase the virtual flashlight, you will need to do something physical in the real world. So kids may hop on their bikes, play hop-scotch, or join a soccer game to earn enough Power Points to buy the flashlight.

This massively multiplayer virtual world will go into beta testing in June, and plans to roll out in August.

Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow
From Disney Online, pricing to be announced, but some of the game will be free, and other parts will be supported by subscription, for ages 4-up, coming later in the year

Disney (the parent company of ABC News) has already created a Web site that allows girls to create their own personalized fairy avatar at www.DisneyFairies.com, but later this year, that avatar will be able to play in a bigger, magical, massively multiplayer world called Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow.

As a fairy in Pixie Hollow, you will be able to explore homes and meadows, play and chat with other fairy friends, customize your own home and look, play games, and go on quests. Some of these quests will be to find famous fairies like Tinkerbell. Other quests can take you offline to pursue real world quests like recycling or making someone laugh.

"When playing in Pixie Hollow, girls not only view themselves as virtual fairies, but really think and feel that that they are, in some way, real world fairies," said Steve Parkis, senior vice president of Disney Online. "We believe it is important to give them the opportunity to continue the experience by expressing their 'inner fairy' in the real world, outside of the online experience."

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