Miniclip Holds Avatar ‘Auditions’

NEW YORK Auditions to discover “the next big star” are timeworn staples of popular culture. The celebrity search launches today, however, is believed to be a first.

Miniclip’s “World Game Star Audition” seeks to cast a player as the lead character in its new interactive game, Moon Shadow. The title, which centers on a spy mission to infiltrate a hostile base and obtain data, is due out early next year.

Targeting a core demographic of 13-17-year-olds, the game site is sponsored by Buena Vista Home Entertainment. In addition to promoting the DVD release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the Walt Disney subsidiary is also in discussions to post advertising within the game.

“A lot of advertisers are struggling to connect with these young users who are watching less TV and film,” said Miniclip CEO Rob Small. Internet gaming is the best way for advertisers to interact with that younger demographic, he said.

As an index of Moon Shadow’s projected popularity, 10,000 submissions were received within three days of enthusiasts visiting the site on Friday, Small said. He expects to see some 100,000 submissions by the Dec. 31 deadline.

Miniclip has yet to encounter gamer resistance to advertising. “The users are aware that we have to generate an income and that the revenue needs to come from somewhere,” said Small. Moon Shadow, like most of Miniclip’s 350 games, is available for free.

In 2005 advertisers put roughly $80 million toward in-game brand integration and related sponsorships, per Parks Associates. The research firm forecasts ad spends for gaming in excess of $400 million in 2009.

Five thousand dollars and a chance to become an online legend await the contestant whose photo and explanation of why he or she deserves to be Moon Shadow’s hero are selected. This being the gaming world, Miniclip illustrators will animate the winner’s image. The resulting avatar will grace Moon Shadow’s main screen.

Also in a nod to game trends, there will be player-created content as gamers command the character while participating in covert assignments.

According to comScore Media Metrix figures for March, Miniclip attracts 30 million game players per month, making it the Web’s most popular gaming site.