Traditionally the domain of boys action properties, the booming US$900-million collectible card game market has been infused with some sugar and spice, courtesy of Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast.
Star Sisterz, which hit Limited Too’s 550 stores in the U.S. this March, eschews the win/lose, battle-oriented formula made popular by the likes of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! CCGs. Instead, it’s a social game that rewards girls with charms for completing card dares and challenges. In essence, the game is a hybrid of two hot product trends: CCGs (for which sales spiked by 45% in 2003, according to retail tracker NPD Funworld) and collectible jewelry, which is showing up more frequently in the accessories market to adorn girls’ belt loops and backpacks.
While it’s hard to gauge the size of the potential market for girls CCGs, NPD Funworld senior toy analyst Christina Charasse says there have been a few successful lines with girl appeal, particularly the most recent Harry Potter game, which was less combative than some of its brethren. Instead of killing opponents, for example, players cast non-lethal spells on each other, and sales indicate that girls prefer this play pattern. Charasse estimates that girls have purchased 30% of all Harry Potter licensed toys to date, and CCG sales have kept pace with that figure.
Wizards game inventor Teeuwynn Woodruff wanted to give girls a CCG that was designed specifically with them in mind. So suffice it to say, taking a boys game and slapping pink butterflies and sparkles on it was not going to cut it.
There are 231 cards and 100 charms available to collect in Star Sisterz. The charms come in six colors, and each one symbolizes a different aspect of a tween girl’s personality. For example, pink is for femininity, yellow represents sportiness, and purple conveys emotional life and the sharing of secrets. Girls get together and decide which card challenges they’ll complete. The dares can range from the gross-out – eating a pickle topped with ice cream and pepper – to the downright silly and embarrassing, such as wearing a big paper heart printed with your crush’s name to school or covering yourself with bandages and telling people you’re a beekeeper. For each task completed, the girls receive a charm.
Girls can use the shapes of the charms to send secret messages, too. Each card pack comes with a list of all the charms and their double meanings. For example, a heart means love, and a soccer ball means sports. So a girl could string together an ‘I,’ a heart and a soccer ball to spell out ‘I Love Sports.’ But interestingly, friends can get together and decide on ‘super-secret’ meanings. For example, if a pair of girls decided the soccer ball stood for a cute boy, say Ryan, stringing the three charms together would suddenly mean ‘I Love Ryan,’ and no one else would have to know. Ah, the joys and complexities of being 12.
A third component tied to the game is the interactive website found at www.starsisterz.com. The site builds on the sociability of the game, housing community-building features like message boards and horoscopes. Woodruff says girls have been sending in a lot of e-mails about relationship problems with friends and the opposite sex, so her team will likely add an advice column later this year. Also in the works are magazine-type articles and a virtual charm collection. In April, the site fielded 283,000 page views in total and played host to 62,7000 unique visitors a day.
Because SS is such a novel creation, both Woodruff and brand manager Laura Tommervick say marketing it has been a challenge. To create tween awareness for Star Sisterz, the Wizards team has used button and pop-up ads on the NeoPets trading card website, which gets a significant proportion of girl hits as part of its monthly traffic tally of 11 million users.
At the store level, it’s been a matter of educating retailers about the game. In some outlets, Limited Too staff members are encouraged to wear the charm bracelets and then trade charms in-store with the girls. Tommervick says the exclusive program at Limited Too is meeting expectations, and the retailer has already placed second orders.
Theme packs are available at two price points – a set of 10 cards and four charms (SRP $US7.50), and a deluxe set of 30 cards and 10 charms (SRP US$22). And there are plans in the works to take SS to mass retail in Q4, an effort that will be supported by a back-to-school and holiday print advertising blitz.