Virtual equality

There's a saying that Electronic Arts -
July 1, 2007

There’s a saying that Electronic Arts – the colossal California-based software company – often uses to describe consumer behavior: ‘Once interactive, always interactive.’ And taking interactivity to the next level by building an online digital world are ea and Endemol, who recently partnered to create Virtual Me, a new digital entertainment concept.

TV viewers are already accustomed to interactivity via phone and online voting thanks to programs such as Big Brother, and traffic to that show’s websites has been phenomenal, says Andy Ward, Endemol’s director of business development for Virtual Me. ‘That tells us this audience is not just keen to sit and watch tv programs; they’re keen to vote, and they’ll interact in whatever way they can.’

In Virtual Me, interaction will take place using avatars – 3D characters people create to represent themselves online – so that users can socialize with each other and participate in virtual versions of several Endemol shows, including Deal or No Deal.

Avatars will able to go into the virtual Big Brother house and interact with other avatars independent of whether the TV show is running or not, says Tiffany Steckler, communications director for EA International. The social networking aspect of Virtual Me is similar in ways to EA’s, a casual game site that links players to a mammoth online community where they can chat while playing. With over 1.5 million subscribers – more than half of which are women over 35 – Steckler says, ‘They come for the games, they stay for the community.’

For example, another EA success story, life simulation game The Sims, has spawned countless community sites that aren’t even run by ea, she furthers. ‘This whole social networking thing is about finding like-minded people so you’re able to spend time in a community with people with very similar interests to your own,’ she says.

Rather than focus on the traditional male-dominated, 12-to-25 year old video game demo drawn to ea products, Virtual Me is going more mass market. ‘We’re much more interested in the wider diaspora of television viewers that want some interaction with TV in an entertaining way,’ says Ward. For instance, he says the bulk of Big Brother‘s audience is between 20 and 40 years old and more female-skewed. It’s that broader demographic that Virtual Me aims to connect further with the Endemol brands already on TV.

And while Steckler notes the hardcore gamers Ward references have traditionally been male, the video game demo has shifted significantly over the past five years, and females are flooding the market. ‘Thirst for interactivity is attracting new audiences every day, so we’re seeing women and girls – people that didn’t feel comfortable with controllers before – come into gaming. The barrier of entry is coming down,’ she says.

With both gamers and viewers eager to interact online, seems Virtual Me – the first elements of which are set to debut this year – is likely to nab the wide market it’s aiming for.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.