There is no shortage of virtual worlds available online these days for the elementary school set: Places like Webkinz and the Penguin Club appeal to young children — largely girls–with colorful play environments that are safe and simple to navigate.
Less common are virtual worlds geared toward pre-teen audiences, especially boys, who tend to gravitate toward the competitiveness and frenetic action of video games.
So when Ridemakerz, a toy company that lets customers design their own model cars (think Build-A-Bear for young auto enthusiasts), approached virtual world agency Electric Sheep earlier this year to build them an interactive online environment, they knew they would have to make it different.
“We took a look at a lot of the virtual worlds out there today, and saw that a lot of them weren’t really immersive. We wanted something that was almost three dimensional that would be about customization and creativity,” said Lee Nadler, Ridemakerz CMO (or as Ridemakerz prefers, ZMO).
The result is Ridemakerz.com, where users can build their own cars that they then drive through the virtual environment and participate in track races, scavenger hunts, or any number of competitive activities.
“Unlike some virtual worlds where you choose your avatar and you put some clothes on and walk around, in Ridemakerz you are represented by your ride and you can change that ride and change options on it,” he said. “We say you can customize for ‘show or go,'” meaning users can design a car that simply looks sleek or that performs well in competitions.
The site, still in closed beta testing, is slated to enter open beta testing in Q1 of 2009. The site will be free to users and can be accessed without a download, which Nadler said was key to attracting young users who are easily deterred when faced with having to install programs on their computers.
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