I'm not at E3 for the first time in 11 years due to work/family obligations, but it was good to see Microsoft announce the long rumored Avatar-feature set for XBox Live, due this Fall as part of a big XBLA upgrade. While it's unclear exactly what it will entail, it seems that avatars will be a key part of the expanded XBox Live Community feature, just as it is for Nintendo Wii/Mii, and for the long awaited Sony Playstation 3 Home service.
What we've seen across all of the big interactive, entertainment sectors is that an avatar will become a required part of every personal profile, whether it's social media like MySpace, gaming like XBox, blogging like Blogger, or IM like AOL Instant Messenger. The future goal is to carry your identity avatar from platform to platform as we do with Meez, but it's clear, at minimum, that many users of all ages will create and customize animated versions of themselves for each community versus uploading pictures of themselves, which can be too personal, and sometimes, too racy for the site itself.
The next step in personalization, as Nintendo has implemented in a limited fashion, is to integrate the avatars into the games themselves versus just having them represent the community. The best example is the Wii Sports Tennis game, where a player can integrate their Mii avatar into the actual match, or the We Ski program where your Mii can ski the course in the game. It' s not appropriate for the majority of hard core games since you wouldn't want an avatar in a Lakers jersey wandering around Call of Duty 4, but it's great for a set of casual or modern games like Wii Sports or Diner Dash.
At Meez, we obviously believe quite highly in this approach since we recently announced a joint promotion with FlashGameLicense.com to offer over $20,000 in prize money to talented 3rd party game developers which integrate a Meez avatar into their new games, just as we have done on a trial basis with Dance Floor Destroyer and Bar Room Blitz, two of our top 5 games every day, even though they are some of our oldest games in the portfolio.
The move towards personalization of the gaming and community experience is an inevitable one, whether it's console, PC, casual or web gaming. The console platforms like Xbox 360 are leading the charge, but the rest of us are all driving the avatar personalization concept into a far broader gaming market, and we will all end up with avatars representing us in gaming communities in 2009.