Disney builds virtual bridge

Avatar-based community DGamer will link buyers of its video games

Disney is bridging the gap between the gaming and virtual worlds.

Disney Interactive Studios on Thursday formally launched DGamer, an avatar-based free community for U.S. buyers of games the company developed for the Nintendo DS.

Beginning with today's release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," all Disney Interactive DS games will come with DGamer-added content like customizable avatars. DGamer members also will be able to use the WiFi connectivity of the DS to communicate with other members with either a DS or a PC.

Although it features avatars and text chat, DGamer can't really be described as a true virtual world such as Disney Online's Club Penguin or Fairies.com — at least not yet.

But as Paul Yanover, executive vp and managing director of Disney Online, said, "DGamer is our opportunity to work with Disney Interactive to make sure we have this connected environment and to make sure we reach our guests wherever they are, including a player on a Disney Interactive DS title talking to a player in 'Pirates of the Caribbean Online.' "

David Cole, president of video game market research firm DFC Intelligence, said that other publishers, including Nintendo, have leveraged the WiFi connectivity of the DS for game play and to share game characters.

But he said Disney Interactive deserves credit for being the first to formalize a virtual community around the DS, adding that DGamer appears to be a good fit for the parent company's overall online strategy.

"Disney has been fairly aggressive in creating virtual communities across the board," Cole added.

In 2007, Disney sold 3.4 million units of Nintendo DS video games in the U.S., according to NPD. (partialdiff)