Microsoft Set to Launch Kid-Focused Gaming Franchise

Microsoft is introducing an entertainment franchise including games and television programming featuring characters that appeal to young consumers.

The software giant on Wednesday revealed plans for “Viva Pinata.” More than just a video game title, Microsoft plans to bring living pinata animals to Saturday morning television. The new series will be aired on the Fox network. Related merchandise is also in the works.

The goal is to offer families an immersive experience, said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “With ‘Viva Pinata,’ we are introducing a revolutionary brand that will entertain, inspire and excite children, families and creative minds around the globe,” Moore promised.

Partnering for Success

Viva Pinata is three years in the making. Microsoft partnered with 4Kids, known for powerhouse properties such as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for the television series. Rare Ltd. is developing the video game exclusively for the Xbox 360.

The television show is set to air in the U.S. this fall. The series features a cast of pinata friends that embark on wild adventures on Pinata Island. The 4Kids Entertainment licensing program will result in additional licensed products launching in 2007.

“We are very excited about partnering with Microsoft to share the ‘Viva Pinata’ universe with the world,” said Alfred R. Kahn, chairman and CEO of 4Kids Entertainment. “The potent combination of the Microsoft Game Studios and 4Kids will ensure that the ‘Viva Pinata’ world, including the video game, television series and merchandising program, attracts a worldwide audience.”

Viva XBox 360

Viva Pinata gives Microsoft something it has been lacking: a broad audience. Xbox titles have focused on blood and gore, with the “Halo” series, “Perfect Dark Zero,” and “Gears of War.” Nintendo’s GameCube and Sony’s PlayStation 2 have more appeal with younger audiences, analysts said.

“XBox appeals to the oldest demographic of the three consoles. Generally, Nintendo appeals to a much younger audience. Sony has covered the gamut from pre-teens to people in their 30s. Microsoft is trying to make their appeal to a younger demographic because there is a lot of money to be made among younger players,” Brian O’Rourke, a senior analyst at In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.

An Upside Down Strategy

While the video game business typically purchases rights to develop video games based on popular television programs, movies or comic books, Microsoft is turning that strategy on its head by launching the broadcast and the video game at about the same time. Analysts said this is a smart plan.

“I can’t think of another franchise that has taken this approach,” O’Rourke said. “This is a broad-based marketing push to do everything all at once. The TV show will support the video game and the video game will support the TV show.”

What’s more, he noted, Microsoft is not paying for all the marketing because Fox is footing the bill for the television broadcast.

Festive Holiday

Viva Pinata is set to launch this holiday season. The game invites players of all ages and skills to explore an immersive world where they are challenged to create and maintain a living garden ecosystem that grows in real time.

Beginning with a few basic tools, players build and take control of their environment to attract and host more than 60 species of wild pinata, using hundreds of customizable elements to create their very own unique versions of paradise.

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