'Buffy,' 'Titanic' virtual worlds in works

James Cameron spearheading 'Places in Time'

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Titanic" are the inspiration for separate virtual worlds that were announced Wednesday during the Virtual World Expo.

The "Buffy" deal with 20th Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising is for a massively multiplayer online game, a category driven by franchises like "World of Warcraft."

The first Flash-based 2-D versions of the game should be ready by year's end, Fox said, adding that there also will be a more fully immersive 3-D version. The game will be launched by virtual-world developer Multiverse within Multiverse Places, a new social virtual world being developed by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.

"We think that creating this virtual 'Buffy' world is the perfect extension of the brand and will attract both fans of the show and newcomers interested in a great experience online," said Elie Dekel, executive vp licensing and merchandising at the Fox unit.

Multiverse also is developing "Places in Time: Titanic," which is not tied to the Oscar-winning film but is being spearheaded by its director, James Cameron, who is providing digital footage, computer models and other data for the virtual world.

"I've always wanted to let people see what it was like to sail aboard the Titanic, to really know the ship, the passengers and their place in history," said Cameron, a member of the Multiverse advisory board.

"Titanic" will be free and should be ready for beta testing next year, Multiverse co-founder/executive producer Corey Bridges said. "It will enable you to be a passenger and go into the ballroom or boiler room or up to the bridge," he said. "It's a not-for-profit endeavor aimed at providing a new way of learning."

The "Buffy" announcement was made during a keynote presentation at the Los Angeles Convention Center by Oscar-winning producer and Multiverse board member Jon Landau, who is working with Cameron on the virtual world-themed movie "Avatar."

Landau suggested that there could be a flurry of Hollywood-licensed virtual worlds in the coming years. He also stressed that the entertainment-licensed virtual worlds will be more than short-term marketing tools surrounding the launch of a movie or TV show.

"It all goes back to the idea of creating a brand," Landau said. "And whether it's an 'Avatar' brand or a 'Buffy' brand, you want that in perpetuity and you want these virtual worlds to continually refine and change what your consumers are looking for."

Also on hand was Disney Online, which announced the launch of a new virtual world next year based on animated theatrical "Cars." The launch of "World of Cars" will be preceded by a smaller interactive feature called Test-A-Car that will be deployed in the fall.

"World of Cars" will likely have the same two-tiered membership plan Disney Online current uses with other virtual worlds such as Toontown and Pirates.com, with one portion of the world free and another section with additional features available only by subscription.

Parkis added that "Cars" has emerged as a $5 billion franchise for Disney, with a second "Cars" film due in 2012 and a new "Cars"-themed attraction slated for Disney's California Adventure theme park.

"We really want it to be like the film so we're going to have racing, but you're also going find out that is fun to be a part of Radiator Spring and help out the town," said Steve Parkis, senior vp, Disney Online.

By launching the Create-a-Car site before the actual virtual world, Disney Online is following a strategy that have proven incredibly successful with its "Fairies" franchise, where 7 million users have already created their own Fairies avatars in anticipation of the launch of the PixieHollow.com virtual world later this year.