My daughter has been an enthusiastic Webkinz World inhabitant for about three weeks. She received a Webkinz dog at a party, and after entering the dog's code into the website, proceeded to explore the site, set up the dog's identity and room, played some of the casual games, and -- to my alarm -- figured out very quickly how to shop for virtual clothes and other accessories.
Just before Christmas, however, Webkinz World began experiencing problems. She could log onto the site, but couldn't get into her room. This impacted her shopping and care-related activities ("feeding" the pet, petting him, etc.) but she was at least able to continue playing the games.
For Christmas she received some real-world Webkinz goods, and entered the codes into the site for virtual world equivalents or alternatives (for instance, entering the code for a Webkinz mousepad granted her a virtual framed print) but was still frustrated by being shut out of the room. I tried searching the support pages and switching browsers, but there was no help there. I assumed that the rush of Christmas-related Webkinz purchases had slowed down the site.
Then, today there was an even bigger problem. She couldn't log on at all, and was presented with the messages shown in the inset image. She seemed to take it in stride, but I can imagine there is probably a core group of Webkinz users who are driven frantic by the loss of access to their virtual pet.
I've seen this before in other virtual worlds and online communities that aren't able to scale during peak periods, or to handle a sudden inrush of new users. For instance, regular visitors to Second Life are accustomed to outages caused by too many people entering the same virtual space at once, or the inability to logon during peak times (see my earlier blog entry about this entitled Second Life's temporary population ceiling). However, at least Linden Lab (Second Life's parent company) is relatively open about technical issues and usage data, and has a pretty deep support section on the Second Life website. Webkinz World's support pages are nearly useless -- they're written for children who need to get started with the site, and avoid specifics relating to the nature of site problems or troubleshooting advice.
In summary, I think Webkinz World is a great concept, but the scaling and support issues definitely need work.