I spent this past Halloween dressed up like a Cryptokitty with several other ladies in tech. Over the course of the evening, I got endless entertainment out of explaining our costumes to folks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Funnily enough, one of the ways that one of my friends was describing Cryptokitties was “like Beanie Babies, but for the blockchain.”
While I did cringe a bit at the over-simplification, let’s be real, I’m no expert in the deep nuances of the tech behind this stuff. And in a way, she’s right. The craze and mania behind Beanie Babies has been referred to as “the world’s first Internet sensation.” And as for Cryptokitties, well, they are most certainly the first widespread sensation of the blockchain.
Back in the late ’90s, it might surprise none of you to learn that I was obsessed with Beanie Babies. Every weekend, like clockwork, I would open up the phone book and call every single local toy store, Hallmark store, gift shop, and boutique that would sell Beanie Babies and make comprehensive lists of who received which toys. I would compare these lists against my own collection and we would design a weekly shopping spree around picking up the 2–3 new toys I was allotted.
At some point, even McDonald’s jumped on the bandwagon, offering Teenie Beanies in their Happy Meal toys. At the time, these fast food restaurants would cycle through Teenie Beanie Babies so fast that they would have to default back to their standard classic McDonald’s toys in under a day. The lines would be swarming with people trying to get their hands on these tiny little, shrink-wrapped toys. And my family was no exception. My dear old father would set up shop in a McDonald’s for an entire afternoon, waiting in line again and again each time they cycled through a new animal, then buy two more Happy Meals — one for me, and one for my brother. (I recall at least one weekend when he became the neighborhood hero, bringing Happy Meals for kids up and down our block at the end of the day.)
But it didn’t stop there. I subscribed to Beanie World Magazine, attended Beanie Baby expos, and studied all of the latest pricing conditions among the most sought-after toys.
To maximize the value among my own collection, I refused to open any of my McDonald’s toys, denying my 11-year-old self the pleasure of fun new playthings. I kept my most “prized” toys (the Peace bear, the Princess Diana bear, and the emerald green Erin bear) in clear plastic boxes with tag protectors. I’d look at them longingly on my bedroom shelf and wonder if I’d one day be able to fund my entire college education with the profits from my collection. When I’d see people playing in their living rooms with these toys, tags off their ears, I’d smile to myself. They are just throwing money down the drain, I’d think. One day, this is how I will become a millionaire. But everybody knows you need to leave the tags on for these to be worth anything!
Of course that wasn’t exactly the case. Despite claims in recent years that people have been selling the Princess Diana bear for more than $500,000, the fact is that the market just isn’t there anymore. My friends, I’m sorry to say this, but we missed the boat.
I did end up making about $300 off of one Beanie Baby back in the heyday — but then proceeded to cry all afternoon about how sad I was to part with one of my very favorite friends. (Remember: I was eleven) Thinking back, I can’t even fathom how much money my family spent on this late ’90s fad for me and my brother. Somewhere at home, I have boxes of unopened McDonald’s toys, still in their shrink wrap, waiting for their value to accrue enough for me to make something out of it. But I know it’ll never happen. You might look at Beanie-mania as my first lesson in economics. My first seed investment. Ah, well.
I’m a little bit wiser going into the Cryptokitties market than I was during Beanie-mania. And yes, while I do own a few, I won’t dare assume that I’ll be living in riches for years to come as a result of owning a few of these digital assets. Probably a good lesson to learn.
And if nothing else, I show surprising consistency in my choice of Halloween costumes.
I guess in the end not much has changed.