The most recognizable product that Ty Inc. has produced is the Beanie Baby. Ty produces a long line of unique plush toys. In 2007, Ty Girlz first appeared as a plush toy, quickly followed by the Ty Girlz website. Both the toy and the website are aimed directly at girls from age 8 to 16. Non-members can check out the website for free; however, this limits most of the activity they can have in the virtual world. Unlike most other virtual worlds, Ty Girlz does not offer monthly or annual memberships. Instead, members must purchase a Ty Girlz doll which has a secret code attached to the tag. The code can then be entered on the website during registration, unlocking full membership benefits. Currently, the price for a Ty Girlz doll is $14.99, though this price can change and may vary.
Ty Girlz is a very pink website, specifically tailored to girls. The website is actually modeled after the dolls and operates for two reasons: to gather the owners into an online virtual world and to further market the dolls. The dolls actually look like dolls – with serene and happy expressions On Ty Girlz, the avatars do not look like dolls – they look like they were modeled after teenagers with little respect for themselves. Once girls purchase a doll, they input the code from the doll into the registration process and fully activate their membership. Members choose an avatar to be their online personality. This avatar can be customized with accessories and a unique look. The avatar gets their own room, the ability to decorate it, a choice of major cities to live in and $500 in virtual Ty Dollars.
Though most of the website exists for girls to talk about the Ty brand and interact with other girls, there are games to play. These games earn players Ty Dollars, the website’s virtual currency. The more games people play, the more Ty Dollars they can earn. This currency allows players to buy room furnishings, personal accessories, clothing, makeup, games and other commercial items. Chat is the most popular feature on the virtual world. Chat Around the World restricts members from typing their own words. They must use pre-selected words and phrases. In the Freestyle chat version, members can type their own phrases, but they are limited to words found only in the Ty Girlz dictionary.
The website will appeal only to girls in a wide age bracket who are interested in fashion and social chatting. The graphics are quite good – clean, clear and crisp images. It flows quite well. It’s a bright website with vibrant colors. There is no violence, drinking, drugs or smoking on the website or in the games. Chat filters eliminate foul language. Other than testing simple memory skills, there is no real educational value to Ty Girlz.
The comparison to Barbie is unmistakable. Isn’t there more to a girl’s life than makeup, fashion, beauty and shopping? Certainly, Ty Inc. doesn’t think that this is all that will come of the girls who buy and parade their Ty Girlz – or do they? There are no positive role models or messages contained in the virtual world for girls that will empower girls to become nothing more than vacuous shopaholics. Girls can have some fun on this website, but it must not be taken seriously.
Ty Girlz has no control over who joins their website; however, they do have control over what members say. In this regard, Ty Girlz is to be commended for at least trying to put strict safety measures in places to protect girls. The safest mode of chat only allows users to choose pre-selected words and phrases. Even in open chat, only words chosen from their restricted dictionary are allowed and moderators patrol this area. Members are encouraged to report inappropriate behavior and parents are required to give their consent prior to a child using open chat.