The Wall Street Journal (no link, subscription required) reported on March 22 (p. R4) that avatar and virtual item markets are springing up in Asia, but not in the usual places. Games are mentioned in the report, sure. But it seems that avatars are viewed more as personalized ID cards for instant messaging and chat room services than as gaming vehicles. The article mentions There.com not as a spinoff from games, but from SMS: a chat room with pictures.
But whatever the deployment, the interesting thing about the avatars is the secondary market they create for virtual items. If you're going to show a face and body in an IM system, why not give yourself a killer style too? And style, as we all know, costs money.
Excerpts follow. Thanks to my brother, Tom, for the note.
Some excerpts from the article, short enough to keep the IP lawyers at bay... BACK! BACK, I SAY! [hopelessly waving a string of garlic cloves]...
"Microsoft's MSN Korea subsidiary, which sells avatars and accessories to more than a million Korean users of the MSN Messenger instant-messaging service, plans to expand its avatar service to Taiwan this year. Yahoo Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., started offering services in Taiwan last year. Also last year, Neowiz started offering avatar services in Japan.
But efforts to expand the avatar market aren't limited to East Asia. Quarterview Inc., a South Korean Internet-service provider, started an avatar service in India last year. And There Inc., based in Menlo Park, Calif., began an avatar service in the U.S. last year, betting that the attractions of creating a visual online personality will sell even in a society where individual expression offline is less of an issue. It's too early to tell whether this or any of the other bets placed on the avatar market outside of South Korea will pay off.
As another way to lure customers, MSN Korea got Ms. Park, the electronics-company worker, started with a free avatar for her instant messages: a cartoon of a ponytailed female in a white T-shirt and blue jeans. She quickly got bored with that. "I wanted to look prettier, I wanted a change," she says. Soon, her digital self was clothed in a princess-like fluffy dress, holding a thin, colorful umbrella to match her classic feminine
look. A regular buyer of avatar accessories was born."