Casestudy: How Webkinz Built an Energized Community

And how it changed my childhood for the better

Taylor Harrington
Groove With Us
5 min readOct 25, 2022


As a Gen Zer, I grew up playing computer games where I could meet up with friends in a virtual space. I played Webkinz, Club Penguin, Sims, Poptropica, you name it.

When Covid-19 hit and virtual gatherings became popular, I was reminded that I used to gather with friends virtually for shared experiences every week.

As a kid, I came off the bus and after sitting on a kitchen stool to chat with my mom over a snack and completing my homework, I’d hop on the family computer for a bit to check on my virtual pets or people. Webkinz was my favorite.

If you’re not familiar with Webkinz, they’re real-world stuffed animals that integrate into an online virtual platform through the special code attached to stuffed animals. They were the hottest thing in the fourth grade.

Webkinz Stuffed Animals IRL

You’d log in and you could create a whole world for your pet. They had a house, a full wardrobe, could visit the doctor, etc. And, you could chat your friends that also had Webkinz to invite them to your house or to play a game with you in a shared space on the platform.

And, now as a community professional looking back, I’m realizing just how genius the online community aspect was. The creators were so smart and intentional in retaining users and growing their customer base. I think they’re a great, fun example for us community builders to take a deeper look at to understand what exactly they nailed about the experience to inspire how we might think about our communities.

Daily Rituals

If you used to play Webkinz, click this for a total blast from the past. It literally makes me giddy to watch this and remember how excited I was every day when I clicked the button to spin “The Wheel of Wow”. 15 years since the height of being a Webkinz user and I still feel a special fluttering in my stomach. ** Every day, members got one chance to spin the wheel. There are three key pieces that made this activity so powerful:

  • Scarcity: only one chance to spin. By spinning, you could win a scarce seasonal item (like a cute fall beanie for your virtual pet to wear or a Christmas bow) or a random one-day-only item like a space-themed water bed. More regular rewards included coins, a snack for your pet, or a piece of furniture.
  • FOMO: Forget to spin it, your loss. It was similar to “Appointment TV” — users had a strong desire to see what was going on in Webkinz World and knew if they didn’t log in, they’d hear about the cool stuff the next day at school; kids would ask what other kids won on the Wheel of Wow.
  • Status: Of course, you could brag if you won the super cool seasonal item. Total status reward for showing up consistently. This doubled as a way for Webkinz to grow their customer base…more kids talking about it at school left others feeling left out if they didn’t have a Webkinz.


The retention engine was extremely powerful. Webkinz consistently offered users new reasons to entice you to keep growing your Webkinz collection.

New stuffed animals would be released regularly, including seasonal, one-time-only pets. And, they were constantly creating new things inside the product. For example, they would drop a new line of furniture that you could buy virtually with the coins you earn from games. If your current pet’s bedroom was already furnished (which was likely), then you might be excited to add a new bedroom to your house (which you could get for free when you buy a new stuffed animal) to decorate that room with the newly launched furniture.

Power of personalization

Community members should feel empowered to make the community feel like theirs.

Webkinz gave us the chance to do that. They set up a great container for each of us to have similar experiences but left enough room for us to choose how our pets dressed and what their houses looked like. You could really express your personal style.

Consistent onboarding experience

No matter how many Webkinz pets you had, every time you got a new stuffed animal you had to go through the same onboarding experience, and having that level of predictability that you and your friends are all experiencing the same thing was valuable. Side note: the bird who runs the “Adoption Center” on Webkinz was always known as being pretty creepy, but I feel like that added to her charm and, again, gave us kids something to laugh about. We always had to sign community agreements, recommitting to the values when we got a new pet.

My Takeaways as a Community Leader

There’s a lot to learn from Webkinz as a community leader. It’s fascinating to look back at really the first great example of a virtual community in my life with the lens I have now and take inspiration from it as I continue to make Groove’s community better and better.

There are sources of inspiration for rituals, retention, personalization, and onboarding all around us. Slowing down to recognize them and really analyze what makes them work is such a worthwhile activity to help us bring new perspectives to the communities we lead.

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Taylor Harrington
Groove With Us

Head of Community @ Groove 💃🏼🕺🏼 Love bringing people together ✨ Curious about the future of work, community, & online learning 🤔 Board game player + reader