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Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 12:23 UK
Virtual worlds target mass market

By Jim Reed
Newsbeat technology reporter

Football Superstars screenshot
The game's makers hope a million people will be playing by 2010

Online gaming worlds like World of Warcraft have quietly grown into some of the most powerful brands in the entertainment industry.

The fantasy game attracts more than 10 million paying customers worldwide, grossing more than a big budget Hollywood movie every single month.

But World of Warcraft and titles like EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies are still aimed at the kind of players happy to spend hours forming guilds and earning experience points.

The next wave of virtual gaming worlds are trying to appeal to the kind of mass market gamers that prefer a quick bash at Fifa, rather than the full fantasy role playing experience.

One of the first to go live, Football Superstars, opens its online doors to the general public in November after a long period of testing.

Its maker, Monumental Games in Nottingham, plans to sign up 55,000 players by the end of the month and more than one million by 2010.

Road to glory

Rather than take the role of a wizard or knight, you start as a young footballer playing in a grass roots league and work your way up to Rooney-like superstardom.

New players start out with three-a-side games and progress to full 11-man teams, earning skill and fame points along the way.


When you are facing a human opponent you just don't know what they are going to do next

Steve Marshall

Like other MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games), you play alongside other real humans sitting at PCs around the world.

The only computer controlled characters are the goalkeepers.

The man behind the game, Steve Marshall, said: "It's the challenge of playing together as a team and winning.

"When you are facing a human opponent you just don't know what they are going to do next and that's the beauty of online gaming."

As players get more experience they can move between clubs and divisions, earning virtual money for appearances and strong performances.

Outside matches, they can wonder around a Second Life-style virtual town, bumping into other players and spending their money in clubs, restaurants and bars.

Sponsorship

But while Football Superstars is similar to other online games in some ways, its payment system is very different.

Instead of a monthly fee, Monumental is making the basic game free to download and play.

Football Superstars screenshot
Gamers can use real money to succeed in the virtual world

Premium subscribers can pay extra to take over as managers, setting up their own football clubs and getting non-paying players to join.

Instead of earning fame and skill points on the pitch, players can take a shortcut and buy the points using real money charged to their account.

The game is also being sponsored by a number of big name sporting brands.

As well as advertising hoardings and giant billboards, players can buy virtual sporting goods in the game itself.

Wearing a certain pair of branded boots, for example, gives players an advantage on the pitch.

Virtual sports

Monumental might be the first game company to try a sporting simulation on this scale, but there are already signs that other big game companies are getting in on the act.

Empire of Sports screenshot
Empire of Sports is another MMOG due for release soon

Electronic Arts' latest ice hockey game, NHL 09, lets you play online with friends in a league and scout for new players.

The game's online functions are more limited than a game like Football Superstars, but it's a sign of things to come.

Meanwhile, Paris-based F4, is working on an online title that covers seven different sports.

Empire of Sports has been repeatedly delayed but is now expected to go online early next year.

Players can meet up and train their virtual bodies in the gym before trying out tennis, basketball, bobsleigh, track and field, downhill skiing and football.



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