Disney launches DGamer

Online community for buyers of Nintendo DS games

SAN DIEGO -- Disney is bridging the gap between gaming and virtual worlds.

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

Beginning with Friday'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, noted, "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, noted 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 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. alone, according to NPD.

DGamer members will be able to customize their avatars using parts and clothing not just from the DS game they're currently playing, but also from other well-known Disney characters such as Buzz Lightyear and Tinker Bell. In addition, the honors by which all DGamer members are measured will be cumulative, encouraging players to purchase and play as many Disney Interactive DS titles as they can.

The avatars, game results, honors and virtual gifts can also be ported to other DS owners who have joined DGamer, as well as to the PC-based Dgamer.com site.

Disney Interactive senior producer Michelle Golding said the company also plans to send such additional content as player polls and surveys to members through the DS WiFi connection.

Noting that the target DGamer audience is tweens, Golding said Disney Interactive is leveraging the parental controls from Disney.com to ensure players communicate in a safe environment.

Golding stressed Disney Interactive worked closely with Nintendo on developing DGamer. Said Denise Kaigler, corporate affairs vp at Nintendo of America, "This service illustrates the growing support for Nintendo DS and how our WiFi connection can enhance and enrich the gaming experience."