CyberAgent’s Ameba Pigg Virtual World Comes to Facebook as Ameba Pico

Japanese internet company CyberAgent is bringing its popular virtual world, Ameba Pigg, to the U.S. market, and to Facebook, as Ameba Pico.

Ameba Pigg has gained around 2 million users in the last 11 months, making CyberAgent one of the larger Japanese companies of its ilk. Here’s our look at the new app.

At first glance Ameba Pico does not look like much. It has a very simplistic art style, and a stiff, child-like, and limited set of animations for the avatar. But the variety and activity within this virtual world bring it to life.

Essentially, the world is broken up into various chat rooms. Each one has a distinctive theme, and since this is a western, U.S. version, they are all parts of New York City. Players are capable of visiting downtown NYC, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the New York Academy, and so on. These areas are more than just aesthetics as well, for players can actually shop at stores in these rooms that contain themed furniture and clothing based on the area. New York’s downtown, for example, sells fedoras while a more creative room, like the Stone Age (which you need to by a “Time Machine” to visit) sells… cave man stuff.

As with most virtual worlds, these purchases go into decorating your own virtual room and avatar. There’s actually a pretty hefty selection too. For the former, users select a base theme (we went with traditional Japanese), and build from there. From the room, players can order new, non-themed, items from a catalog and move, rotate, and remove items from their space. Unfortunately, placement is based on an invisible grid, that has a snapping mechanism similar to Adobe products like Photoshop or Flash. Trying to get a small, single grid-space, item into place is frustrating because it constantly snaps to where you don’t want it.

Clothes, however, work much better. It isn’t that they look better, by any means, but you obviously don’t have the snapping issue, and you can throw on as much clothing as you want. Basically, this allows users to create their own look, to a limited degree, with layers of their own choosing (i.e. a jacket on top of a scarf, on top of a shirt) rather then just have a single slot for one top item, or one bottom item.

As for the purchasing itself… this gets a little interesting. The earnable in-game currency, called Gummies, is not used at all. Purchases can only be done with the buyable virtual currency, Ameba Coins. Traditionally, this is a cardinal sin for a virtual world, but it is mitigated by a third currency called Tokens.

Now, tokens can be used to buy anything in the game, and it only takes one. When the user starts, they are given five, but more can be won in a game called Gacha. For 300 Gummies, users can press “Play,” and it will spit out a random prize, which could be a token, furniture, clothing, etc. And before anyone thinks 300 is a high price, you get Gummies constantly through daily logins, receiving “Pico Props” (a button players can press when they click on your avatar), or accomplishing achievements.

Of everything Ameba Pico offers, however, the best element is not in the game features at all. It’s that the game is global and linked between a stand-alone site, using Facebook Connect, and Facebook. So far, we have seen English, Japanese, and French in those seas of chat bubbles. Heck, there have even been people from Australia and the Philippians walking around. It is very cool to talk with them, if you can, or even play mini-games such as Match Card or Reversi.

Despite a rocky first impression, Ameba Pico turned out to be a wonderful little virtual world. Aesthetically, it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but as soon as you log in, you can immediately immerse yourself within a highly populated and global realm. Quite frankly, however, it is the latter that makes this Japanese title stand out, and a little taste of other cultures is something we all can always benefit from.

Currently, Ameba Pico has already gained more than 104,000 monthly active users.