Virtual Jackson worlds

Thriller-land: This area of Planet Michael is based on the music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Thriller-land: This area of Planet Michael is based on the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

It has been 15 months since Michael Jackson died, leaving his Neverland in limbo. But a virtual Neverland is in the works as a tribute to the late King of Pop.

Planet Michael, an online virtual world devoted to Jackson’s life, music and concerns, being developed to open late next year, will combine features of a massively multiplayer online game and social network.

LOS ANGELES – The man who made the moonwalk famous is getting a planet of his own.

The Michael Jackson estate has entered a licensing deal with a Los Angeles company to create an online virtual world based called “Planet Michael.”

The planet will live inside the Entropia Universe, a so-called “massively multiplayer online” game with about 100,000 active users. It is run by the Swedish company Mind Ark.

The estate will work with game publisher SEE Virtual Worlds to develop the game for release in 2011. In it, fans will be able to collect and trade virtual Jackson merchandise, and earn credits by performing challenges related to his music and dance moves.

As in other virtual worlds, players who want to buy more credits can replenish their game accounts using real money.

“We put a focus on something that will truly allow fans to immerse themselves in a Michael Jackson-like universe or music-video-like world and interact with each other and then go on adventures and do gameplay stuff and socialize,” says Josh Gordon of developer SEE Virtual Worlds.

Think World of Warcraft— with no violence and more dancing. “The player is more apt to succeed in a situation using song, dance and adventure as opposed to violence,” Gordon says.

A free-to-download game, Planet Michael will let players (ages 13-up) customize their own avatars, perhaps with red Thriller jackets and sequined gloves. However, you will be able to spend money on items, and some virtual objects earned and created in the world can be traded or sold to others. (More information at

But will Planet Michael‘s publishers be able to overcome Jackson’s tarnished reputation, which included such behavior as holding a newborn off a hotel balcony and charges of molesting children (he was acquitted on criminal charges, while some civil cases were settled out of court)?

“The answer is, ‘I’m not sure,’ ” says video game industry analyst Michael Pachter, commenting not on Planet Michael specifically but on potential projects including the recently announced Michael Jackson The Experience dance video game from Ubisoft.

“If parents are the target, I think that the legacy baggage will be a problem,” Pachter says. “If the user is the target, I think that all will be forgiven, because there is no question that he was a phenomenal performer. So I suppose the answer is ‘somewhere in between.’ ”

“There is no doubt we will be open to people joking about it and criticizing it,” says Gordon. “We’ll just have to roll with that as it comes, so to speak. … He’s such a big name and he’s such a big legend that no matter what we do, we are going to get a lot of people who are excited, and we are going to get people who criticize us. And we have just taken that as the way it is going to be.”

Before he died, Jackson was exploring games and interactive entertainment prospects. “Unfortunately, he never got to this point,” says Martin Biallas, president of SEE Virtual Worlds, a division of Biallas’ larger company SEE (Special Entertainment Events), for which he organized real-life happenings around Star Trek‘s 30th anniversary and the 1999 world tour of Titanic props, sets and costumes.

The Swedish company MindArk, which operates the Entropia Universe online service, ap- proached SEE about entertainment properties that might be worthy of virtual-world treatment, and Biallas contacted the Jackson estate. “They loved it and said this could actually be something where we could also transmit the ideas (and) the vision that Michael had, and not make it just a game but make it a social-interacting platform.”

So in addition to areas based on songs such as Thriller, Beat It and Smooth Criminal, there might be an altruistic area based on a song such as Heal the World. Players will be able to donate to charities as well.

“We believe this online social gaming experience will bring the most passionate Michael Jackson fans together with those just discovering his artistry in a unique environment where they can celebrate his music, his art and his devotion to helping those in need,” says an e-mailed statement from Jackson’s estate and executors.


Get ready to experience Michael Jackson the video game

By Mike Snider, USA TODAY
Dancing is eternal.

More than a year after the pop icon’s death, Michael Jackson has a new video game on the way, one that teaches players to moonwalk, spin and slide like the King of Pop once did.

Michael Jackson The Experience, due in November for Wii, Xbox, PS3, PSP and DS (rated E10+ for ages 10 and up), lets players try to match some of his classic moves.

John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Michael Jackson estate, say they had been looking for a video game to showcase his legacy. (His last game, Moonwalker, in the early ’90s, had him dancing to defeat “Mr. Big” and save the children.)

“The game needed to incorporate Michael’s music and dance moves into the most innovative technology available, continually pushing the envelope at each turn,” according to an e-mail by their press representative.

With the Wii version, you wave the wireless remote to mimic the moves of an on-screen dancer that resembles Jackson. To the right of the screen, upcoming steps scroll by, showing you where to position the remote as you shake your body down to the ground to Bad, Beat It, Billie Jean, Workin’ Day and Night and The Girl Is Mine, among other hits.

The Xbox 360 version will use Microsoft‘s upcoming Kinect full-body control system to track the player’s moves, and its camera will project the player into the game environments, all based on Jackson’s videos and concerts. The PS3 version will use the motion-tracking PlayStation Move technology. (In the Wii version, up to three additional players can sing along with the dancing player, but their performance doesn’t affect the score.)

The Experience continues Jackson’s posthumous portfolio diversification:

•Last year’s film This Is It, which documented Jackson’s rehearsals for a comeback, was a global box office hit. The soundtrack went double platinum, 1.6 million copies; on video, This Is It sold more than 1.2 million.

•An album of unreleased material is due in November.

•A Cirque du Soleil show based on his music is expected to begin touring in fall 2011; a permanent show is set to open in Las Vegas in late 2012.

The video game’s strength is that players will “know what it feels like to be in his shoes, performing in front of millions,” says Ubisoft‘s Antoine Vimal Du Monteil.

To be good at the game takes talent, so fortunately, the developers have included rehearsal tutorials, says Andy Burt of GamePro magazine. The game “has the potential to be competitive in a crowded market,” he says. “It will no doubt prove popular with both fans and casual listeners of his music.”