Rare wanted avatars for Xbox 360 launch

To soften "hardcore and spiky" image.

Rare has said the Xbox 360 avatars were a feature originally intended to launch long ago, to help spread the appeal of the console. But presumably gardening bears got in the way.

"The concept of avatars is something that we came up with about four years ago now," Mark Betteridge, studio boss, told GamesIndustry.biz.

"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. 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," he said.

Rare sees endless scope for the customisable characters now they're out, and Betteridge reckons releasing them was just the beginning for the developer, which is keen to swat away third-party interest and "own" the concept of avatars itself.

"There's a lot of interest in avatars by third parties, as you can imagine," explained 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."

He added: "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."

Another area Betteridge sees avatars appealing in is Japan, where sales of Xbox 360 have begun picking up of late - largely thanks to a chunky price cut.

"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," he said.

"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.

Pop your eyes on GamesIndustry.biz tomorrow for the full interview with Mark Betteridge. Until then, here's part one to absorb.

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