Virtual Me Crosses Game, TV Barrier

Electronic Arts (EA) and Endemol announced Monday that they are partnering on Virtual Me, a new avatar-based offering in digital entertainment that is expected to span the worlds of TV and video games.

The technology combines cutting-edge avatar creation technology from EA with popular TV formats from Endemol to give consumers a way to meet, compete and socialize in online digital worlds, company officials said. It is due to debut “in the coming months” in an online edition of Endemol’s top-rated “Big Brother” reality TV show, the firms stated.

An easy-to-use tool will allow users to create lifelike cyberclones with customized appearances and identities. Users can then participate, via their avatars, in virtual versions of TV talent shows like “Fame Academy” and “Operacion Triunfo,” and game shows like “Deal or No Deal” and “1 vs. 100.”

Creating Virtual Competitions

Virtual Me users can also socialize and form relationships with other virtual avatars, much the way they currently do in Linden Lab’s “Second Life.”

“With Virtual Me, we are at the forefront of a new, hybrid form of entertainment that takes gaming beyond the console,” said Gerhard Florin, executive vice president and general manager for Electronic Arts International. “Endemol is a great partner to help us bring together the best of TV and video games for an offering that can appeal to mass market audiences and change the face of entertainment.”

Avatar-based games have been very popular in Asia for some time already, and now “it seems there’s an invasion of avatar games into the Western world,” Michael Cai, director of broadband and gaming for Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld. “With ‘Second Life,’ Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation Home, it seems all the major players are interested in testing the idea.”

No one yet knows how large the potential U.S. market for avatar-based games really is, Cai added, but “anecdotally, I think Nintendo Mii has been very popular.”

These games offer entertaining personalization to players, and can also be used for advertisement purposes, he said. “You can wear Nike shoes and clothes on your avatar,” he explained. “A lot of Asian gamers would spend money to buy items for their avatars, so it could be a good vehicle for that purpose as well.”

Commercial Potential

“Virtual social environments have huge potential for advertising and purchasing real-world products,” agreed Ted Pollak, senior analyst for the gaming industry at Jon Peddie Research.

“Right now it’s just a fun way for people to have their own little space virtually, where they can go to an arcade or a bowling alley and have fun,” Pollak told TechNewsWorld. “Ultimately, though, there’s way more you could do, like go into a Sony store and buy a Walkman for delivery to your real house.”

Virtual Me also promises to blur the definition of what constitutes a video game, Pollak added. “Electronic Arts is a video game company doing something many people would call more of a serious game,” he said.

Overall, the phenomenon appears to be growing. “People love to express themselves, and when it’s in 3-D, they can do that even better,” Pollak said. “It’s still a bit fringe and forward-thinking, but I believe it will be big.”

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