Launched in 2005, Webkinz was one of the first children’s toys to bridge the physical and digital world. The stuffed animals were sold with codes that allowed you to bring your pet to life and care for it in the cartoon-style Webkinz World online. The half-physical, half-virtual pets lined the shelves at Target and Limited Too retail stores for years, providing a safe, online space for kids to play and learn.
But nearly 15 years after launch, many of those virtual pets may have only days left to live. Ganz, the company that owns the Webkinz brand, has announced that it will permanently delete all archived, inactive accounts on October 1st, 2019. If you’ve left your account inactive for more than a year and don’t log in by September 30th, your pet will be deleted forever.
Ganz declined to comment, but tweeted in response to this story, “Webkinz don’t die. If we have to delete an account from our archives because a player has abandoned it, we put those pets back up for adoption so they can find a new, loving home.”
It’s not entirely clear what motivated this upcoming deletion, but it seems likely that the move was spurred by the cost of storing data for inactive accounts. In a blog post earlier this year explaining its decision to begin archiving dormant accounts, Ganz said “millions of Webkinz accounts have been created since we launched in 2005, and for various reasons, many of those accounts have since become inactive. Over time, that has added up to a huge amount of data that needs to be stored.”
If you forgot your login credentials, Ganz says that you may be able to recover your account by contacting customer service and relaying a few details like your name, home state, and information on some of your pets. But if it’s been over seven years since you last logged in, your account is likely already gone due to limitations imposed by children’s privacy law. Even after the mass deletions, Webkinz will still be around. If you restore your account by the given deadline, you’re free to play the game online as usual, and Ganz even developed mobile and desktop apps to support it well into the future. But it’s not clear if nostalgia alone will be enough to keep the site afloat.
Other children’s games have run into similar problems. When Club Penguin first announced plans to shut its servers in 2017, its users created a nostalgia-induced movement of memes and pleas for Disney Interactive Studios to continue to support the game they loved. Ever since the virtual penguin world was officially taken offline, other fan sites have launched to take its place. Former users weren’t ready for a digital world in which they spent countless hours to disappear forever, and perhaps Webkinz’s account deletions may have the same effect.
The stuffed toys came with eight-digit codes written inside of their tags. If you registered a Webkinz World account and entered in the numbers supplied with the plush on the site, that same pet would appear in its digital form online. There, you’d be able to decorate a home for your virtual pet, buy clothes for it, work jobs for KinzCash, and interact with friends through the in-game mail and multiplayer system. But over the years, as retailers like Toys R Us have fallen out of business, so has the sale of physical toys. This past May, Webkinz announced that it would no longer continue restocking the plushes.
“After 14 years and over 500 unique pets, this generation of the toy line had run its course,” Ganz wrote in a blog post. “The reality is that at times every toy brand needs to take a break, evolve and reinvent. Many of the biggest toy brands in the world – My Little Pony, Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake – have had times where there were no toys on retail shelves.”
Despite its decline in popularity, nostalgia for Webkinz remains a popular trope online. Social media is littered with jokes about dead and starving pets, or POV-style (point-of-view) videos of users logging back into the game after years of abandonment.
TikTok users have been particularly active in spreading the news of the looming shutdown. “URGENT DO NOT SCROLL,” the caption of one video read. The user, @non_stick_pan, made the public service announcement broadcasting the policy change after trying to log in to their account after a period of inactivity. Once they typed in their account info, they were greeted by a pop-up notification saying, “Welcome back! We really missed you! Your account has been archived due to inactivity. We are in the process of retrieving your account. Please come back tomorrow to access your account.” It then explains the policy change and the future pet-pocalypse to come.
That TikTok has received close to 30,000 likes as of publication and over 200,000 views. Duets of the video have trickled in as well, featuring other teens attempting to log in to their accounts, garnering thousands of views of their own.
Updated at 9/24/19 at 4:05 p.m.: Included a tweet from Ganz.