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Toys with Clubs

From Gary McWilliams at the Wall St. Journal, here's a nice round-up of social groups formed around toys and electronic gadgets.

Link: WSJ.com - It All Connects -- and Converges (subscription required)

Join the Club
Weaving social networks around electronics products -- once just for hard-core gamers -- is going mainstream.

By offering events and dedicated Web sites, product developers are hoping to create communities of enthusiasts who otherwise might not find one another. The ultimate goal is to build buzz -- and sales.

The movement emerged from PC role-playing software such as Quake, made by id Software Inc. of Mesquite, Texas. As these programs moved from early single-player games to multiplayer and local-area-network versions, players started to compete against one another and hold so-called LAN parties where groups plug into a network and do battle. In 1996, id Software started an annual competition that attracted 150 players. Last year, some 5,000 players showed up.

Now, mainstream retailers are getting in on the action. Japan's Nintendo Co. hosts online chats with its game developers in addition to allowing customers to post reviews of its games.

After it noticed kids were tuning their radio-controlled cars with custom wheels, suspensions and running lights, RadioShack Corp. hosted a radio-car Web site and sponsored a national racing competition around its Xmods cars last summer. Its Web site is a gathering place for owners to swap tips on customizing and racing cars. Enthusiasts also use the site to recruit for racing clubs.

Sony holds Aibo days almost once a month at its retail stores, allowing owners of its Aibo robotic dog to gather and show off their training skills.