I, like most of you, wasn’t over-joyed when I heard that Microsoft would be introducing a new Mii-like Avatar in the new Dashboard Experience. I, like most of you, found it to lack the gleam of a hardcore system and felt as though the Avatars were simply an attempt to reach out to casual gamers and make my beloved 360 into something cute. My disdain for Avatars has calmed over the past weeks, but still I just couldn’t help but view this as an ill-advised attempt by Microsoft to capture the casuals.
That is until about a week ago. I was traveling to the airport talking to my wife who, on a whole, stays clear of the 360 but does play online games via sites like www.pogo.com. It’s filled with casual “Pop Cap” style games, the kind of gaming that I don’t enjoy but certainly casuals like my wife do. So we began to discuss the attraction of the games and their sites system of rewards. I was surprised to hear it was very much like the LIVE system of achievements and inclusion of viewable Avatars. You earn badges during game play as well as tokens. The badges, of course, are similar in vain to our achievement icons, and tokens are the equivalent of gamer score points. Avatars again, strike a similar feel as you create something in your “like-ness” and deck it out in all kinds of possible outfits, etc. What is so interesting to me is the system of tokens. You earn tokens, which allows you to use them like virtual money to buy outfits, backgrounds, etc…for your Avatar. It’s ingenious, simple in nature, and quite possibly the missing link that Microsoft is looking for.
Imagine when you fire up your 360 during the new Dashboard Experience and discover that your gamer score actually means something beyond just bragging rights for some and an indictment of shame for others. Picture your gamer score becoming your online “Avatar Bank Account”. Instead of buying new shirts for your Avatar with real money you buy them with your earned achievement scores. As your score grows you would not only have a growing bank account to buy your Avatar new duds, but you also would unlock new sets of clothing and accessories by crossing gamer score thresholds, let’s say of 10,000 points each. Imagine a link between your Avatar and Achievements that encourages you to play more and build up your Avatar in an almost RPG-like fashion. And for Microsoft this serves not only to set Xbox Live further apart from the other competitors, but it will drive software sales as gamers will seek out new titles to further along their gamer score. Could Microsoft be launching their silver bullet this fall and creating the most addictive online system ever?
Certainly this is merely my own pipe dream for now as we have no idea what Microsoft’s actual intentions will be when it comes to Avatar options and possible purchasing. Certainly we could just see more of the same micro-transactions that we do now. However, given the success of sites like Pogo.com and the unquestionable success of social games like World of Warcraft, which individual customization and leveling up, these give addictive factors to their success and one can’t help but wonder how successful a system like this could be.
Microsoft, are you listening?