``For boys, toy consumption drops off dramatically as they enter their teens, and by the time they're 18, about 55 cents out of their play dollar is spent on interactive play,'' said Doug Glen, president of the new company.
As girls' interest in toys drops off, however, there is little software to attract their interest - and their dollars. Girls account for about half the spending in the $20 billion U.S. toy market, but only about one-fifth of the spending on video games and CD-ROMs.
Barbie software ``is filling a void that is just begging to be filled,'' Glen said. Girls prefer play in which there are no threats and no adversaries, he said. In Mattel games, a child might have to figure out how to get a kitten out of a tree, but there are no dire consequences for failure.
Mattel isn't alone in trying to get girls to spend on software. This fall, Philips Electronics plans to introduce a CD-ROM series based on the Babysitter's Club books that are wildly popular with girls.
Toy companies have been inspired to try computer games because of the phenomenal growth in personal computing: Dataquest Inc., a California-based market research firm, estimates that 40 percent of U.S. homes now have a PC.
According to Glen, video-game development has been dominated from its earliest days by male computer hackers who based their games on male fantasies. In contrast, all eight of the top executives listed by Mattel for its consumer-software division are women.
Several of Mattel's software offerings for girls will be geared heavily to its popular Barbie line, including ``Barbie Fashion Designer,'' which blurs the lines between software and toys.
The program, which will retail for about $35, will let girls design fashions for their Barbie dolls, from style to color and print design. Patterns for those fashions can then be printed onto printer-compatible fabric and made into real clothes for real Barbie dolls.
The company estimates that 99 percent of U.S. girls between the ages of 3 and 10 own at least one Barbie - and they own an average of eight each.
While girls typically play with Barbies between the ages of 4 and 8, Glen said the new game had been tested on older girls, and ``girls at 11 love it.'' He said the software might extend the interest in Barbie to older girls.
Mattel Media isn't the first toy giant to get into multimedia.
Hasbro, which recently spurned Mattel's buyout offer, launched its Hasbro Interactive Division last fall with a Monopoly CD-ROM. The company already has other CD-ROMS on the market with more due for Christmas, and is developing plans for on-line games.
Thomas R. Dusenberry, president of Hasbro Interactive, says that by the end of 1997, Hasbro hopes to be one of the top five software publishers in the world.
Besides Barbie, Mattel Media will release software based on its Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels, See 'N Say, Polly Pocket and Cabbage Patch Kids toy brands. Most will sell for under $30.
Glen declined to make any sales projections, but said he expected the multimedia unit to be a significant part of the company's business. Mattel Inc. had 1995 sales totaling $3.6 billion.