NEWS - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rare: We’ll own avatars on 360

Rare has said that the studio intends to "own" the avatar concept in new products for the Xbox 360, despite interest from third-party developers.

Mark Betteridge, studio manager for the Viva Piñata developer, believes there are multiple opportunities to utilise avatars in future game development, and last week’s launch was only the beginning for the stylised characters on the system.

"There’s a lot of interest in avatars by third parties, as you can imagine," said Betteridge.

"As standalone avatar products, we want to own that space, because we think it’s a huge, huge space going forward - it appeals across genres, across age ranges, demographics, and there’s an enormous opportunity there.

"I’m not going to name products, because I’m sure you can imagine our time frames, but we see this as the start of avatars, not that it’s now done and dusted and therefore we’re finished with it. It’s more the foot in the door."

Betteridge also revealed that Rare first mooted the idea of avatars before the launch of the Xbox 360, in a bid to soften the image of the brand following the hardcore perception of the original Xbox console.

"The concept of avatars is something that we came up with about four years ago now. We were thinking about how hardcore and spiky the previous Xbox was, and everybody was of a view that the new one was going to be more smooth and friendly," he said. "Everybody was in agreement that was the right thing.

"So we pitched avatars as something out of the box with an interface where you build a character that looks like yourself, or whoever you want it to look like, and can play mini-games and things like that - but it represents you on the Live system, that’s all it was based around."

Now that sales of the Xbox 360 have begun to pick up in Japan, Betteridge is also hopeful avatars can help the system further, and become universally accepted in all regions. He also noted Rare’s previous involvement with Nintendo as a bonus for the team in understanding the Japanese market.

"They love the creative community aspect in Japan, rather than the destructive ’I’m gonna kill everybody and take over the world’. We were with Nintendo for seven or eight years before, so we’ve got a lot of experience with that market.

"It’s a style that can cross boundaries - it’s a difficult thing to do, to have a hit in three territories at the same time. Maybe our background with Nintendo, in that we’ve done that before - maybe avatars will be the first thing that will be popular everywhere?

"So I’d expect the avatars to be popular there, and I think the Xbox 360 - the European sales are very strong, and certainly Japanese sales have come out of a tunnel and can see some light. And North America’s always been strong," added Betteridge.



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